Being a mom is work. Period. The labor of mothering does not stop in the delivery room.
However, for the purpose of this conversation, from hitherto forward, the word “work” will mean a task that is compensated monetarily.
I’ve been everything, I’ve been a working mom, I’ve been a stay at home mom, and I’ve been work at home mom, and I’m here to tell you something; none of them are perfect. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, it is yours to decide what you can live with and love.
When I was a little girl, I always said that the most important job I would ever do would be to be a parent to my children. I had it all tied up in a little bow in my mind, I was not going to work outside the home. My job would be raising my children. Somewhere in my twenties I began to love the job I was doing. So, we decided we would start our family and I would continue to work. The entire time I was on maternity leave, I was paranoid that they would realize that they could get by without me, and that they would continue to do so. I ended up cutting my maternity leave short so I could get back to work. I loved the sense of purpose I continued to have in my job, I loved having an identity outside of my “mom” identity. Leaving my family every day was heartbreaking. I never felt like they got the best of me because I’d come home with the work day still on my mind, work calls would still come in from the time I got home until I went to bed, and my brain was still 1/4 still at work. Work didn’t get the best of me, because while I was there I was thinking about, tending to, and worried about my daughter. Not to mention that I was beyond sleep deprived and so my thoughts were never totally coherent.
After my now four-year-old was born, a decision was made for me. Unlike my previous maternity leave, I relaxed through this one, sure I’d come back to work with no problem once my prescribed leave was up. Not necessarily so. I was offered another position at my job, but it was not one that I felt was a good fit for me. My old position was no longer available to me. Feeling like there were limited options, my husband and I talked it over, and decided the best thing would be for me to stay home with our son. Suddenly I was a stay at home mom. At first, I loved it. I adored the fact that I never had to worry about work or what was going on there, or how I was going to get anything done. I was completely present as a parent. After a while, though, I realized that I was all kid, all the time, and I missed the structure and stimulation that work provided in my life. All play and no work was turning out to make Colleen a dull gal. Not to mention, I really struggled with the fact that I was not contributing financially to the family while I was managing the money. My husband was responsible for the in-flow, and I was responsible for the out-flow of cash. For one that had spent a good portion of our marriage as the breadwinner, it felt so out of balance.
Here’s where I sit now, I’m a working stay at home mom. I have to say, so far, this is both the most ideal and the most difficult for us. I work on weekends outside of the home, and during the week from home doing a lot of different things, writing, social media, coaching, etc. What I love about it is that I am actively parenting my children during a time that is crucial but fleeting. I love that I can arrange my schedule and optimize the quality time I spend with my kids. I also love that I am contributing to the finances of our family. The downside is that work is sort of always there, and unless I set the boundaries very clearly, they can get very blurry. Also, frequently other important people in my life don’t really understand the juggling I do. People I work with wonder why I’m not more free and available, and friends wonder what it is that I do that I call “work” because I don’t go to an office. There’s a lot of managing expectations. Personally, I feel guilt every time I pull out the computer to return an email or finish up a piece of work that is leftover from earlier while my kids are looking to be occupied. Not to mention the fact that the house still needs to be managed with my spare time (what’s spare time?).
My point is this, the grass is always greener in your neighbor’s yard. Moms will always look at other moms and say, “she has it easier than I do, because…” Working moms sometimes think that stay at home moms have it easier, stay at home moms often think that the work from home moms have the best of both worlds, and work at home moms sometimes wish that they could go to an office to do their work so they didn’t have the guilt. These are all conversations I’ve had with other moms, and it seems like we are all seeking to be understood. The truth is that each iteration of working, not working, or sort of working is complicated, because being a parent is complicated. The important thing is to find out what works best for you, and then focus on the best parts of it. Where I am right now is the best fit for me and for my family. You get to decide what’s best for you and your family, whether your decisions is motivated by finances, emotions, or personal beliefs, it’s important to do what is best for you and your family, and then choose to put the spotlight on the good parts. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.