If, like me, most of your duties involve being at home then you will understand the fuzzy place where I live and work.
We have a shop. My part in the business takes place entirely in the home office: answering emails, arranging payments, filing, accounting, working out wages, etc. Conversations in the home are sometimes shop related, sometimes home and family related, sometimes a weird combination of the two because they are necessarily involved. My husband’s days off vary enormously. We rarely know how many hours he will work from one week to the next and when he does have a day off, he still makes and receives regular work-related phone calls. In fact, he never has a complete day off. I hate that.
In 17 years, we have never spent a bank holiday together as a family. We have never spent a summer together as a family. He takes 2 days off at Christmas and works New Year’s Day.
It’s not all bad of course. Having your own business has distinct advantages. He picks up our daughter from school and he has random pockets of free time on weekdays when we can go for a walk together or he can take everyone out of the way so I can finish an OU assignment, or the VAT, or a story I’m writing. He has more time off than most in the winter (but unfortunately it’s when the children are at school)
No, the major problem is the fuzziness. I am always among ‘The Things That Need Doing.’ My OU coursework is here, my writing is here, the bookwork is here, the household duties are here. Is the free time here?
Right now, for example, I have a list of things to do in the office, in front of me is a kitchen that needs cleaning and a pile of dishes waiting to be washed, I have 2 weeks of studying for one of my OU courses to catch up with and three quarters of a 4,000 word story to write for my other. The washing machine is zooming the latest load up to its final spin, which means that needs hanging out, there are some seeds to be planted in the garden before it’s too late and a six-year-old has just whizzed past me from the sandpit into the sitting room and I need to find out what she is doing. And all the bins need emptying. All stuff that needs doing … well, now really.
This is my life, my work, my family and my free time, all in the same place. It’s confusing. I’m never completely at work and I’m never completely off work either.
Yesterday, I felt very tired and was supposed to be in the home office completing the quarterly accounts, but for some reason I felt compelled to garden. So I did. I was fed up, distracted, wondering how I was going to get through another summer where we as a family did everything the opposite way to other families. I was feeling like a bad mother; always tired, always distracted, always frantic, always having something that needed doing before I could do anything enjoyable or even simply listen to someone. Not having weekends, never knowing where the work/home boundary lies and never allowing myself to relax – not during the day anyway, means that sometimes life is a fuzzy mix of everything and nothing and occasionally it is not clear if anything is being achieved.
I think attacking the garden was a symbol of me trying to hack away the clutter that I alone simply cannot deal with. In the garden, though, I can see and feel how I physically remove things. It was therapeutic.
Until, that is, I was forced to stop. Everything. Completely.
I almost chopped off the end of my finger.
Today I am temporarily partially disabled. I can only do what I only can do. I asked my son to make his sister a sandwich and help move the slide in the garden and clear a pile of cuttings. I asked my six-year-old to hold some towels that I was taking off the washing line. I sat in the sun and had a think about what I am capable of with a gashed finger and I followed a few links to interesting articles about writing – something I would normally have saved somewhere until I thought I had earned or deserved the time (which is usually never!) I photographed our daughter climbing a tree and we had a chat about seeds and birds and – yes – bees!
She and her brother haven’t fought once today because I’ve been around them the whole time so there’s no need for conflict or power struggles.
I have not torn from one job to the next in a whirl, thinking, ‘This next, that, next, can’t stop.’ Instead I’ve plodded around with my left hand on my right shoulder, thinking, ‘That can wait. Can’t do that one-handed. Maybe someone else will do that for me. That’s nice apple blossom, that’s a busy blackbird. I’m glad I managed to hang some washing out.’
I was also forced to spend three hours last night, sitting quietly in A & E, drinking tea and watching people with problems infinitely more significant than mine. Some people were not going home last night. I did (eventually).
If you are also someone who is tough on themselves and never knows if taking time out is allowed, then I don’t recommend anything as extreme as attempting to lop off digits but I do certainly recommend disabling the guilt if you can because guilt may be disabling you by putting more responsibility than is possible or is useful upon you.
Easier said than done of course.