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Damned If I Do: Bring On the Work-at-Home Mom Guilt

By Meredith Carroll |

Baby girl

This is not a face I could bear to kiss good-bye in the morning

I don’t need the benefit of hindsight to remember that making the decision to work at home after my older daughter was born was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I also don’t need hindsight to remind me the past three years have been particularly grueling. Working at home with a baby is hard.

My 3-year-old is now happily in preschool three days a week (hooray!). And I’m still working from home, this time with my 3-month-old baby, Peony. It’s still hard. Not only is it hard, but I feel guilty about it, just like I did when before my older daughter started school.

It seems as if I’m damned if I work at home, damned if I work outside the home. And I know I’m can’t possibly be alone in feeling that.

Like with my older daughter, I didn’t want to put my younger daughter in daycare. While I know plenty of babies who’ve thrived in daycare and realize there are exceptional facilities out there, it wasn’t something I wanted for my kids. I didn’t even really want to pass off my babies too regularly to a babysitter. I’ve always wanted as much time with my girls as possible.

The thing is that I have to work. Not for my sanity or to further my career (although both of those are important to me). No, I have to work to help pay the mortgage, feed my family and keep the lights on. And since I have to work and want to care for my kids myself, that means I work from home.

In an ideal world, it’s an ideal situation. But the irony of it is that while I work from home, I barely have time for my baby. Sure, she’s barely out of the womb and spends most of her time sleeping. But she’s awake more and more, and when she’s awake I often find myself wishing she were asleep so I can get more work done. So I can . . . stay home to be with her. Strange how that works, right?

On the days my older daughter is in preschool, Peony and I barely make it out of the house. I hunker down at around 7 or 8 in the morning and don’t stop working until school’s out at 4. I’m also working late at night and on the weekends to make up for the days when my older daughter is home, at which time we are generally out and about at various activities.

I feel guilty because I don’t think Peony gets enough stimulation on most days. I feel guilty that I’m not spending enough waking hours playing with her. While she’s still nursing and physically attached to me at most times, I worry about our emotional connection and her emotional well-being since I’m so focused on working to pay the bills, so I can be home with her, although I’m home with her and . . . working.

I know I’d feel worse if she were in daycare (let me say this again: I know plenty of babies who’ve thrived in daycare and realize there are exceptional facilities out there — plus, I feel fortunate to be in a situation where I can work from home) or with a babysitter too often so I could go off to an office (and frankly, I was thrilled to leave office life/politics/drama behind).

But the guilt I’m feeling now is still pretty damn bad.

Do you ever feel like you’re damned if you do stay at home, and damned if you don’t?

Image: Meredith Carroll

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About Meredith Carroll


Meredith Carroll

Meredith C. Carroll is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Aspen, Colorado. She can be found regularly on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post. From 2005-2012 her other column, "Meredith Pro Tem" ran in several newspapers, as well as occasionally on The Huffington Post since 2009. Read more about her (or don’t, whatever) at her website. Read bio and latest posts → Read Meredith's latest posts →

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20 thoughts on “Damned If I Do: Bring On the Work-at-Home Mom Guilt

  1. Jen says:

    I think I understand how you feel. When my son was born eight years ago falling back into my transcriptionist habits seemed like a no brainer. I was able to be home with him, and still help to pay the bills. In my not so perfect world this didn’t work out quite like I had pictured it. Instead I felt as if any free time I had should be working, my husband felt that since I was home anyhow there was no reason I couldn’t also take on the tasks of laundry, straightening up the house and everything else that comes with being home. I was grateful for the time I had with him but on a certain level I do believe it caused more headaches than it was worth. Now, many years later I have an opportunity again and I have many mixed feelings about it. I desperately want the job and the money is needed. Both of my children are now in school full time during the day. I am hoping that it works out where I am able to work while they are in school and therefore no harm, no foul. The only difficult part is going to be separating mom at home working from mom at home working on the house – a distinction my husband has yet to make. When you are paid on production time is everything so I must force myself to work, work, work and block everything else out.

  2. Lauren says:

    That does seem tough! I hope you find a good balance soon, you are doing a great job so far!

  3. EmilyBMalone says:

    Meredith, I feel the EXACT.SAME.WAY. I’ve just been at this for six weeks now, but I am struggggggling to figure out how to do this whole working mom thing. When Cullen is awake, I feel horrible and guilty working, so I put off work to dangle toys in his face and sing him songs. But the whole time I’m doing THAT, I’m feeling guilty that I’m…not working? I can’t figure out how to get out of this guilt cycle either! And despite my best efforts, I’m barely getting the bare minimum done. Here’s hoping it gets easier for both of us!

  4. Jacque says:

    I can sooo relate, I’ve been working from home… And my car… And wherever with my now 15 month old since he was born. I often felt like the poor kid would be better off in a day care or somewhere where he was getting more stimulation from other kids or adults. For his sanity and mine we schedule lots of play dates and i do Drop him off with friends, family and even day care for small chunks of time when possible, I think it breaks up his day and i can really Be productive for those 2 hours. I’m so happy to get to spend so much time with my little guy but like you I worry about giving him the attention he needs.

  5. Laurie says:

    Yes, you hit the nail on the head with this one! Such a hard but rewarding thing to do. I can’t imagine how hard it will be with two kids! So glad I’m not alone in feeling this way!

  6. Erin says:

    I really can’t imagine trying to actually work and care for a kid at the same time. We’re allowed to work from home at my company, but you are required to have child care when you do it. It seems like the guilt will remain until you figure out a good schedule and balance, whether that includes a sitter a few times a week, or only working during nap/bedtime and maybe certain other hours of the day – just so you KNOW you can focus on either work or your child at that time and aren’t just devoting half your energy to both.

  7. Gwyn says:

    I’m in the boat too, and have realized that I can’t do it; I can’t do quality work and by a quality mom. The solution for me is to find to come to my house that could do childcare while I worked; that way I was there for breastfeeding, meals, etc, but could work knowing my children were entertained but I would be there for critical moments (and avoid the dreaded breastpump.)

  8. Meredith Carroll says:

    While I’m not glad others are going through the same thing, I do take some comfort in knowing I’m not alone! Thanks so much for your comments.

  9. Emily says:

    I could have written this word for word!! I’ve been working at home for about 3 years now, and while almost all my 4-year-old’s friends with their stay-at-home moms can write their names and know all their colors and are just so smart, my kid still thinks every color is pink and can’t seem to remember the 6 when she is counting to 10, all because I just don’t have the time to teach her anything. She will be starting preschool soon and I know it won’t take her long to catch up, but I still feel so guilty. And my baby is getting so big so fast and I feel like I’m missing it all, even though I’m sitting right there beside her. When I’m feeling the most guilty, I try to change my perspective a bit. I think about what people did with their kids hundreds of years ago. They had to work hard all day with their kids right there beside them. Their kids learned how to work hard by watching their parents. This modern way of life where we have playgroups every day all week, enrichment activities, etc. simply didn’t exist. And those kids turned out just fine! Working at home with kids there is way, way harder than anything else I’ve ever tried, but it has been the most rewarding so far, and despite me not being available for my kids as much as I want, I know that later they will see the sacrifices I have made to be home with them, and they will appreciate it.

  10. Sally says:

    I spent a year looking for a work from home job after our youngest was born. But in that time, what I realized was it was darn near impossible for me to check my email undistracted nevermind focus on *real* work, all the while doing breakfast, lunch, nap, housework…….
    When I finally realized that, we were desperate for a second income so I returned to waitressing.
    When I had our second babu seven months ago, things were just easier. I didn’t have to countdown maternity leave, as I went back when I wanted to get a “night out.” (Oh ya, waitressing is now my “social outlet.”)
    However, we also cut out our debt and tightened our budget. Do you NEED two cars? (Or two car payments?) Do you need cable? Home phone service?
    I would love more than anything to not be reliant on my income, but we were dumb enough to buy a house based on a double income and right now we need mine. Hopefully sooner than later we won’t.

  11. Rebekah says:

    I can completely relate!
    I’ve worked from home for almost 10 years now – I remember how hard it was at first- I can tell you that it DOES get easier and you will find that it is worth it. Its nice now with an almost 10 year old, 7 year old and almost 5 year old. They’re happy, independent kids and I know me being home with them has made a difference. I still go thru those phases of feeling like I’m not giving my work full attention (because of interuptions from the kids) and I’m not giving the kids good attention because of work – basically making me feel like I’m not good at ANYTHING. Those feelings are further apart now though. Good luck! You won’t regret your decision!

  12. Brannan says:

    I feel ya, mama. I have worked from home since my oldest was born, and now I have 3 kiddos. It is tough on so many levels. I think there is guilt in any of it tho..WOH it is about leaving them, SAH it is about finances…I think guilt is part of motherhood, it seems :-/

  13. Stephanie says:

    I have been doing this for over 5 years (have 5 and 2 yo) and completely relate to your post. What I’ve done is the same as Gwyn – I hired someone to come to my home and take care of my child during key hours of the day (usually 9-2) – and sometimes even longer when work is intense. This way I have been able to do extended breastfeeding with both of my children (til 32 months with first and still nursing my 2 year old) – without the breast pump. I am there for all “emergencies”, bumps, bruises, and meals…and can always wander out and play for a bit when I need a break and desire a connection with my children. The hardest part for me has been when they just want to be with me and I can’t at that moment – and I basically have to numb myself to their pleas so I can complete something I have to do. I know they are actually okay and will soon be back to having fun with their babysitter – but still, thats the toughest. I also end up working nights and weekends to make up for it (have a high intensity professional job) – but in the end I feel like I really know what is happening with my children, am there for them when they need me, and am also able to provide for my family. I should add that my husband also has flexibility and takes up some of the care during the week so we are both making time for our kids during the workday – which is a major added bonus to our situation.

  14. Shelly smith says:

    I am in the same EXACT situation now. I have a 2yo & 3mo. I’m ggoing to try a live-in Nanny and see if that works. Then I fear my toddler won’t be getting the socialization. Like you said…damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  15. Liz says:

    My daughter Verona is 14 months and I’ve been working from home since she was 3 months. Our company is very small and to save money we are all telecommuting. I too have the guilt of not being able to really be with her/teach her things as often as I’d want to, but I also try and remember that there are some really great advantages to our situation and I should feel super lucky to be home with her when SO many moms would kill for this situation. I also try and remember that when I’m done working I don’t have to drive home from an office so I use that time to engage her with books and dancing and overall silliness. When she has her lunch, I do dishes, so nighttime is 100% devoted to her. While the perfect situation might be to be a full time stay at home mom, our situation allows me to contribute money AND not have a stranger raise our daughter, which would make me feel even worse.

  16. Jaci says:

    I totally understand how this mom feels, my lo is 4 1/2 months and very active when he’s awake. He also does not nap much so its hard to get anything done. A lot of people say its so wonderful to work from home. It is great to spend time but also difficult finding a balance, especially when you’re nursing and the child can’t entertain themself very well yet.

  17. Joyce says:

    I am a work from home grandmother who watches her Grandson, I know exactly what you mean, he is 9 months old and getting really active and there are all these things I want to teach him since his mom has to work outside the house. But on the other hand, as much as I want to blow off work and play with him, I also realize I need to do a good job so I can continue to work from home, it’s really important to me, and I love being able to care for him to give his mom peace of mind. He is expecting a sibling around the first of June so we will see what happens next fall when his mom goes back to work.

  18. Joyce says:

    The good news is I have him on a good nap schedule for now anyhow, he naps regularly at 930 and 2pm so I can make phone calls when he is asleep

  19. Lissa says:

    I can totally relate. I work from home on Fridays and it can be challenging, but it’s only one day a week – and generally my slowest day (as I create my own schedule anyway and try to get the business stuff done M-Th so Fridays are a reserved for research/planning/editing/updating media lists/etc). — I just blogged about how, IMO, there is no right or wrong way to be a mom … only what works for you and your family … and it’s subject to change. If my company said no more Fridays at home, well, I don’t know what I’d do. That’s my lifeline at the moment … knowing I have Fridays with my beautiful baby girl! And it’s hard. I also blog … but my daughter has been going to bed around 7 since she was 3 mths old and STTN, so I have no excuse for writing when she is asleep … though then I need to work out and spend time with my husband, so it does become harder. I blog less now, but try to write quality posts.

  20. tibby says:

    I have two kids and am now a stay at home mom who babysits. I babysit a girl who is 2 months older than my one year old son. This is the perfect situation for me because I can be 100% involved with my kids and my youngest has someone to play with when the 5 year old goes off to school. However I am cut off from the rest of the world as I dont live in a place where there are many places you can go with your child around. When I worked after my first son i wasn’t as lucky. My first job after him was horrible. I never saw my son. If I did he was asleep or i was exhausted. After a year of that I tried staying home but I needed to get a place of my own so it was back to work for me. I tried working at a daycare witch seemed like a great idea at the time, however, not only did I not see my son much but he was spoiled by my co-workers who became my friends and therefor got to know my son on a much more personal basis. Once you meet my little charmer its hard to remember that you already said no more cookies. Anyway I agree there is no winning.

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