It Is Invisible Work

It would be nice if the work we did at home was as clear as the work we do at, well, work. At the office, the number of hours matters. At the office, you have metrics to hit. You have a quantifiable output. You have someone who can tell you–the boss, your customers–whether you’re doing a good job or not.

But at home? With our kids? It’s so much trickier.

Writing in her beautiful book Gift from the Sea in 1955, Anne Marrow Lindbergh spoke of what was then the ‘woman’s role’ at home. “We do not see the results of our giving as concrete as man does in his work,” she wrote. “In the job of home-keeping there is no raise from the boss, and seldom praise from others to show us we have hit the mark.”

Today, that shoe is on both feet and we’re better for it. But it remains a tough and trying fit. The advice we give our kids, we don’t know if they’re hearing it. The challenges we put in front of them–luctor et emergo–we have no idea when the benefits of that will kick in. As Lindbergh writes, parenting “is a kind of intricate game of cat’s-cradle we manipulate on our fingers, with invisible threads.” We don’t know what’s working and what isn’t, what’s important and what isn’t. And we won’t know, possibly for decades.

Perhaps that’s why so many of us gravitate towards working more than we should. As hard as our careers are, there is clarity there. We can rely on cause and effect at work–at least more immediately so. But the cost of this is that we abandon the invisible work at home that, in the end, matters most and has the greatest impact. And rest assured, if it’s a guaranteed outcome you’re looking for, you will find it with your decision to not do the work at home, and you’re guaranteed not to like it.

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