Right around the time my kids were born was when I took the leap. At the time, I was excited—thrilled, even—to have the opportunity to quit my full-time job and work from home. For myself. On my own terms.
With children born 15-and-a-half months apart (not 16, because that “and-a-half” is important somehow), working an hour away was unmanageable. I had started a résumé writing business, almost by accident, after having my daughter — and, by sheer determination, had grown it to the point where it actually made sense to consider the leap after my son was born.
Still unsure about my return to work when my son was four months old, exactly one week before I was supposed to return to my full-time job, he came down with bacterial pneumonia and was hospitalized for four days. I made the decision while sitting (terrified) in his hospital room that I would give it a go. Thankfully, my husband is supportive (and if I’m being honest, probably knows deep down that I am a force so he doesn’t try and stop me) and I made the life-changing decision to become self-employed.
The past ten years have been a roller coaster. Taxes are a nightmare. The insecurity of unreliable paychecks is a feeling that is hard to put into words, even for someone like me who has verbs and adjectives to convey every feeling. I have had more sleepless nights than I can count and have had to will myself away from the edge a couple times, even going so far as declaring that I was returning to work during slow periods.
As a work-at-home, self-employed mom, I have a unique brand of mom guilt. I am here. All the time. In fact, a running joke in my house is that I can go days without leaving the house. My kids take the bus, I am disciplined about at-home workouts, and my office is downstairs next to the laundry room. On the surface, I am inextricably involved in every last detail of my children’s lives.
In many ways, that is true. But in many ways, I feel a constant, crushing sense of guilt for the things I miss. I lost count long ago of the amount of times I have yelled at, shushed, or ignored a child when they needed me, or just wanted to tell me something, because I was working against a deadline or just got a new email from a potential client. I have cried countless times to my husband because I felt so guilty about not being able to take them places on their days off because I had work to do, and because no one pays for your vacation when you aren’t an employee.
Ironically, as a resume writer and career coach, you would think I would have this work stuff figured out. While I recognize and am endlessly thankful for the flexibility that this lifestyle has afforded me, the fact is that I often find myself envious of my friends who did not make the decision to leave their 9-to-5 jobs and instead are inching closer to planned retirement, reaping the benefits of time in their companies to enjoy longer vacations during which they actually put on their out-of-office auto-responder.
We are all grappling with the idea that there is a better way and that someone else knows something we don’t.
Working moms are always guilty of some kind of distraction. Perfectly imperfect, we are all teaching our children how to navigate through life and modeling our own (sometimes less-than-ideal) coping skills. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to teach myself is to be grateful. Not just writing down the three reasons I’m grateful today, but being honestly, genuinely thankful when everything feels wrong. Forcing myself to repeat out loud the reasons why I am blessed when I feel like an utter failure and am questioning every decision I have made. Grateful to be healthy, because I have watched loved ones and cherished friends lose that battle and grateful for healthy, happy children because that is not promised either.
In my capacity as a career-industry professional, I have worked with female executives who have had to consciously prioritize their careers over school plays, single moms whose children have taken on adult roles in their household out of necessity, middle-aged divorcees who are struggling to regain their lives after being left for a younger version of themselves, and mothers of grown children who happily gave up their careers to raise their children, but are now coming to grips with the realization that their skills and expertise are no longer valuable in today’s workplace.
There are tears behind every mom’s smile and there is a nagging feeling of incompetence behind every perfectly planned playdate or birthday party.
I wish I could say that I have it all figured out. I wish I could say that there is an answer. What I have learned from my own experiences and the thousands of mothers I’ve had the opportunity to work with, raise children with, and laugh with during my own ten-year motherhood journey is that we are all grappling with the idea that there is a better way and that someone else knows something we don’t.
There are tears behind every mom’s smile and there is a nagging feeling of incompetence behind every perfectly planned playdate or birthday party. Whether you are the mother with makeup and heels at the pickup line or the mom in yoga pants and messy bun who has once again forgotten to send in library books on media day, I see you. You are doing your best and you are good enough.