I don’t fit in.
We all hear about the “Mommy wars” between working and stay-at-home moms. As a work-at-home mom, I don’t fit neatly into either box. I’m a freelance editor and writer, and have been since leaving my job after my daughter was born six years ago. I’m that mom taking client calls with a 2-year-old sitting on my head. Or surreptitiously checking emails at the playground while my daughter is distracted by a bird. Or loading up on caffeine because I was up until 2 a.m. — because the three hours a day my son is at daycare is barely enough time to get through my inbox, let alone edit a postmodern novel about a chair.
People don’t know how to define us work-at-home moms. I’m home with my toddler son the majority of the day. I’m there every time my daughter gets off the school bus. And yet I have a career, assignments, deadlines. I’m a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a set of pajamas I’ve been wearing since last week. And sadly, when people don’t understand something, they can say some pretty irritating things. Here are some of the typical comments I hear when I tell people I work at home.
1. “It’s great that you get so much time to yourself.” Umm, sure, if you consider proofreading a 700-page book to be “time to myself.” Did you miss the part of the conversation where I said I work from home? I don’t pay a fortune for daycare so I can go watch old episodes of Gilmore Girls while sipping margaritas on the couch (although, man, that sounds nice). For that matter, I don’t know any mom, working, stay-at-home, or otherwise, who has “time to herself” when the kids aren’t home. Those precious hours are spent answering emails, folding laundry, planning Elsa-themed birthday parties — or, in my case, rushing to meet deadlines for clients who don’t know or care that I have kids. I haven’t relaxed in six years — and frankly, I don’t know any mother who has, no matter what she does all day.
2. “You’re so lucky to work from home.” Well, yes, I’m lucky that my industry relies so heavily on underpaid and overworked freelancers. But in other ways, luck has nothing to do with it. I’ve sacrificed a lot for this lifestyle, giving up those things I once took for granted, like a steady paycheck, a 401(k) plan, and employer-provided health insurance. I feel the pain every time I look at my cramped apartment and wonder if it’s OK to put off potty training my toddler just a little longer, because we can’t handle an extra person in our one bathroom right now. Life is about choices, and I’ve chosen a middle ground — but at a cost.
3. “You get to work in your pajamas all day!” This one is true, and it’s awesome. If I didn’t have to be at the bus stop every morning, I probably wouldn’t get out of my pajamas at all. (And quite honestly, in the winter, when I can just throw on a big coat, I don’t.) The same would probably go for washing my hair and brushing my teeth. I suppose it’s a good thing that I have places to be, or my husband might leave me for one of those showered working moms I see at the bus stop, who wear heels and still know how to use a mascara wand.
4. “Your job sounds sweet. Maybe I should do that.” Yes, maybe you should. It’s easy: just go back in time and get a degree in creative writing, and then spend 15 years in the publishing industry. This isn’t a hobby. I’m not knitting unicorn horn covers and selling them on eBay (although I can’t imagine that’s easy either). This is a career just like any other. If you want this life of luxury you see before you, simply quit your job and tell your boss to send you a project whenever he happens to have one — at a fraction of your salary, with no benefits. Sweet!
5. “You have the best of both worlds.” Yes, in some ways I do. I get to be home with my kids every day, watching them grow and play. And I get to pursue the career I love. But it’s also the worst of both worlds. I often squeeze eight hours of work into a three-hour window, pulling all-nighters to compensate. My kids get frustrated waiting for Mommy to check “just one more email” when they want to play. And if a client needs to speak with me during the afternoon, I’m holed up in some dark corner of my apartment, hoping they can’t hear the kids fighting over a cardboard box in the background. It’s a delicate balancing act that often leaves me exhausted. Yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Not fitting into a label can be frustrating. My friends tend to forget that I have a career just because I’m not commuting into the city in heels and clean clothing. Stay-at-home moms dismiss me because my kid’s in daycare part-time. But I experience both worlds on a daily basis, and let me tell you, we’re all exhausted, overwhelmed, and filled with a burning desire to give our kids the very best. If there’s one thing working at home has taught me, it’s that working moms and stay-at-home moms aren’t that different. Some of us just make it out of our pajamas on a daily basis.
Related post: An Apology to Stay at Home Moms