From The Straits Times    |

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I’m discovering just how explosive it can be when my work and home lives collide. When WFH and HBL meet during CB, sparks don’t just fly, an inferno happens. There is little semblance of a schedule. There is even less order. And there is just So. Much. Noise.  

In my home, one adult (me) needs to (still) complete a full day’s work, the other adult (the man) is at work but fielding increasingly irate text messages from me as the day wears on. I feel embarrassed, having to call on him for help when the chaos at home becomes unbearable – and worse, complaining about it (read also “5 Stress-Free Tips On Working From Home With Kids“).

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I don’t text my husband every time I feel frustrated or overwhelmed at work, do I? So why am I doing it at home? I resent how WFH is turning me into the same sort of whiny brat I tell my kids never to become. That person who can’t solve her own problems, who is out of control, who is just so incompetent so much of the time.  

The truth is, that’s exactly how I feel. This coupling of working at home and taking care of family – at the same time, in the same small space, 24-bloody-7 – isn’t just a physical joining of worlds. It’s an emotional, psychological and spiritual mashup, all intertwined, interweaved and smashing headlong into each other. This new normal isn’t something that falls into place overnight, or even in a week-and-a-half that we’ve been living in this circuit breaker.

For the first time in my life, I truly understand what it is to be a working mum: a highly-achieving woman trying to manage her work, family and self-care needs, every single minute of the day. 

I have enjoyed years of compartmentalising my work and family life. And I have intentionally kept them both apart. I don’t use my “mummy” voice at work. I don’t raise my voice in the office. And I hardly talk about my kids unless someone brings them up in conversation.

For the past week or so, all that has collided into a terrible train wreck. When one of the kids barges into the room yelling about some perceived slight from one of his siblings, or when the littlest one insists on sitting on my lap to watch Dora the Explorer on my phone, or when an argument erupts, complete with door slamming – all while I’m in a video meeting, and sometimes over the course of the same meeting – I feel pulled in each an every way.

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The meshing of roles has been hard. I’m still trying to come to terms with this new person I have to be. As a career woman, I am in control and competent. As a mum, I’m not always so. I rant, I rave, and yes, I yell. Very loudly. Neighbours-can-hear-every-word type of loudly. I am not my usual measured, calm, soft-voiced office self. 

What does one do when both roles slam into each together?

Well, my colleagues have heard me yelling at my sons to keep quiet because I can’t hear a word on my conference calls (read also: “Here’s how to look & sound good on video calls“). And they’ve experienced many situations where I switch from talking to them, to talking to my daughters, in the same sentence. They’re getting used to it – and I am glad no one is judging – just as I’m getting used to showing this very private side of myself. 

Because here’s the reality: I am both someone who works, and someone who has a family. I am not just a writer and editor, I am also a mother and a wife. While there was once physical distance to keep the two dimensions apart, there is now none. And this is simply – and exactly – who I am. And who I should be.  

Now that I’m getting used to that, I’m grateful for this circuit breaker. In these one-and-half weeks of forced contact and enforced time together, I have seen sides of my children I’ve never had any opportunity to see before. Instead of being an observer of their growing up years, I’m a full-on participant. It’s helped to assuage some of guilt I’ve carried around for years.

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Just like the world is healing itself in so many ways as we cope with this virus, I am healing too, putting away years of past regrets about always putting work before family and self-care, and simply finding meaning in being at home with my family around me. 

There is a certain peace that greets me each day. Because I know this circuit breaker is a precious chance for me to reconcile these very separate parts of myself. I’m a better writer and editor, and an even better parent, for it. I feel whole. 

The writer, Penelope Chan, is Her World Executive Editor (Beauty).