Husband & Wife Articles


Working at Home

The ups and downs of home-based employment

Gerald Korson

In the iconic 1980 film “The Shining,” frustrated novelist Jack Torrance wrestles with writer’s block and diminishing sanity during a winter spent with his family in a snowbound Colorado hotel. At one point Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson) types repeatedly for pages on end, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” True as that statement may be, it hardly stands as a model of how a work-at-home husband and father might achieve a successful work-life balance.

Government statistics show that 64 percent of self-employed individuals work from their homes and 24 percent of all employees do so at least part of the time, an option facilitated in no small part by email and the internet. Count my household among them. My wife, Christina, is a stay-at-home mother par excellence, and I somehow tap out a living as a freelance editor and writer.

It wasn’t always that way. For most of our marriage, I left home each morning to work in an office. It was seldom a 9-to-5 affair. Especially during my last several years of outside employment, when my commute took 45 minutes each way, there were too many late nights and weekends spent away from my family. My wife and children required my presence, and I wasn’t there for them enough. It struck me as ironic that providing for my family meant feeling as though I was neglecting them to such a degree that the ordinary stresses of family life became magnified. It was a far cry from Jack Torrance, but it still didn’t represent an adequate balance of my obligations to job and family.

So when the time was right, and with my wife’s enthusiastic support, I resigned my position to pick up contractual and piecemeal work writing news and feature stories, editing books and magazines, ghostwriting as well as managing website content — all from the comfort of our home. My professional life, which once seemed so compartmentalized, is now closely intertwined with my family life.

Many work-at-home parents find some challenges in such changes. Just as immersion in professional duties can sometimes pull one’s attention away from family, so too can household distractions threaten to limit the ability of the home-based worker to remain focused and productive. Leaking faucets, unpainted walls and unpaid bills beg for attention. Children scream in the stairwell or pop in for a hug and a little face time.

But when you think about it, there also are many distractions in the workplace. Extended water-cooler conversations, inefficient committee meetings and frequent interruptions can disrupt a work day. They can seem formidable at times, but they also can be handled effectively with sufficient self-discipline.

Despite the challenges, many people seem to find they are much happier working from home. A study in London of 4,000 entrepreneurs and freelancers reveals that while 22 percent of at-home, self-employed persons admit distractions are a problem, 55 percent say that a superior work-life balance is the main benefit of working from home. Perhaps more importantly, 43 percent say that working from home improves their relationship with their spouse or partner.

Christina says she likes having me around. We’re far more present to each other. My line of work is flexible enough that I can help with carpools and school events. And although technically I work from home, I actually do get out of the house, sometimes driving the children to school and setting up my laptop in a public library or coffeehouse until it’s time to bring them home again.

In our experience, self-employment at home means that the critical work-life balance is indeed much improved. I juggle my work schedule, but I am more available to my wife and kids throughout each day. Christina is happier. My kids seem happier. I am happier.

If only Jack Torrance had done as much.