The Rockwood Files: Trading Places

By Gwen Rockwood, columnist and mama of 3

About a month ago, Tom and I experienced a role reversal. He started working out of our house, as I usually do, and my fledgling business required me to make outside sales calls and work much more often. It was a big change, and neither of us was sure we liked swimming in the new pond.

Even though I’d worked in the business world before my kids were born, diving back into it was unsettling and scary. I’d stay up until after midnight working on e-mails and sales presentations and then wake up the next morning feeling sick to my stomach at the thought of meeting strangers and presenting my business pitch. I wondered how in the world Tom, who has always worked in corporate sales, had managed the stress all these years.

Meanwhile Tom took on the job of getting our kindergartener to school. He woke him up, made his breakfast, packed his lunch and drove him to school. When I had to be out of the house for meetings, Tom floated between work and kids, trying to field business calls and e-mails between diaper changes and sibling fights. It drove him a little nuts, a condition we work-from-home moms get used to over time.

None of it was easy for either of us and tempers sometimes flared. But we kept treading water, and, over the course of a few weeks, began to find a way to navigate this new course. I thought it was just our day-to-day routine that had shifted, but, in reality, that change of routine slowly changed us. We were both given a new perspective on what it’s like to be someone else and juggle his or her responsibilities. We both figured out that things were never as easy as we’d assumed them to be for the other person.

I learned a few things about being a dad, the most important one being this: An outside job drains a lot of energy and attention out of you. As much as you want to live in the moment with your kids when you’re home, your brain can’t seem to let go of work, especially when there’s a lot riding on your success. And shifting gears from work life to family life is not nearly as simple as we moms often think it should be. I get it now.

Tom also had a few epiphanies about being the work-from-home parent. He learned that working amidst chaos is part of the job. With small kids in the house, there’s no such thing as solitude, not even for bathroom breaks. You type with a baby in your lap. You interrupt your work focus to fix the broken Jack-in-the-Box for the tenth time or make a snack for somebody or clean up the mess they made while you were trying to get something done. And it goes on that way all day until they go to sleep at night.

One day I came home from making a sales call I’d been dreading and found Tom on a cell phone talking business while picking up about 100 paper plates our toddler had gleefully unpacked while nobody was looking. When he hung up, he looked over at me exasperated and said, “I just cleaned this place up and look at it now!” I smiled and knew we had truly traded lives for a while and were getting a real appreciation for what life is like on the other side.

We both learned it isn’t easy. We both learned it wasn’t ever going to be completely fair or 50-50, as far as workload goes. It’s going to fluctuate and change. Sometimes I’m going to cover for him and sometimes he’s going to cover for me. Sometimes we’re both going to feel like we’re the one doing way too much and we’ll probably both be right. Such is life with kids, work and a household to run. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.