When my colleague forgot her breastmilk storage bags this morning (“mommy brain” is a real thing, and persists months after childbirth), I immediately called my husband to ask him to bring some by my office. We live a few blocks away and I have dozens of storage bags. Plus, I always love an excuse to see my son (especially on a Friday!), and I knew the outing would be good for both father and son.
As soon as my son woke up from his morning nap, my husband put him (still in his PJs) in the stroller and walked down to my office. I met them out front and was greeted with a huge smile and hug from my little man. Knowing my colleague was waiting for the storage bags, but not ready to say goodbye to my son just yet, I decided to take him with me to drop them off. We snuck in a side door and bee-lined to my colleague’s desk, only to run into my boss. Within moments, the hall was filled with colleagues commenting on my adorable son (despite the fact that he was still half-asleep and covered in oatmeal!). He crawled around the hall for a few minutes before I returned him to his dad and got back to the legal research I’d been doing. It’s amazing what some baby cuddles can do for one’s mood! That ten-minute diversion refreshed and refocused me better than an hour-long nap.
I appreciate the warm welcome my son gets whenever he visits me at work, but I can’t help but notice that I have never met anyone else’s children. Of the 60+ people in my division, at least 50 of them are parents (some are also grandparents). We talk about our kids often, exchanging funny stories and advice (and sometimes breastmilk storage bags!), but no one else has ever gone so far as to bring their kids in. Is it too much hassle, or is there some unwritten rule about not mixing family and colleagues? If the former is true, I have been seriously undermining my professional integrity, since I brought my parents in to the office when they were visiting last winter, my husband stopped by often while I was pregnant, and my son has come about once a month since he was born. I have even brought my son to office happy hours. 5:30-7:30pm is our mother-son time, so if you want me during those hours, he comes too.
My family is the most important thing in the world to me, and an essential part of my identity, yet I spend more waking hours in my office than at home. I want my husband and son to know where I am when I leave them at 9am, just as I want my colleagues to understand why I race out of the office at 5:30pm. I believe that making my family a part of my professional life humanizes me to my colleagues and clients; I am not just an attorney, I am also a mother, wife, and daughter. Personally, I love getting to meet – or even just hear about and see photos of – my co-workers’ spouses and kids.
Of course, I know there is a necessary line between the personal and professional. I would never make personal calls from my office phone, or complain about my husband to my boss. I do not check Facebook in the office or work emails from home. And I realize that some people have extremely stressful work and/or home lives that could interfere with their happiness and productivity. But I have colleagues who cannot imagine life without their one-hour commute, because they need that time to “transition” between work and home. I don’t seem to need that space. In the office, I am surrounded by photos of my family and love having them visit, and I have no trouble getting done what I need to do when I work from home.
I disagree with common advice to “[s]eparate your professional and private life to create balance between work and family. Deliberate boundary setting can increase your efficiency on the job and reduce stress in your personal life.” eHow provides nine tips “to keep your professional and private affairs from blending,” the last one being: “Remember, your employer is more concerned with how well you do your job than what sort of person you are.” Maybe it’s because personal integrity is a professional attribute for an attorney, but I’m pretty sure that my supervisors are more concerned that I am honest and diligent than that I win every case (not that litigation success necessarily correlates to doing a good job, but you get my point).
I would love to hear others’ views on this issue. Do you ever bring your child(ren) to work? Do you think differently (positively or negatively) of co-workers after you have met their families? Do you think that being very open about my family life damages my professional credibility?