What it Really Feels Like to be a Working Stay-at-Home Mom
This post originally appeared on our old blog, Born to be a Bride.
There are a lot of cute ways to say this: I’m a “WAHM” (read: work at home mom) or a “WFHM” (swap that ‘at’ for a ‘from’). I’m a mother who works remotely. I’m a stay-at-home mommy who also works. I’m a working mother who stays home to take care of her child. It doesn’t really matter how you phrase it, the fact is that I, alongside many women of my generation, have found myself in a newly popular yet oft-misunderstand space somewhere between the traditionally opposing concepts of Working Mom and Stay-at-Home Mom. And I’ll be honest — it isn’t always as cute as it sounds.
Firstly, I am more than aware of how lucky I am to be able to earn money to help our family while also staying home and caring for my daughter myself, which is not something every mother wants or should want, but it is what I want. I’m a stay-at-home mother and also a writer and small shop owner/designer. I am “living the dream.” I am also really fucking exhausted. So, I thought I’d fill you in on that.
It seems as soon as someone asks me “what I do,” I’m defensive, like most moms. It doesn’t really matter how it’s phrased — “Do you just stay home?” is incredibly rude and offensive. Full-time stay-at-home moms and homemakers are some of the hardest working people in the world. They never get a break. They never press pause. They are constantly overwhelmed and yes, they’re working. They are also a very important part of our economy — without their sacrifice, their co-parents simply would not be able to earn and save as much as they do for their families. Their spending is some of the most targeted, calculated spending around. You want their business. You want to be their neighbor. You want to be their friend. To belittle them by suggesting that since they don’t “work,” they’re merely sitting around in their pajamas all day sipping mimosas and watching Disney movies is appalling, baseless, and downright rude. But rather than prattle off an excerpt from their never-ending to-do lists, I’ll get back to my point. In a minute.
On the other end of the spectrum you have working moms. Whether they want to or whether they have to, the result is the same: they work their tails off to help (or to solely) provide for their families while leaving their kids for a portion of the day in the care of someone other than themselves. Because they don’t spend the bulk of their time trapped at home in a sea of toddlers, they’re made by society to feel guilty about missing out. “Aren’t you worried you’ll miss his first word, her first steps? Are you home in time to tuck them in?” Blah. Shut up. Just shut the hell up already and leave them alone. Worse, they get it at work. “Clocking out at 5:25 again, huh? You working moms are living the dream!” Oh, yeah. What a dream! Clocking out at 5:25 pm after working through lunch, after getting up at 5:25 am to get oneself and an entire pack of humans cleaned, dressed, fed, organized and located at their respective places for the day. All this on an average mom’s night’s sleep? She’s lucky if she has time to dream at all.
And so I get it. There are struggles on either side of the fence, and this is probably why so many people are inclined to gasp with a mix of jealousy and joy when they ask me “what I do” and I respond, “I’m a work-from-home mom.” They always want to know more. Sometimes, they want to just take my job. “How do I become a writer?” (Post for another day, but I promise you, it’s not exactly the career path to look into if you plan to end up rich or respected overnight). Another common response? “Oh. That’s perfect!”
Well. It is and it isn’t. After that lengthy preamble, those of you who haven’t clicked away from this diatribe are in for the honest, hold-nothing-back truth: this is what it’s like to be a working stay-at-home mom.
My days start and end when my daughter and my to-do lists determine. I live in a perpetual state of anxiety and panic because, no. matter. what., there is always something I am sure I’m forgetting. And I’m usually right. In addition to the fact that my daughter needs to be fed, cleaned, cared for, played with, and taught her ABC’s, the dog needs to be walked and the laundry cleaned, folded, and put away. In addition to the fact that the mail needs to be collected, floors slept, groceries purchased, toilets scrubbed, husband’s dry cleaning picked up and on and on and on, I also have a job.
There are people who rely on me to do the work they assign me in a timely manner and often, as is the life of a freelancer, I have to follow up this work by asking for my money (invoice life!), sometimes for months on end. I am not able to work as many hours as I would need to in order to pay for childcare, so I get up before my daughter does to work, keep going through her naps, and often pick right back up and keep going in the evening long after the other inhabitants of my home are sound asleep and dreaming.
I haven’t flipped through a magazine in 21 months and I haven’t had a facial in two years. But if you’ve seen me lately, you’d intuit both of these facts by my current wardrobe selection and skin texture. When people ask what my hobbies are, I choke on my lukewarm Diet Coke and laugh. Hobby? What is a hobby? I suppose if you were feeling very creative you could list yoga, since I finally started going again three times a month once my daughter turned one-and-a-half. But even though moving my body and meditating for an hour once in a blue moon feels amazing, it takes an hour to get us both ready to get out the door and I am screamed at in the car both ways. It also takes two hours out of our normal schedule, pushing back lunch and nap and thus making me dangerously close to missing a deadline. Is the further panic worth the moment of zen? I think so, which is why I go. But a hobby? I’d be likelier to classify yoga as a drug I take inconsistently.
What does it feel like to be a working stay-at-home-mom? It feels like it does not matter how much I have to put in the pot; the pot will never be full. And yet it also feels like I am constantly drowning, so you sit with that math for a minute and imagine how confused I am half the time. It feels like I am allowed brief moments of satisfaction, like when I heard my daughter say her first mini-sentence last week (“Me- bah” for “give me my bottle”), or when I am given a plum assignment from one of my favorite clients.
But on the day-to-day, it feels like I am an eye ball that is brimming with tears just moments from spilling out. It feels like I am never refreshed, relaxed, or rested enough. It feels like it doesn’t matter how much I have to give, there will always be more needed than I possess. I have turned into a person who craves praise and thanks like the hungry crave food — all I want is for someone to pat me on the back and tell me I’m doing an amazing job. Because even though I am doing what all stay-at-home moms do, and what all working moms do, it’s really fucking hard doing it all. Thus, I doubt myself all the time.
And I am one of the lucky ones. My husband cooks dinner and does the dishes. He takes our daughter for day-trips on weekends so I can catch up on work. He listens to me and he tries really hard not to get mad when I’m being an utter bitch because I haven’t had time to shower in three days. He also makes an effort to help me with “my” chores, a fact that makes me feel really guilty when I find myself headed toward a blind rage at discovering his balled-up dirty socks under the dining room table when I just cleaned that morning.
There is another thing that makes it weird and sad, which is that I don’t have the time or opportunity to meet friends in the traditional ways. The mommy-and-me classes and meet-ups I’ve found nearby all run through that precious nap hour I need to get my work done. I used to make friends at the office and while I keep in touch with all those wonderful people, they work traditional hours and I do not, so getting together is tough. And meeting new work friends is not a thing when your office is in your basement. So, I’m alone a lot even though I’m never alone. It’s sad. It’s hard. It’s why I have made so many friends through social media this past year-and-a-half and you can mock me all you want, but without them I don’t know where I’d be. (More on that in another post, next week). But the loneliness is palpable and it hurts.
Please don’t get me wrong: I am living a life that I designed, and it’s happier and more beautiful than the sum of its parts. I’m proud of myself for working my tail off for years and bettering my craft so that I may take on writing assignments that truly help our financial bottom line as a family. I’m proud, too, of finally opening my little dream of a headband shop (shameless plug! Go, buy all the things!) and growing that business. I’m proudest, of course, of being a kick-ass mom to a little girl in pigtails who knows already that everybody deserves respect and love. Who will grow up to be a kind-hearted, generous woman. I am proud that I am creating a beautiful, happy start for her.
But I don’t always get it right. Some afternoons she eats homemade, gluten-free pasta salad with organic kale snuck in and others, like today, she crumbles Goldfish crackers in one hand while holding a coconut ice pop in the other, diaper-less on the back porch as I attempt to reach a deadline, potty-train, and serve some semblance of “lunch.” Some Friday afternoons I’ve finished everything on my work plate and can spend her nap hour dusting the baseboards and making a salad dressing from scratch, while catching up on (gasp) personal texts. Other Fridays, like tomorrow, I’ll be up at the crack of dawn working like a wild woman until she rises and then spilling my workload into the weekend and feeling guilty as hell for missing out on precious time with them as I hide away writing and glueing pieces of ribbon together.
I am not saying this to complain. I am saying this to keep it real. And to maybe give you some insight the next time you’re tempted to tell a working stay-at-home mom that she’s “living the dream” or that her life is “perfect.” Being a mom is a blessing, period. Having a job is a blessing, period. Working a 40-plus-hour work week with no childcare is a hustle unlike anything I’ve ever known. I am fully aware that if it was “all that bad,” I could sell my soul back to the magazine industry, put her in daycare, and be done with the whole thing. I am not asking for pity. But I just want to be clear: for me, anyway, being a mom who works from home is a never-ending, fiercely demanding, isolating yet beautiful thing. This is my life and I love it, but it sure as shit isn’t easy. Now, time for another coffee…