Default Parent

I'm So Sick Of Being The On-Call Parent

When you’re a work-from-home mom, you’re always right there — and that’s the problem.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

I’m tired. The kind of tired that is a burden and not a badge of honor. Every morning, I wake up and wonder what unexpected parenting demands will derail me from my professional ones. I suffer from the stress and strain of one particular brand of exhausting parenting: being a work-from-home mom of school-aged kids.

As a mom, I’m always on. It’s well-established that moms are the default parent, the ones who get the calls from school when a kid is sick or left something at home. Even when partners like mine work to share the load, moms end up managing the majority of scheduling, doctors visits, shopping, playdates, homework, and maintaining the mental rolodex of kids’ friends and their families.

When our households became homeschools during the pandemic, things only got worse. While we tried to hold down jobs and our sanity, moms also averaged 7 hours each day monitoring and managing our kids while they did virtual school, played, ate, and lived life in lockdown.

While that was happening, I left my job at an established organization to start my own consulting shop, making me directly responsible for building a business and meeting client needs on top of everything else. I feel pressure to work hard grow my clientele because the opportunities we want for our kids rely on two incomes. There are ever-increasing school fees, team sports, summer camps, healthcare costs, vacations, meals out, and toys and tech. I try my best to keep my work flexible, so I can somehow make it to 4PM practices or 9AM drop-offs. My job is not extra or optional, and yet it feels like society and school expects it to be.

For nearly a decade, I’ve worked from home. When my kids were little, I ran a school, often logging 12-hour days watching other people’s children. This work made me miss so many moments of the boys’ early years. Becoming a “work from home” parent was supposed to make life easier and more enjoyable. I was finally able to take my kids to school and see them when they got home. I would “save” time from not driving to and from an office. My husband commutes, so one of us would be close in case a child needed something.

Turns out, our boys need things all the time. And I am suffocating under the avalanche of the mental load of being mom and the proximal parent. Not to mention the professional load of trying to succeed at my job. I know this would be monumentally harder if I was solo parenting, but even with two of us it’s too much.

Here are some common parenting demands that regularly derail me from work and leave me exhausted and overwhelmed by the end of the week:

• Kid got sick at school? I’m called first, every time. I drop everything and get my child. I think about asking them to call my husband on principle, but that’s ridiculous. He’s 40 minutes away and I’m a few minutes down the road.

• Sick kid needs to stay home? He’s with me by default. My meetings are already scheduled for Zoom or phone. My office is here and my husband’s work is harder to do from home. Last week my older son stayed home with a nasty cold and for two days I worked while fielding ongoing requests for tissues, food, company, tech time, and more.

• Kid forgot something for school at home? This falls on me too. Usually this is time sensitive, like a lunchbox. I have a child with food allergies and dietary restrictions. He can’t eat school lunch or skip.

• No after school program? It’s me working from home from 3-5 each day while my son putters around, sometimes needing assistance or interrupting me with an urgent request or question.

• No school? This seems more common this year. My husband and I both work from home when we know there’s no school, but we’ve both experienced expired “Covid compassion” on those days. People are less patient than they were before when a kid makes a cameo on a call, or causes a late start or last-minute cancellation.

Then there are the other time sucks that come from working from home, which someone with stronger boundaries or lower expectations would do a better at ignoring. Dirty dishes? I clean them so the bugs won’t come. Laundry left in the wash? I move it so they clothes don’t get musty. Delivery driver at the door? I answer it and make small talk to be polite. Dogs need to eat or go out? I do it, because I’m here.

I have a husband who does whatever he can to split responsibilities when he’s here and asked. Even so, mounting parenting and personal duties leech my time and compress my working day until I am forced to perform at 100% with only 75% of the time, or less. I end up working evenings and weekends, squeezing tasks in between meals, sports games, and other commitments we’ve made. I wake up Monday morning feeling like I’m not the mom or worker I want to be and that I’ll never catch up and figure out a way to manage professional and parenting demands.

I’m sick of this. I want a revolution — or at least a wholesale reevaluation of all the crap we’re “supposed” to be doing to be a good parent, person, and professional.

I know that if we chose it, and put the work into it, we could collectively change school requests, cultural expectations, and caregiving responsibilities. I would proudly carry the flag for work-from-home parents with partners, marching next to solo moms, moms with chronic illnesses, moms with deployed or otherwise unavailable spouses, moms working hourly jobs and losing pay whenever school is out or a kid is sick, and all the others whose situations make it hard to get everything done and enjoy raising their kids. But before we can revolt, we need sleep, and then we need to find time we don’t have.

Stephanie Malia Krauss is a mom, educator, and social worker. She is the founder of First Quarter Strategies and the author of Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World. Her next book, Whole Child, Whole Life: 10 Ways to Help Kids Learn, Live, and Thrive will be released in 2023.