11 things you should never say to a work-from-home parent

“You must have so much free time!” Um, no.

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I’m a mom who works from home full-time as a freelance writer and editor, and while there are tremendous benefits to the set-up, work-from-home parents like me are also a sorely misunderstood bunch. The comments I’ve gotten over the years from well-meaning friends and acquaintances are pretty aggravating.

Here are 11 things never to say to a work-from-home parent.

1. “You must have so much free time!” Somehow, the “from home” part is heard loud and clear, but the “working” that precedes it gets forgotten. No, we’re not sending off a couple e-mails then watching Netflix while clients magically send us cheques. Full-time work-from-home parents work long shifts. And it takes a lot of diligence to do so successfully when so many distractions are nearby, like the TV and kitchen cupboards full of snacks. Let me see you get work done when you know your cozy duvet is just a few footsteps away!

2. “It’s great you can get so much housework done, huh?” I can’t count how many times I’ve thrown in a load of my kid’s laundry during the day only to forget about it because I got caught up on a project or phone call, or had to run out to a last-minute meeting. Just because a parent isn’t in an office doesn’t mean she isn’t fully dedicated to her career.

3. “Must be nice to get to spend all that extra time with your kids.” During the school year, a lot of WFH parents don’t pay for after-school care, which is a money saver, and it can mean you get to see a bit more of your kids than parents who work at an office. But it can be super challenging. Imagine being on a deadline at the office and an annoying co-worker stands at your desk recounting every last detail of his awesome weekend trip. Replace awesome weekend trip with a 15-minute rant about how Billy hoarded all the Legos at school, and that’s kind of what it’s like when your kids are home after school and you’re still trying to wrap up your work day.

4. “That must be so lonely.” Well, yes, it kind of is, actually. Thanks for the reminder. Working from home can mean not uttering a single word for seven straight hours; or when you do, it’s with your kids. No wonder you’re so happy to blurt out the entire happenings of your day to your significant other when they get home!

5. “Wow, I wish I could get my nails done during the day/take an afternoon run/get laundry done while working.” Pfft. Work-from-home parents have pretty much zero time for any of this stuff during working hours. Just because there’s no one watching our every move doesn’t mean we can regularly sneak off and do non-work-related stuff.

6. “Would you mind [insert request here]?” The presumption is that in working from home, you can be the go-to person for errands that people with “real” jobs can’t get to. You’re home anyway, right? Surely it isn’t much of an inconvenience. It’s not like you’re trying to focus or anything.

7. “I wish I could wear my pajamas all day!” I do spend less on clothes than some of my friends who work in offices, and I don’t have to worry about my hair and makeup on a daily basis. But many work-from-home parents have to visit clients, which means getting all dressed up, at least some of the time.

8. “Why didn’t you just go during the day?” Whether it’s getting a haircut, grabbing groceries, or running other seemingly simple and quick errands, others seem to think that your weekends and evenings are entirely free since you can get all of those pesky errands done during the day. Here’s the thing: We’re actually just as busy during the day as office workers are. So if they can’t dedicate a few hours in the middle of their workday to tackle personal to-do lists, why would a WFH parent have that luxury?

9. “You’re so lucky.” I get the sentiment behind this one, but it still annoys me, because this is the career and set-up I’ve worked really hard for. It wasn’t luck.

10. “It must be so nice to sleep in.” Sadly, working from home is not a free pass to Sleepsville. Work-from-home parents are still parents. And whether the kids are in school or day care, the mom who doesn’t have to get herself all gussied up to arrive to work for a set time is probably the one responsible for getting the kids ready and off to their destination in the a.m. And while it’s tempting to hop back into bed once you return home, that doesn’t exactly spell job success.

11. “I’d love to have a flexible schedule.” I’m a huge proponent of flexible schedules, whether you work in an office or out. And while I love that I can take a Tuesday off if I want to meet a friend for lunch, or spend a P.A. Day at the park with my son, it realistically means I’ll be working into the night, or taking a few hours on Saturday to catch up. Take this from a work-from-home mom who averages six hours of sleep a night.

We WFH parents know you mean no malice by these comments. Avoiding rush hour traffic and working in Lululemons does sound absolutely glorious. In many ways, it is. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But many work-from-home parents are either self-employed (which carries its own set of challenges) or have higher expectations placed upon them by employers because of their opportunity to enjoy that luxury.

So the next time you meet a mom or dad who works from home, don’t undermine the fact that they work very hard. Applaud them for their diligence, great work ethic and time-management skills. Or if you’re not sure what to say, ask them what it’s like.

Read more:
“I love working at home with my kids!” (said no mother ever)
Stay-at-home vs. working moms: Can’t we share without being attacked?
What makes a working mom?

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