When Going to the Office Makes You a Better Dad Than Working From Home

My four-year-old boy and I have a recurring discussion each morning. Not that I want to discuss anything with anyone at 7 am, but his daily question is pressing enough that he asks it, almost in tears, as soon as he sits up in bed: "Is today a work day?"

He knows it is. In these conversations, we always say the same things. We go over the days of the week. I explain how they relate to the basic ratio of modern life (for schoolchildren and crossing guards, at least): five work days to two weekend days.

And then he complains about the ratio itself. 5:2. It's not fair, he insists. It's lopsided: too much work, not enough weekend. He wants to stay home.

This is the point in the conversation every day where I tell him, in gentler terms, to shut up and get dressed.

That usually works.

If you read Business Insider's reaction report to Marissa Mayer's fatwa against telecommuting, you'll see that in one interpretation, Mayer wasn't being anti-working-mom so much as she was being a mother herself to a very large, errant workforce. According to one former engineer, the telecommuting culture at Yahoo! had devolved into "people slacking off like crazy, not being available, spending a lot of time on non-Yahoo! projects."

If this is true, and some large portion of the workforce was being either lazy or manipulative or both, then she did some parenting. She told them to shut up and get dressed. Today's a work day.

That much I get. And I do believe the arguments about the workplace as an incubator for your company's culture. A larger question, then, is what kind of culture you're making your workers be a part of. Will it take the good parts of telecommuting—the flexibility to spend important time with family—while leaving out the bad (the shirking, the lack of focus)?

While there was a lot of attention on women in the Mayer debate, it's worth noting that, in dual-income families at least, fathers have even greater work-life conflict issues than mothers (according to the National Study of the Changing Workforce in 2008). It's plausible, especially when Harvard Business Review's roundup of working-father studies found one study in which 99 percent of fathers surveyed said that their managers had the same or higher work expectations of them after they had a child. Women don't get enough accommodation after their children are born; men don't get any.

When my first child was born, I was in a great job surrounded by a lot of men who rarely spent time with their kids. I got a lovely chalice to commemorate her birth, but not much in the way of role models or implicit or explicit encouragement to spend more time with the new family. I got a few promotions in the years that followed, plus a heap more responsibility and longer hours to go with them.

And then, I left all of that behind. In my new venture, there are no morning meetings. No office at all. Which means that I get to be the one taking care of the kids in the morning and taking them to school. I'm grateful even for the early mornings, and for the repeating conversations about work days and weekend days. The question my son will have to ask himself when he's older is not how many work days there are in a week, but what kind of work days they are.

–Nathan

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Presented by

Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, & Nathan Thornburgh

Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, and Nathan Thornburgh write for the website DadWagon. Theodore Ross is the author of Am I a Jew?

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