Blurred Life Roles

If you worked from home at all during this pandemic, you might be aware of an almost imperceivable shift in perceptions. Perceptions you have of yourself, perceptions you have of family and co-workers and perceptions they have of you. Up until this past year, few of us worked from home and if we did, we certainly did not have our family members working from home right beside us while our children participated in school from the next room for days on end. I do recognize how privileged I am to have the opportunity to work from home. I also practice OT in the NICU, so I still pull on my scrubs and do that job in person, but I can work for the college and do telehealth from the comfort of my kitchen.

We used to have well-defined life roles. I was a maternal and domestic mom and wife while at home, and a professional occupational therapist while at work. Over the course of the past year, the lines of these roles have blurred as my family sees me at work and my co-workers, clients and boss see me at home.  During a recent family day trip, my entire family had no choice but to be in the background of my staff meeting for an hour on the Pennsylvania turnpike. It felt very strange to put on my professional hat and talk to co-workers about projects and work, while my kids and husband are in earshot, then to field their follow up questions afterwards.  “You told Linda you made a spreadsheet. When did you learn how to make a spreadsheet mom?...John volunteered you for that project, mom. Did you want to do that?” Suddenly my work life is being scrutinized by my husband and kids!

Then there was the day I forgot to mute myself when my doorbell rang while I was in a meeting with my boss and she witnessed a five minute conversation with a plumber about my clogged toilet! This new pandemic life we are living can feel intrusive and revealing and even embarrassing as we display parts of our lives, usually kept private.  

I have witnessed the challenges as we all navigate this new situation together. As I work on projects with my co-worker, Mandy, I get to literally see her attempt to parent while working, often with a child on a knee or fielding school work questions on the side. I used to only see the professional side of Mandy, but now I see her as a parent as well.  I see the whole person.  

I see first-hand the challenges that my patients face in their homes.  Up until this point, I only saw a lot of my pediatric patients in the clinic, but now I see them in their home environment, and I see the parents at home, sometimes chasing the child with the ipad, trying to get them to participate.  I have a much better picture of the whole person. 

I even see news anchors on TV that I have watched in the studio for years, suddenly on national TV from their own home.  Maybe a child or pet wanders into the background. Again, I am seeing the whole person.

As occupational therapists, we are taught to see the “whole” person in all of their life roles. Maybe it is a good thing that my family sees professional me and my co-workers and patients see domestic me and all of my life roles are blending together. They are seeing the whole me.

I read that judges who are hearing small claims cases from people on zoom are more empathetic. The judge is seeing the living situations or the working conditions of the people who are stepping aside from their life to zoom into a court hearing and the Judges have a better understanding of their situation because they are seeing the whole person. When a judge sees a mom in her home holding two babies with piles of dirty dishes and laundry around her and no support in sight, it becomes abundantly clear why she missed her last court date. When a judge sees a man covered in roadside dirt step aside from his construction job, the judge may be more lenient on the outstanding traffic tickets. The judge is seeing the whole person.

This new zoom world has given us a window into the parts of peoples’ lives we did not previously get to see, but maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe we are learning that we are all human. We learn a lot when all of our life roles blur together and we see the whole person.

Maybe when we become overwhelmed with all the facets of our lives, we need to remind ourselves that we are whole, just how we see our patients. Even if we are not on zoom, our work life is affected by our home lives and our home lives are most definitely affected by our work lives. We don’t have to be physically living them simultaneously for them to affect each other. We know that we bring stress home and it affects our relationships. We have been doing that for years, but now it is tangible and visible to everyone. 

Don’t worry, I am not going to tell you to “keep it separate, leave work at work, etc.” That was a challenge before, but it is impossible now. My point is to remember that you are a whole person. Roles are blurred. Respect the fact that even when you are dealing with a challenging situation at work, you are still a mom and wife, even in that moment. We never really thought about it before because it never all melded together quite like it is now. All of our life roles make us who we are…human.