A work in progress

For a toddler, work must seem like an evil, mysterious chore that eats up the fun time with the parents

Columnist Jon Willing, his wife Nicole, and their son, Miles. Photo Credit: S. Willing


When I hear the garage door open, the countdown begins.

I know I have maybe five minutes to wrap up my work, do a final look over a story I’m about to file to my editors and scan social media to make sure there’s no breaking news before my three-year-old son happily stomps up the stairs after his day at preschool.

“Are you done work, daddy?” Miles often asks, but what he really means is, “You’re done work, daddy.”

The work-from-home culture that many Ottawa families have adopted during the pandemic has been complicated. Work life bleeds into home life — or is it the other way around? 

At times over the past two years, the work-life balance is more of a seesaw that never really levels out.

I must acknowledge that our small family has had it exceptionally well during the pandemic compared to other working parents with young children. Child care programs have chugged along while the provincial government kept kids at home from school for extended periods during aggressive spreads of COVID-19.

Part of the dilemma for me is I love what I do for work and I want to do it well.

However, the pandemic has cranked up the tension in many ways. With daily deadlines in the competitive business of journalism, and information and phone calls coming in at unpredictable times, it’s been an interesting test of my stress threshold.

Of course, priorities in life change as you get older and have a family, and trust me, I’m not oblivious to that wonderful reality. The calendar, thankfully, fills up with more than just press conferences and council meetings.

Under the work-from-home setup, young children have been seeing what their parents do when they’re at child care or school, and it really can’t look fun.

What it actually exposes for kids is that there’s something competing for their attention. The work-from-home transition has laid bare the daily demands of parents’ jobs.

In my case, I’m not sure if Miles even knows what “work” is, only that it’s something seemingly more important than playing with him at that moment. 

It might be the worst part of the pandemic for me.

I remember one time this winter when I was beginning a Saturday shift at my computer and Miles walked up to me wanting to play.

“Daddy, please don’t work,” he said, climbing onto my lap.

Wow. Gut punch.

Trying to explain why you have to work, even in the most basic way — “it helps us buy food and pay for our home!” — isn’t exactly persuasive to toddlers.

Long ago, an editor of mine often used the line, “But what are you doing for me now?” to offset reporters’ arguments for needing time to work on longer news stories. How applicable that line is to a toddler’s sense of needing something right away, including some attention.

Luckily, I have an incredible wife who understands when I have to take a call or answer a message during dinner.

Does Miles have the same tolerance? Will he remember the times when daddy had to choose work over play?

Nailing a work-life balance might be a lifetime’s work-in-progress, even at the best of times. In recent years, it’s been an exhausting pursuit.

I’ll give the pandemic credit for one thing. It has crystallised what’s really important in life.