A few weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I was at a coffee shop. I’d just dropped my kids off at their “school” (daycare, really, since they’re 1 and 3, but school sounds better to my ears), and I had two precious hours to tackle a freelance writing project.
Then, I noticed a group of familiar faces. Other moms, all from my sons’ school, pulling up chairs for coffee and gossip. When they invited me to join them, I had to decline, gesturing to my computer and shrugging. “Ugh. You know. Work. Next time!”
Suddenly, I had this weird surge of confusing emotions. Disappointment, of course, to have to miss out on the fun, and guilt for having to turn them down, but also, this other weird flavor of guilt: guilt that I should be doing stuff like that. I should be spontaneous enough to jump into a coffee date on short notice, even just for 15 minutes, without the cloud of WORK constantly hanging over me. I should be enjoying my young motherhood years, rather than piling responsibility on top of responsibility.
But instead, I was sitting there laying the pressure on myself, and laying it on thick. I had two hours, and I absolutely “had” to get this project DONE. I was paying for the kids to be in care and I “had” to at least recoup that money to feel justified sitting in that coffee shop, and honestly, to feel any sense of accomplishment for the day.
I’m a work-from-home mom. Like so many of my friends, I opted for the “have your cake and eat it too” version of motherhood (or so I thought), where you get to stay home with your kids while still maintaining some semblance of a working life.
I try very hard to not let my work interfere with my parenting. The kids are my primary job, after all. When they’re awake and in my care, I’m 100% on mom duty. Which leaves me with only small windows of approved work time: before the kids are up (ha—too exhausted), naptime, the few hours a week the kids are in care, and after they go to bed (ha—too exhausted).
Any teeny little smidgen of time not dedicated to childcare must be used wisely—and usually that means working. The second my youngest (and, on extra special days, my oldest) goes down for his nap, I snap into action, literally running to my laptop, because who knows how much time I’ll have?!?
I don’t let myself call friends or paint my toes during naptime. Cooking and housework are ok, but not great uses of precious kid-free time. (I’ll just unload the dishwasher when they wake up!) On days when I have to use up naptime to take a shower (because I haven’t showered in days and I just got back from the gym and it’s getting SERIOUS), I’m resentful about it.
Sometimes I feel guilty that I can never bring myself to do things I remember my own mom doing all the time—like baking cookies during my younger siblings’ naptime. In theory, that sounds like a nice, relaxing thing to do, but I know that I wouldn’t be able to escape the voice in my head: “shouldn’t you be working?”
I’m working on it. (No pun intended.)
I wonder, too, if this is only a struggle for me because, right now, I’m a mom of very young (and therefore very unpredictable) kids. There is no school day to send them off to in the morning. No “can you go play for a few minutes while Mom finishes this?” No sending them outside to play, or over to a friend’s house, or off to soccer practice. No built-in breaks at all, outside of the holy nap.
I know I’m not the only one living this life. Actually, when I think of all my current stay-at-home mom friends, I’m hard pressed to think of even ONE who’s not really, technically, a work-from-home mom. Almost everyone I know has a side gig. We have our own businesses, our own blogs, our own daycares, and our own income-generating hobbies.
It’s a monumental shift, if you compare modern motherhood to the last generation of moms.
As someone who is deeply grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to flex my working muscles a little bit while staying home with my kids, my instinct is to cheer for this shift. Go modern moms!! No more losing our identities to motherhood! No more feeling guilty buying ourselves nice things because we’re not currently on a payroll. No more feeling guilty about the state of our houses (we had more important things to do!). No more being jealous of our working mom friends—we have the best of both worlds!
(And thank you, internet, for making 99% of it possible!)
But I also wonder: what is the impact of the work-from-home mom era? Are modern moms thriving on opportunity, or are we wearing ourselves thinner than ever? Are we working because it strengthens our sense of self, or because we desperately want to “contribute”? Are we living our lives to the fullest, or are we overcrowding and overcomplicating them?
And what are we teaching our kids? To follow their dreams, or to put work on a pedestal? That they can do anything, or that they should do everything?
I don’t know the answers. But the questions are definitely on my mind.
Because the last thing I want is to get to the end of this season of my life and think, “Why couldn’t I just bake some damn cookies once in awhile??”