I used to dream of taking naps.
I got the idea from a magazine article, perhaps in Esquire, about a famous author who every day, after lunch, would go into his bedroom, change into his pajamas and take a long, glorious nap. At the time, I was working in an office, in a cubicle. This was long before COVID-19, when few of us could have imagined working from home. For me, putting this idea of a daily siesta into action would have required moving to Spain. And so there it remained, as nothing more than a hopeless dream.
But then the utterly unexpected happened. The world was transformed by the pandemic. And for all the terrible things it wrought, it brought a certain positive change into my life. Midday, I’d drag a blowup camping mattress into my closet, shut the door, and in the dark silence of an empty house with the kids off to school, drift off into delicious afternoon sleep.
The best part, I told my wife, was how much more work I was getting done! Before the pandemic, my days began with a 45-minute commute to the office. But there, in that sequestered space designated for the sole purpose of getting work done, I’d find myself struggling to focus on the task at hand. Every day there were so many little things that gobbled up my time that, ironically, had nothing to do with my actual work: long lunches, idle chitchat, meetings. Now freed of all that, I was productive. Insanely productive.
And with less time commuting, I now had more time with my kids. I could walk them to school, drive them to practice, volunteer to coach baseball and soccer teams. At first, this seemed like the greatest arrangement ever.
But as the pandemic lingered and remote work became routine, something slowly started to change. Without the commute, I could now start working as soon as I woke up, which I did. I often didn’t even take the time to change out of my pajamas. I went upstairs to my home office and worked. And worked. And sometimes forgot to break for lunch. After dinner, if I got bored or just remembered something that needed to get done, I’d sneak back for another round.
Without realizing it, I stopped taking naps.
This was happening to dads like me across the country. We were having to grapple with the realities of working at home. Balancing work and fatherhood wasn’t as simple as it sounded.
Work became all-consuming. Before there was this bright line, a demarcation point between home and work, and by the time I was home from a long and exhausting commute on Interstate 15, the last thing I wanted to do was work. Home, mentally, was not the place for work. Home was the place to be with family. To roughhouse with my boys on the living room floor. To read my daughter a bedtime story.
Now, I was around my family all the time. And I reasoned that this was good; I was spending more time with them than ever before. But in reality, I wasn’t. Because I wasn’t really there. My mind wasn’t at least. It was upstairs, in my home office, where work was waiting for me. Bedtime stories were sacrificed for emails and calls about crises I can’t even remember now. Work stuff.
Remote work once seemed like a temporary, emergency response to the pandemic. But now that we’ve realized how much we can get done without actually having to pay for office space, and how much cheaper that is, it’s likely to become the norm for millions of Americans.
What impact will this have on families? Researching this article I found all sorts of essays asking that question. All with a variation of basically the same headline. “America’s Parents Are Not Okay” (The Week, February 2021); “Parents Are Not Okay” (The Atlantic, August 2021); “The Parents of the Youngest Children are Not Okay” (Vox, January 2022); “Your Co-Workers With Kids Are Not Ok” (Slate, February 2022).
By April 2020, according to Bloomberg, Americans working from home were logging three more hours on the job each day. And this was leading to burnout, and something fairly unprecedented in American life: quitting en masse or as it’s been cleverly coined, the Great Resignation. An estimated 25 million people quit their jobs in the second half of 2021. In November alone, 4.5 million people quit.
And for those who perhaps couldn’t afford to quit and simply soldiered on through the burnout, there have been some pretty terrible health outcomes: weight gain, increased alcohol abuse, even a higher long-term risk of heart disease and stroke.
Reading all these articles, I was reminded that I’m lucky. I’m not a high school teacher, or a nurse or a single mom who has to shell out a huge chunk of her salary for child care. I thought of the parents of young children who had to somehow keep working full time, from home, when the pandemic more or less shut down day care across the country.
I have a great job that I love, and the fact that I can whine about whether or not I can take naps reminds me of the summer when I worked construction for a cousin and dug a ditch all day with a shovel. A ditch he didn’t need me to dig but thought it would be funny. Or the semester I worked in a hot dog plant. Or the summer I built scaffolding at a mine. Fast forward 25 years. I get paid to type. It’s a pretty good gig.
And I really like working from home. But I’d be lying if I said I’m a statistical outlier. If I track how much time I work, I’m probably like most other Americans who work from home, working three hours more a day than I did before the pandemic. And while I’m lucky to get paid to do something I love, I have felt pretty burnt out.
But what’s really bothered me is that I feel that I’m a less engaged father, and kinda cranky as a husband. Thinking about that Slack message I’ve got to send while my wife is talking to me about that day’s trip to the dentist and the cost of braces. Present in body, but not in mind.
So what’s the answer? Here are a few tips from the experts:
- Get ready for work the same way you do when you’re going to the office.
- Disconnect when the work day is over. No work calls. No emails. No Slack.
- Go home. Meaning, when you’re done working for the day, shut off your laptop, get up from your workspace, and go “home.”
- Go for a walk. This helps you mentally switch from work mode to home mode, or in my case, dad mode.
- Plan after-work time. This could be as simple as going to the gym, making dinner or meeting up with friends. The key is to set a specific reason to “leave” work on time.
And if you feel guilty about working less, don’t. Americans work longer hours than much of the industrialized world. In fact, Europeans have cut their work hours by about 20% over the last 50 years. Spain, Iceland and Japan are all experimenting with four-day workweeks, based on research that productivity actually tails off after about 35 hours a week.
I also found another interesting nugget researching this essay. One of the best things you can do if you work from home is take breaks, and many experts recommend — wait for it — taking a nap! After all, Leonardo da Vinci was a serial napper, Albert Einstein proudly napped, and while Thomas Edison was embarrassed about it, he, too, was a ritual napper.
Maybe I can again commit to the practice. It will make me a better worker. And more importantly, a better dad.
This story appears in the April issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.