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How the Work Commute Overshadows Our Family Life

Photograph by Twenty20

Several years ago, my husband's office moved. And it had a significant impact on our family.

While we had lived just three miles from his former work location, we suddenly lived almost 20 miles away. And he had to drive on some of the busiest, most congested roads in our city.

Suddenly, my husband's commute was taking close to an hour each way. It was causing him an incredible amount of stress. With a house that is paid for and a school our daughter is very happy in, moving did not make sense.

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Besides, he'd moved once before to be closer to work. Then work relocated. While the work commute is a factor in determining where to live, it is not the only one. It did not make sense for our family to uproot and make an intra-city move.

Mass transit is not a viable option in where we live. And my husband has been with the company he works for close to 30 years, accruing benefits and a seniority he would lose were he to change jobs.

But the commute took a toll on my husband. So much so he eventually decided to change to a non-traditional work schedule. He found if he went in later, and left later, he missed much of the bad traffic. The distance to work itself was not the issue; it was the congestion on the route. Changing the timing made a difference.

He has started taking our daughter to school in the morning on the way to the office. It has been time together they both love.

It also meant our daughter and I saw very little of him during the week. He often arrived home just as I was preparing to turn out her light. And by the time he ate dinner and was finally able to relax, it was around 9 p.m. So I had much less time with him.

It was hard. The new schedule threw the parenting structure we had developed completely off its axis and impacted our entire family dynamic.

We adjusted and made the most of our time on the weekends. Family time was the priority, and we limited activities that would take away from our being together. But we all hated what little time we had to be together as a family during the week.

Recently my husband decided it wasn't enough. So he switched his schedule back.

He has started taking our daughter to school in the morning on the way to the office. It has been time together they both love. We get to have family dinners again, after which he and I switch off kitchen and child duty. We both have the opportunity to read with her. And time to spend together as a couple.

I often imagine what our lives would be like if I, too, were commuting to a job outside the home. And it's not a pretty image.

He is not loving the commute, however, and after just a short time is starting to feel the stress again. It takes a serious toll on him. As much as he loves the extra family time, he is once again considering changing his work schedule, after only a few months.

But she and I are so happy to have more time with him. It has made our lives so much better. It is infuriating we have to choose one over the other.

I understand my husband's stress. I used to commute nearly an hour each way to my job. In that case, I was single and chose to live at the beach even though my job was downtown. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make because I loved the benefits of beach living.

Would I want a commute like that now? Absolutely not. I often imagine what our lives would be like if I, too, were commuting to a job outside the home. And it's not a pretty image. It would have a seriously negative impact on our family, and I can't come up with a single benefit to outweigh that.

Working from home has been the compromise. It enables me to use my education, stimulate my brain, do something I truly enjoy and earn extra income for our family. I feel blessed we are in a position for me to do so.

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It also means I am alone much of the time. The longer I am out of the workforce, the harder it would be to find a job should I choose or need to in the future. And my being home means my husband has fewer options.

These are not unique issues. They are faced by many families. In fact, we are in the minority today, because we do have the option for me to work from home and only have one parent commuting.

The simple fact is, for better or for worse, commuting is part of American life. I wish it weren't so.

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