My three-year-old had a friend over for a mid-week play recently. When my husband popped his head in to say hello, the friend quizzed my daughter, "Why is your dad home? It's not the weekend!"
My daughter looked at her, puzzled. "Because he lives here!" she answered.
They were essentially speaking two different languages.
One child has parents who leave the house to go to work; the other has parents who take a flight of stairs inside the home to go to work.
I laughed the interaction off until another such occurrence, this time in the car with my 11-year-old son. Caught in traffic, stopping and starting for miles, he craned his neck a few times trying to see where the start of the cars was. Baffled, he finally asked, "What's wrong? Has there been an accident or something?"
Welcome to peak hour, dear son.
It was then clear my children were unaware of an entire chunk of the population who leave the house each morning, joining long lines of other commuters to get to work.
We work from home. We have an office that has desks and meeting tables, computers and printers, just like many other offices. But instead of battling queues of cars, we mount stairs.
My children know nothing else. I've worked from home since my firstborn was six months old, in consultancy roles, for our business, and now freelancing. My husband decided paying an office lease was a waste of money in an industry where he conducts onsite client visits and completes work remotely, so he moved his business back home when my eldest son was five.
It wasn't all roses and favours under the desk. There was certainly an adjustment period for all of us, especially since at the time we had no dedicated workspace so my husband managed his business in our bedroom (sounds raunchy but there's nothing sexy about IT). Computers whirred all night beside the bed, kids ran in and out as he worked throughout the day. He enjoyed the interactions with the children and appreciated the interruptions to commend a painting or a Lego construction.
Conversely, I needed to work with the door closed and with as little distraction as possible. A lock wouldn't have been unwelcome.
Like most working parents, we've tried hard to construct a sustainable working life around our children. Working from home has plenty of bonuses, and some drawbacks. To be afforded flexibility and less commute time, we've forgone the mega bucks some industries offer. We've had to resist cleaning out the laundry cupboard (also known as procrastinating) instead of writing the next masterpiece. (Okay, that might just be me.)
What concerns me is that my children have a warped sense of work. I went through a phase of leaving the house to "work" at the library – for the separation, the peace and quiet (Ha! Been to a library during TinyTots Time?) and for the physical act of removing myself from home distractions. My children thought I was a librarian. They also thought my husband was "the boss of Apple" (if only!) because we use iMacs, so I guess it's not the most unreasonable observation.
Their understanding of what work is and where you go to do it is simply their childhood perception of the world based on what they see each day. These images neatly match their fascination with the hole in the wall that gives you money if you just press some buttons, and the card that you wave randomly over a machine to pay for stuff.
I've wrestled with this whole working from home phenomenon and have wondered about the impact it will have on my children's working lives. We've created a lifestyle to make it easier for all of us – we are home, we are present, we are flexible – but perhaps we are doing them a disservice by teaching them this is what work is, when it is actually a rare reality.
But now, is it really that rare?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost 1 million Australians worked from home in June 2000.
Of the 'persons employed at home' (defined as "people who work all or most of their hours at home or have an arrangement with their employer to work at home") 49 per cent of them were female, 76 per cent were 35 and over, and not surprisingly, 38 per cent were parents of young children (aged less than 15 years).
More recent statistics show that there is now an estimated 2 million people working from home. In November 2008, of these home-based workers:
• 55 per cent were women
• 83 per cent were 35 years and over
• 39 per cent had children in their family aged less than 15 years.
With reports that the government aims to have at least 12 per cent of employees teleworking one day a week by 2020, it seems working from home is the way of the future - so maybe my children's perception of work isn't so warped after all? I'm pretty sure once we get the NBN, my husband will never leave the office. Now that's warped.