The word came down from the Oval Office itself: Go home to your spouses and children.

"You will be more valuable to me and the country with rest and a stable home life." wrote President Jimmy Carter early this month in a personal memo and sane gesture in an office where workaholism is the rule, ans one that Carter repeated to his Cabinet several days later.

It must have been spirit (f Valentine's Day, though, for hot on the a Carter dictate to answer all White HOuse business calls in three days and all correspondence in nine.

"Giving mixed signals" is how some psychiatrists describe this type of communication, and, naturally enough. White House staff members responded hetegeneously of hearth and family.

Betty Lipshutz, wife of White HOuse Counsel to the President Robert Lipshutz, said she hadn't reaped any benefits from the Carter family memo.

"It hasn't happened yet. He usually comes home about 8. To be honest, our lifestyle here is so much different from what it was in Atlanta. It's to be expected though, the first few week's it takes time to get settled."

Mrs Lipshutz said her husband's new longer hours hadn't affected her because "I've been busy getting settled and handling the income tax material. Besides I plan to go to work in a short while. I used to do a lot of volunteer work in Atlanta."

Nancy Moore, wife of Frank G. Moore, congressional relations assistant to the President, hasn't seen a change either. In fact, she and the four Moore children would be overwhelmed if he did arrive home before 9.

"If came home as early as 6:30, we'd be just thrilled to death," she said "though there wouldn't be anything to eat for dinner. I don't really expect him tough; it's not a 9-to-5 job. It's a hectic time and just the nature of the work. We have four small children, though, and if he did come home we'd just stay here, maybe play backgammon or watch television with the kids."

Office of Management and Budget Director Bert Lance's wife, LaBelle, long ago gave up expecting her husband to ring the doorbell before nightfall, memo or no memo. "I'm used to having to be on my own. Through the years, I've learned to be happy by myself. I long ago crossed that bridge."

Without her husband, Mrs. Lance keeps busy by reading inspirational texts and being involved in a Bible study and prayer group. Still, she expects that "when we get Daylight Savings Time, we'll sightsee around Washington."

Richard Harden, who is special assistant to the President for budget and organization, hasn't followed the President's recommendation because his family hasn't arrived in Washington.

"I've got no particular reason to go home early because I'm just going to an empty apartment," he said. "I try to get down to Atlanta where (his wife) Peggy is on the weekends. She's been up here and then we spent our time just looking around trying to find a house."

Debbie Fallows, wife of chief speechwriter Jim Fallows, sees benefits from her husband's long hours. Recently arrived from Texas and expecting their first child soon, Mrs. Fallows, a graduate student in linguistics, said of her husband's schedule: "If ever there was a time to write my dissertation, it's now when I have lots of time alone.

"We're not used to this hectic kind of life though. Jim was a freelance writer for two years while we were in Texas for my graduate school work. He did all his work at home. But we always expected to come back to a Washington life because he writes about politics and government. I'm not surprised that we're back here, just surprised at how we got back here."

Carter's memo was right on the mark as far as Judy Kirschenbaum, wife of intergovernmental relations staffer Bruce Kirschenbaum, was concerned.

"We were going to make a sacrifice and I was kind of pleased that the President wrote the note. Now there's hope that Bruce will see the children."

Mrs. Kirschenbaum saw a newspaper reprint of the memo and brought it to her husband's attention. She said that he in turn pointed it out to Jack Watson Jr., assistant to the President for intergovernmental relations and Cabinet secretary.

"They'd been having regular staff meetings every day at 6," Mrs. Kirschenbaum said. "Watson cut them back to three days a week at 5."

Mrs. Kirschenbaum said the new hours allowed her husband to see their two children more frequently.

"The children are my prime interest. They like to play rough with him. That's mostly why I was pleased with the President's memo. The children get first call on him when he comes home early."

Even though Stuart Eizenstat, assistant to the President for domestic affairs and policy, isn't coming home any earlier because of the memo, his wife, Fran, thinks that the note "made it mentally a little easier (to be home with the family) knowing that the Carter family wanted the staff to spend adequate time with their families."

Mrs. Eizenstat said her husband leaves for work early and arrives home "anywhere from 7:30 on. He works at home at night and an hour before going into the office in the morning. I'm not up though."

When asked what she would do if her husband did come home earlier, she was lost for words. "You know it's such a simple question, but I really don't have any answer."

Clifton Kreps Jr., husband of Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps, isn't in Washington and isn't affected by the Carter memo.

Kreps, who is a professor of banking at the University of North Caroline in Chapel Hill, said, "We don't find our lifestyle as different as you might think. She'd frequently be away two or three nights a week before this job, or I'd be away. The weekends are our principal time together. The weekend before last, I was in Washington. Last weekend, she was here. We had hoped for a long weekend because of the legal holiday, but it's not a holiday for Secretaries."

Kreps said he wasn't moving to Washington to be with his wife because "I have commitments until the end of spring. I'll be teaching."

For those members of the Carter staff who have no families, the memorandum was disregarded immediately.

"I don't have any family," said peppery Margaret "Midge" Costanza, assistant to the President for the office of public liaison. "Besides a couple of days later the President put out another memo on returning calls and responding to letters. That will keep me in the office till well after midnight."

Burning the candle late seems to go along with working in the White House. Mary Schuman, who works on the domestic policy staff, said she was working 12 hours a day for the first three weeks she was in the White House. She took one weekend off, vowing all the time "never to come back. I'd never tell my friends this," she said, "but by Sunday night I was itching to get back to work."