It’s 9:45 p.m. and my eyelids are starting to droop as I fix a typo in my first paragraph. My son calls from his bedroom, “Mom! I’m scared! Can you come lay with me?” I ask my husband to go in my place. I have a deadline first thing in the morning, and I have to get this done before my brain turns to mush.
“But I want Mommy!” my son cries.
“She’s busy working, sweetie,” my husband tells him.
My heart lurches a bit. An image of my son sitting in a therapist’s office someday flashes before my eyes. “My mom was always ‘busy working,’” he says, rocking back and forth in the fetal position on the couch.
Dramatic, I know. But the guilt that comes along with working from home is real, and was something I never really expected.
From the time I was very young, I’d always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom. I figured I’d work for a while, then get married, have kids, and make motherhood my full-time gig.
I did work for a while, and then I got married, but when our first baby came along, we couldn’t really afford for me not to work at all. So I started a small editing business from home, which allowed me to bring in a little cash and keep up my professional skills. After a while, I wanted more regular work, so I started doing online tutoring. I set my hours around my husband’s schedule, and it all worked well.
Fast-forward 15 years, and I’ve had at least seven work-from-home jobs, usually more than one at time. It’s been great for the most part. I do get the best of all worlds — getting to make my own schedule, being able to be with my kids during the day, keeping my foot in the door professionally, and contributing to the household income. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to find work I can do from home all these years.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses.
Working from home means literally doing my work in my home. There’s no physical separation between my personal and professional life, no clearly set times when I’m “on” and “off” one or the other. I love being able to make my own schedule, but that flexibility is also my downfall. If I’m not strictly disciplined with my time, which is not exactly my strong suit, it’s too easy to blur the lines between work and home. I tend to work in spurts here and there throughout the day and evening, which makes it feel like I’m working all day, even though I only work part-time hours.
And I worry that’s what my kids are seeing too. I’m home, but I’m not “there” a lot of the time. They see me working, but I’m on the computer, which doesn’t necessarily translate to “work” for them. They just know Mom isn’t able to give them her full attention.
And God love ‘em, they’re not particularly helpful in that area either. When I get up extra early to get some hours in before they wake up, they always seem to get up early too. When I wait until they’re in bed to get some work hours in, they call me from their beds or suddenly want to have a deep, heart-to-heart discussion late into the night.
I can go into my office, but you know how it is. When Mom’s in the house, Mom’s in the house. I frequently get around this issue by going to work in coffee shops, which is one of my favorite things to do anyway. But I can’t do that every day.
And then there’s The House. Over the years, I’ve found that keeping young kids busy without resorting to too many screens usually involves some level of mess. Busy kids = happy kids = Mommy can work uninterrupted for a while, but it also means more cleanup time and energy for Mom (or more accurately, for the kids, but teaching them requires my time and energy too).
I also have the never-ending piles of laundry, the shelves that always need dusting, the dishes that just keep on getting dirty, and so on. Of course, these are things all families deal with, but when you work at home, those things tug at you all day. I’m part of the mess and contributing to it, while at the same time being driven crazy by it. Since work and kids take priority, the house gets put on the back burner — and then sometimes it gets forgotten and boils over and sets off the fire alarm. *sigh*
It’s not all bad, of course. I never have to miss anything my kids are a part of, and I do get to enjoy a lot of time with my little people. I have been forced to learn to compartmentalize my time and set clear boundaries, which is a good thing. I have had to learn not to feel guilty for working in front of my kids, though admittedly I still struggle with that sometimes. My husband more than pulls his own weight, so overall, the benefits outweigh the challenges.
I wouldn’t trade my work-from-home life, and I’m incredibly grateful that I have that freedom. But I would caution others not to romanticize it too much. As a work-at-home mom, you get the best of all worlds, but also the worst.