What I've Realized Since Becoming A Working Mom

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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Before I tell my story, let me start by saying SO HELP ME GOD IF WE KEEP FEEDING THE MOMMY WARS I’M GONNA LOSE IT. This is not a piece about who has it harder—stay-at-home-moms or working moms. Or whether or not SAHMs “work.” Because I’ll tell you one thing I know for sure—the SAHM life is 100,000 times harder than I anticipated. The loneliness and isolation and feeling like I was invisible almost suffocated me. I did it for nine years and I wrote about it a shit-ton.

But now I work (from home).

So this is a piece about this new life —navigating the nearly impossible task of fitting everything I need to do in 24 hours (seriously, how are there not more hours?! I need more hours!) and my smack-in-the-face realization of how hard it is to have a paying job and still be a good mom.

This new life crept up on me, and maybe that’s better—to be broken in slowly. I’ve been working part-time from home for years. On occasion, I was able to say that coveted phrase of “I have work to do, so I need YOU to put the kids to bed, feed them dinner, and do baths” to my husband, but not often. My income was used for extra non-essential, “fun” stuff—going out to dinner on occasion, buying myself new boots, taking the kids to a water park, and that kind of thing.

But over the years, my part-time work has evolved into something more. Some days require damn-near a full time schedule. And my income is now earmarked for bigger, more important expenses—replacing our broken stove and washing machine, sending our son to science camp, paying off bills, and the like.

The tricky thing, though, about being a work-at-home mom and still being technically part-time is that many of us don’t hire childcare (as that would pretty much negate any excess income coming in) and, because of that, my family still sees me all day long, in the house. So they still view me as the laundry-doer, chef, chauffeur, emergency butt-wiper, and errand-runner I’ve always been. They “know” I have work to do, but “we” (they) haven’t yet figured out how to leave Mommy the hell alone and not tattle that little brother stole the iPad when she’s typing away and facing a looming deadline.

And then there’s the guilt. Holy shit, working moms—how do you deal with the guilt?! As a SAHM, I did the room-mom, Sunday school, field trip, book fair, volunteer gig for years. My kids were used to me being around, and luckily for me, they liked seeing me wherever they were.

But newsflash! Working moms can’t do all those things, as they have bosses needing them to produce a product for which they are being paid. And man I did not see that one coming.

A couple months ago, I had volunteered, as usual, to work the book fair. I was looking forward to seeing my 9-year-old, who probably will only want me around for another year or two if I’m lucky. But when I looked at my schedule, I realized I had too much work to do, and there was just no way I could get it all done unless I worked every second the kids were in school. So I had to cancel and disappoint my kid.

I’d rather cut off a finger than go through that again.

Also, there is seriously not enough time. I cannot count how many days my family looks at me at 6 p.m., wondering what’s for dinner and that’s when I realize Oh yeah, they like food. Hmmmm. I guess it’s grilled cheese and questionable fruit again tonight!

Or when my son says he has no clean underwear and I think, How is that possible? I JUST did all the laundry, but then remember that maybe, in fact, I haven’t in days. Because these days are a chaotic blur.

These days are a chaotic blur of homework and baseball and play dates and science projects, and their shoes are all too small but when do I have time to shoe shop? And when I did I clip their fingernails last?

I seriously don’t know how to do it some days, but somehow we all limp to the finish line every week, and by Friday night we are vegged out in front of a movie, falling asleep, covered in chips at 9 p.m.

I will say that there are a few lessons I’ve learned (some the hard way) that do make the room stop spinning on occasion. First of all, I’ve learned that I need to be more flexible and let my family help. So the towels aren’t folded into perfectly symmetrical rectangles and the kids put the mugs in the dishwasher the wrong way. It’s fine. Everything is fine.

And when my husband does their baths, if he doesn’t use the exact quarter-sized amount of conditioner on my daughter’s hair that I do, and if he lets the kids leave wet towels on the bathroom floor, I have to be okay with it. Because they got clean and I got my work done. I have to let some shit go.

But probably the biggest piece of adjusting to working mom life has been this—I had to allow myself some grace. I had to allow myself to feel some damn pride and joy. Because you know what? I love what I do. I am proud of what I do. I am proud that my kids get to see me succeed at my career. I am proud that I contribute financially. And I love using my brain, having a boss, having a deadline, and having the right to say “I have work to do.” And for that, I will not feel guilty.

SAHM life has been a blessing these past nine years, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But it’s time to turn the page, start a new chapter, and be a different kind of parent. Still a mom who loves her kids something fierce, but who may not chaperone all the field trips anymore and have clean socks for everyone in the mornings. Because she’s a bad-ass working mom now, and everyone in this house is going to be just fine.

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