I have a boss who’s pretty demanding. He expects me to be on call 24/7 and gets upset when I don’t respond right away. Try as I might to keep up with his deadlines, inevitably, I fail — and then he grows even more irate. It’s admittedly been hard at times taking satisfaction in this work. Oh, and there is no pay. That’s because the job is motherhood, and the boss is my baby, Ben.
After many years of working full-time in an office, with a babysitter, my husband and I made cutbacks in our lifestyle so I could afford to work from home a couple of days a week; the other three days, I look after the baby and my two older kids. Actually, I should say I’m working full-time plus overtime, because being an at-home mom is a consuming job.
I know, I know: Mothers who’ve long stayed at home with their children may be thinking, “NO KIDDING, LADY!” — or worse. But if you’ve worked in an office and then shifted to staying at home with your kids, it is a startling awakening. I used to half-joke with friends that I didn’t know how the babysitter did it. Now I know that all too well, and I’ve struggled with finding the same fulfillment I’ve had in my career.
As the days pass in a blur, with barely time to even shower, I have this constant feeling of not getting anything done — which is ridiculous, given the endless loop of diapering, feeding, washing, and laundering I do for my little guy, on top of everything else I handle for my family and home. Part of the challenge is that I’m used to feedback for my accomplishments; work has kudos from the boss, reviews, raises. Caring for a baby is a thankless task. “I really appreciate your cleaning my diaper explosion!” said no tot ever.
To steal a phrase from the Army, parenthood is the toughest job you’ll ever love. Unlike work, though, nobody is telling you that you aced a project. Nobody is extolling your virtues at a performance review. Nobody is emailing you an appreciative note for a job well done. At best, Baby Ben lets out a rather satisfied burp when I’m done feeding him.
And then, there’s the loneliness.
Oh, to be sure, I relish the gurgles and smiles and insane amount of cuteness. Once a week, I can count on mingling with moms at music class. Most of my friends are working full-time, though, and I sure do miss regular adult company. At work, I could look up from my desk and chat with women colleagues sitting nearby about everything from baby gear to weird rashes our kids got. At home, conversations consist of narrating activities to Ben (“We’re going to practice sitting on the playmat!”) and blowing raspberries to make him laugh.
Adding to all this is the lack of being able to do stuff in a timely way, or even at all. In an office, I could sit down at my computer and plow through work. At home, mail sits unopened on our kitchen counter, cups and bowls sit in the dishwasher waiting to be unloaded, and a bathroom sink keeps drip-drip-dripping because I haven’t had a second to try to fix it.
My schedule is not my own; the days revolve around the baby’s feedings and nap time. This has all contributed to an unsettling feeling that my life is not in control, unlike at work where my time was mine to accomplish what I needed to.
I’ve gained new respect for at-home moms, and it’s sad that it took me this long. So here’s an official apology to at-home moms everywhere. Suddenly, I understand the frustration you have felt when moms who work in an office talk about how hectic and stressful life is. When I’m home watching my kids, I am still very much a working mom. In fact, I am working the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life.
In recent weeks, I’ve been making more of an effort to make playdates with new moms I’ve met in my neighborhood. I’ve also come around a bit about my struggles with satisfaction. “You have to rethink your identity,” a friend pointed out, which is true. After years of ID-ing as a working mom, which in my mind meant working in an office, I’ve had to reconsider what that means.
This motherhood job is rewarding, when I rethink my idea of what that means. After months of dealing with a sleep-resistant baby, I finally succeeded in getting him on a nap and bedtime schedule — and that sure deserves a pat on the back.
This job is productive, when I actually take a minute (a whole minute!) at the end of the day to consider everything that I accomplished. All in all, my children are well fed and happy and leave the house daily decently dressed (well, most days).
And this job is deeply satisfying, if I have a new perspective. I am growing a child, literally. It’s hard to see on a day-to-day basis, but when I look through photos I’ve taken of Ben in recent months or when friends and family come to visit and notice how big he’s getting, I take pride in my thriving boy.
As an at-home mom, I have a valid job. Actually, lots of them. I am an organizer, secretary, cleaner, cook, chauffeur, nurse, head coach, and cheerleader. And maybe Baby Ben and my other kids don’t appreciate all that, but I am learning to.