Lines of privacy need to be drawn in work-at-home situations
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 06/21/2012
I recently began working from home, but my wife, Sydney, has a complete lack of respect for my workspace. We have 3-year-old twins and she’s a stay-at-home mom. I love them all and have always stayed super-involved whenever I can.
At the same time, it’s essential I have a defined “office” (our spare bedroom), where I can work without interruptions or distractions. Sydney, however, dismisses my concerns and routinely comes in to talk, ask for my help or let the children visit “just for a second” because they miss me.
I feel she tries to induce guilt when I don't drop whatever I'm doing and give her attention. After three weeks, the situation isn’t improving. Last week, she moved her computer into my office — which she calls “the office area” — and can’t understand why her coming in to check something on the computer with our toddlers and the dog trailing behind is an interruption.
Even if I’m able to tune out the family’s sounds, their noise still comes through on business calls, and it’s extremely unprofessional. I feel disrespected and not in control of my own work environment. Even though I like the idea of working at home, I may have to rent an office and just swallow the extra expense.
Take a moment and reflect on your relationship with Sydney. Is her dismissal of your needs and overriding your complaints unusual behavior, or does she relate to you this way in general and it wasn’t as obvious until you were at home more? If it’s the latter, this dynamic needs to change before your dreams of moving away manifest beyond just 9 to 5.
Is there a possibility Sydney isn’t listening because she might already view you as always having your way? Is she trying to even the score by insisting on sticking up for her needs and those of your children? Does she resent you moving into what was once her domain? I know you believe you’re a hands-on dad, but what does Sydney say? Does she feel neglected in some serious way? Could the problem be that the importance of a quiet and professional work environment isn’t really clear to her? If so, bad habits are starting to form and need to be changed before they become a normal way of life.
Communicate to each other; open up and talk about this new lifestyle of working at home alongside her and the children. Ask Sydney why it’s hard for her to take your work requests seriously. Be honest in defining your respective needs and compromise on a set of ground rules and clear boundaries that are to be followed going forward. For instance, you shouldn’t have to get off the phone to answer a question from your spouse while you’re trying to conduct business. Your family needs to know they can’t just walk into your office and interrupt whenever they want. If these discussions still make it impossible to resolve the problem without getting defensive, hurt or angry, counseling may be in order.
Consider establishing “office hours” to provide a structure in which respective needs can be met (i.e., morning and afternoon breaks and lunch with the family). Negotiate the times you truly need to focus and not be disturbed. If Sydney needs to use her computer more frequently than the allotted breaks, move it somewhere more easily accessible. It may take time for your family to get used to the fact you’re just a few steps away and yet unavailable. Create a sense of “punching in” for the day and “punching out;" otherwise, it’s easy to fall into working longer days and never completely shut down for uninterrupted family time.
It’s natural to want to feel like your wife values your work and values you. Try to look at all the factors affecting everyone living under your roof. Whether it’s an adult child returning home, a spouse retiring or a partner deciding to work at home, it takes time for everyone to incorporate that person’s particular needs for interaction and space. I wouldn’t recommend getting an office too quickly, as this crisis may teach you how to deepen and enrich your relationship with your wife and children even further.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.