Yahoo's new stance against working from home has sparked intense backlash from working parents who argue that telecommuting is essential for juggling a career with the demands of raising kids. And taking the most heat in the uproar is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who famously took a two-week maternity leave after having her first child, and who is now having a nursery built next to her office.
Many are saying that Mayer just doesn't get it.
Or does she?
Vanessa Vancour, an account manager for Noble Studies, a digital agency in Nevada, is a mom of two young children under four years old. After working from home for several months, Vancour was all too happy to head back to the office.
As she puts it, "I didn't like it [telecommuting] as much as I thought I would. I missed being with a team with whom I could trade ideas and collaborate creatively. It was hard for my partner to ignore the fact that I was home… and it was even harder for me to see my family playing outside and finding, deep inside, the will power to stay glued to my desk instead of joining them. This was especially hard on my daughter. It's hard for a child to grasp that mommy 'isn't really there'."
Idaho mom Jen Matthewson freely admits there's no way to combine the long hours of a career journalist with juggling kids. From her perspective, "At home, you only get in half the hours and your production level drops drastically because of the interruptions. When I work from home, I get about 4-5 hours of work in the 9-hour time frame."
With increasingly women delaying having kids until their 30s and 40s, some moms have spent decades advancing at the office—and simply don't want to stay home to work.
"I had 20 years of building my identity through my job before having my daughter at 40 years old," says Monique Littlejohn, development director for the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara, California. "Working helps to build emotional self-sufficiency," she adds. "It helps to keep social relationships strong. Most of my friendships were developed 'on the job.'"
But what about children? Isn't staying at home with a loving, attentive parent all day the ideal? When it comes to work-at-home parents, the reality of juggling kids and job tasks is often anything but. Parents may rely excessively on television and other "screen time" to keep children occupied as they work. They might be on a conference call when it's time for playtime at the park, or need to cancel that long-awaited playdate because a deadline got moved.
While these might sound like typical #firstworldproblems, for the estimated 24 percent of employed Americans who've reported that they work at least some hours at home each week, this is reality. And given the intense criticism aimed at Mayer, a mom who you know takes her work home with at night, it just seems like the current black and white conversation about telecommuting and parenting needs more shades of gray, so to speak. After all, not every mom dreams of working all day in her pajamas.
And having a work life and a home life that are distinct has its benefits, too. "When I'm home, I'm home," says Vancour. "I'm making dinner, changing diapers, reading bed time stories and not checking email or taking phone calls. It's important for me to draw a very strict line between work and home to maintain my sanity and healthy balance for my family."