Four months and forever ago, I worked in a plush downtown office where I showed up each morning looking like a fully clad Ann Taylor mannequin. My two young children and even my dog (cue eye roll) were enrolled in full-time daycare, and someone else cleaned my house every other Thursday. I lunched on the weekly with other Working Moms—a therapy of sorts—where we swapped stories about life in the trenches. Nothing, I was convinced, could be more challenging than the hustle and bustle and incessant juggling of Working Mom life.
Then COVID-19 struck, and, overnight, I went from Working Mom to Stay-at-Home Working Mom (“SAHWM”). The SAHWM is a new breed of mother spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic and is an incidental study into the age-old question can women really have it all? (Spoiler alert: They cannot.)
The SAHWM works in a makeshift “office” in some semi-remote corner of her suburban home at sporadic intervals during the day. Her mission is to stay focused on work for a daily minimum of eight hours (give or take an hour or two) while also being accessible to her children 100% of the time. At a minimum, this requires a good set of earplugs, a liter of coffee, and a little trick I like to call “Disney on iPad.”
The SAHWM has traded in pumps and skirt suits for yoga pants and whatever t-shirt happens to be near the top of the clean laundry pile that never manages to transition into organized, folded stacks. She wears no makeup (because … time), no shoes (because … why?), and absolutely no jewelry—especially rings, which interfere with the perpetual handwashing that is recommended by medical experts amidst a global pandemic. Bras are an optional component of the SAHWM wardrobe, and the decision whether to wear one is perhaps the most celebrated liberty of the SAHWM.
As if the plight of the SAHWM isn’t challenging enough, the pandemic has thrust upon us other random roles for which we are grossly unqualified, such as in-home chef, homeschool teacher, marital counselor to both myself and my husband (can you say conflict of interest?), and impromptu family barber. Compounding the anguish, the pandemic has stripped SAHWMs of the tools that, as mere Working Moms, allowed us to maintain a modicum of sanity in our lives: nail salons, group fitness classes, girls’ nights out (or any type of night out—or day out for that matter).
To say the transition from Working Mom to SAHWM has been challenging is the understatement of the century. When I’m not answering emails or hopping on conference calls, I’m in the backyard playing “dinosaurs in the sprinkler” with my two-year old in a pathetic, albeit sincere, attempt to simulate for him the experience of playing with another child.
When I’m not doing one of those things, I am researching other activities to keep my toddler busy and engaged, pumping breastmilk for my baby girl, and failing miserably at all of the traditional stay-at-home mom tasks, including, but not limited to, laundry, vacuuming, and dishes.
My husband leaves our house at 7:00am and, on a good day, returns home around 6:00pm. His job does not provide the “flexibility” and “convenience” of working from home. It’s not his fault. Still, I turn green with envy when I think about him sitting in his cozy, quiet office, making restroom visits alone and at his leisure, and enjoying a solitary 40-minute commute to and from his place of work—all things I used to do in my Life BC (before COVID-19). He no longer complains about the long commute because he is a quick learner.
When my husband arrives home in the evening, I’m doing the exact same thing I was doing when he left the house several hours earlier: cutting produce into micro-sized bites and negotiating with my toddler about how many such bites must be consumed in order to earn 10 minutes in iPad currency. But even though it’s clear I’ve gone nowhere in the time that’s elapsed since our goodbye kiss, I have absolutely nothing to show for my day but a sink full of dirty dishes.
Does my husband even remember that I work “outside” of the home? I can’t tell. On a near daily basis, I experience an overwhelming impulse to remind him about my Working Mom gig because, let’s face it, I need something to justify the glaring deficiencies in my Stay-at-Home Mom gig. I suppress the urge when I can. I don’t want to sound like a martyr.
The reality of my situation is that I am working two full-time jobs and excelling at neither of them. This is not what I signed up for. Many considerations factored into my decision to have children and pursue a career. A global pandemic was not one of them.
What, if anything, is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for the SAHWM? Well, the medical experts assure us that the COVID-19 pandemic will come to an eventual end. Daycares will reopen, offices will resume business as usual, and we will get some additional mileage out of our expensive and otherwise impractical skirt suits.
We will reclaim our collective sanity. But we will have gained something far more valuable: an unprecedented level of mommy-style street cred. We are trailblazers in these strange and unprecedented times, and we must never ever let the world forget it. May every SAHWM who reads these words pause from the one-woman circus act that is her life and bask in the smug satisfaction of knowing that no generation of mothers has ever—or will ever—out-martyr us.