Working from home. It’s supposed to be “The Dream,” right? Who hasn’t dreamed of getting paid to sit on your couch in your PJs, the powdered doughnut you inhaled for lunch scattered across your chest as you tap away at a keyboard smeared with yesterday’s Cheetos dust? For parents saddled not only with the guilt of leaving their kids with someone else, but the hefty childcare costs a 9 to 5 gig brings, working from home becomes even more appealing than doughnuts and Cheetos, if that’s even possible.
When I had my first child I was working 10-hour days as an executive producer in a television newsroom. I quickly came to the conclusion that this was no way to parent my child. Sure, I had excellent benefits and a solid paycheck, but why have a kid if I’m going to miss nearly every day of her life? At least that’s what I kept asking myself at the time. I quickly determined that I needed to find a way to work from home. (The dream!) I began formulating a plan. (I would freelance write!) I would work as hard as I could at that with the goal of eventually making enough to work from home AND be with my kids. A paycheck, Cheetos, doughnuts, and being there for my kids! What could be better? I had visions of myself diligently hammering out articles in the early morning hours, making lunch, taking the kids on epic jaunts through the Pennsylvania countryside, organizing Mom of the Year-style activities. And bonus: I’d save all that money that we would’ve funneled towards childcare.
It was going to be awesome.
It wasn’t awesome.
Don’t get me wrong, there was that honeymoon period after quitting my news gig during which I routinely pinched myself, not believing my good fortune that I didn’t have to be anywhere. (I hate having to be places.) There’s nothing worse than that Sunday night dread that uncoils in your stomach when you begin contemplating the work week ahead. But that was all gone! It was just me, my babies, and my computer. Yeah, I said babies. By the time I was able to quit my full-time job and exclusively write I had had a second kid. You can imagine how well writing went down with two little kids shouting or crying their demands every second of the day. And the guilt, oh, the guilt! I thought I felt bad leaving my daughter for ten hours a day but now she was old enough to climb up next to me and ask me to read her a story. Try telling your kid no, twenty times a day. It’s brutal. You end up feeling worse for having to ignore them than you would if you were gone at a job all day.
In an article on Fast Company, Karen Alpert, who has also been a working mom, a stay-at-home-mom, and a work-at-home-mom, elaborates on why moms who choose to work from home have the “worst of both worlds”:
Day in, day out, I have to tell my kids to leave me the hell alone, and I constantly feel bad about it. Do they think my work is more important than they are? It’s not. But sometimes it has to be. What does it do to them that I’m constantly shutting my office door in their face or handing them over to another woman? And sure, I get to pop out to see them sometimes when I get a break, but then they freak out when I have to go back to my office, so it’s almost better not popping out to see them in the first place. And you know what really feels terrible? When you’re sitting at your desk and you can hear them bawling downstairs because they fell and they’re calling, “I want Mommmmyyy” and you’re dying to go to them but you can’t because you’re working, so you have to trust that someone else can hug them enough or sing them the boo-boo song or figure out that they’re faking it and tell them to shake it off.
Years later, I am now a work-at-home-mom AND I have a full-time job. That’s a kind of special hell, I’m discovering. Not only am I away from my kids for eight hours a day, but I have to try and jam my freelance writing in during the times I’m home. Add to that the fact that I’m going through a divorce and only have the kids half the time and my guilt meter is off the charts — and there’s no easy answer to how I can make that go away.
What about you? Are you a stay-at-home-mom? A working mom? A working/work-from-home mom like me? What is the ideal? Is there an ideal? Or do we all just muddle through the best we can doing what makes sense to us at the time?
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