The other day, my colleagues commented on my positive personality and my ever-present smile. When I told my husband, he looked at me quizzically, and then we both burst out laughing. But I’m not sure if I should be laughing or crying.
At work, I usually come in frazzled and late, but I quickly turn to laid-back and calm, encouraging the best work from my team, but usually not panicked if minor mistakes are made or conflicts arise. When others in the office appear stressed, I dispense some reassuring logic with a big smile, or laugh about the craziness of it all. And it all works out in the end.
At home, I usually come in frazzled and late, but I quickly turn to really frazzled and frustrated as I try to get through the witching hour list of homework, dinner, baths, and bedtime while two children scream for me from every corner of the house (they get around). When others in the household appear stressed, they start to blame me, we all panic, and I dispense some choice words that I, um, really shouldn’t. Sometimes I laugh, maniacally — more often I cry.
Let me assure you I am not pleased with this situation. I want to see myself always as that engaging co-worker not that cranky mom. But why is it that many of our best moments and manners are so often saved for others, while our worst are often released towards those we care about the most?
The typical explanation is that we are more comfortable with our family. We don’t have to “put on our best,” we can “be ourselves,” we can “show our weaknesses.” Great. Is this angry, pouty person my real self? Ugh, I hope not.
It may also be a combination of annoyances building over the longer time spent together, expectations that our family won’t leave us (but we could lose a job or friend), and patience levels fading as stressors build across multiple areas in our lives as spouses and parents.
But, after a few months working in a full-time office surrounded by colleagues for the first time in a long while, I have some new theories of why I’m fun and interesting to be around at work, and at home, well, not so much.
First of all, there is something new to talk about every day. It’s not the same frustrating conversation about messes and homework and schedules and fighting siblings and bedtimes. My co-workers bring different experiences to the table, and have not yet tired of my witty repartee. I’ve kind of worn out my Mario and Minecraft banter at home by this point, but my work colleagues’ frame of reference goes beyond 2010. They riff off my 80’s and 90’s references and at least pretend to tolerate my love of show tunes. Also, there are common concerns that we rally around, whether it is helping clients or lamenting state budget cuts, that are beyond the unfairness of timeout.
Secondly, nobody expects me to cook for them. Sometimes they even offer to pick up lunch for me.
Third, they let me sit down. Sometimes they even invite me to sit down and offer me a cup of coffee. At home, I think my kids have a sensor attached to my butt that alerts them to yell for me every time it touches a seat cushion of any kind.
Fourth, they don’t interrupt me when I am on the phone, or talking to somebody else. Complete sentences are uttered regularly.
Finally, when people are in conflict, it usually doesn’t involve me. I’m usually not the person being reprimanded, or DOING the reprimanding (so far, anyway). I haven’t had to stop anyone from teasing or biting anyone else. Nobody is leaving dirty dishes in my office or leaving the toilets unflushed. And there isn’t a trail of clothing and shoes littering my path. When I ask my staff to do something, they do it. If they disagree, we have a conversation. They do not throw tantrums.
The other day after a particularly tough evening which left me drained and teary-eyed, my daughter asked me why I was so sad. I answered that I didn’t like getting so upset. That being a parent can be amazing. Our children help us see things differently, sometimes in very fun and spectacular ways. But, it can also be very difficult to be in charge of other individual beings. We are responsible for teaching them what to do, but we cannot always make them do what they should, which can be very frustrating. In the sweetest, most caring way, my daughter responded that seeing me upset was like having a rain shower over her head and she wanted me to be happy. I said, “Ok, how about you promise that tomorrow you will do what I ask you, without arguing.”
“Oh no,” she said, “I don’t like being told what to do.”
Um….is it time to go to the office yet?