We Are Both Right

Choosing to Make Things Work as a Working Mom

child on laptop

Motherhood is a never-ending menu of choices. ©Patricia Dekker /stock.xchng

Looking back, I never had that defining moment when I had to choose whether or not I would return to work after my children were born. I just kept working because it made sense for our family.

It was more a matter of choosing how I was going to make it work.

And for many, that’s about all there is to choose. In the most recent issue of Working Mother magazine, mothers shared their feelings around their choices and what they are seeking as far as work-life balance in What Moms Choose: The Working Mother Report, a study conducted by the Working Mother Research Institute. (And these weren’t just working mothers who participated in the study. It includes moms who are staying at home, others who off-ramped and on-ramped, and some who are blending their days as work-at-home moms, like Amanda.)

Basically all moms struggle with their choices, no matter which path they are taking or how they are going about it. We either feel like we’re not using our degrees to the fullest potential if we’ve scaled back or opted out of the workforce, or we feel like we’re not keeping up with the housework or giving the children our full attention if we’re not home all day.

It’s time that we all went a little easier on each other and ourselves. I try to remind myself when I get into a funk that my kids are the only ones I let be my judge when it comes to how good or bad of a job I am doing. (The rest of the time, when I’m not feeling so zen, you can find me whimpering to my husband about how exhausted I am.)

It still really irks me though when a fellow mom feels the need to tell me (nine years into my career as a working mom) that there’s no way you can do both, that it never makes sense financially and that no way would she have a stranger watching her children. I almost never get into it, but I do wonder how you can tell someone who’s already doing something that it’s impossible.

Once we get past all these hang-ups, the news is that we’re full of ideas about how to create a workforce culture that supports real work-life balance. Not the stuff that companies say they do, but the mindset of managers who understand that everyone needs some flexibility in life and work.

You don’t have to be a mom (or a dad) with a newborn at home to crave flexible work options. Most anyone has obligations outside work, and it makes sense to be able to flex and bend to meet those needs — just as we’re expected to when a business need comes up.

That’s the type of manager I am. If the work gets done, I don’t care if you did it at midnight or six o’clock in the morning. You could have brainstormed the idea on your commute into work or spent the entire last week banging out ideas on your keyboard.

Still, even with the best manager and most progressive company policies, the reality is that there’s no situation which is perfect every day of the week. (Except maybe getting to stay home while receiving a check in the mail for doing nothing in return, but I haven’t come across that want ad yet.)

Inevitably, there’s going to be some degree of worry about finding and maintaining the best arrangement for child care. There are days when none of the pieces seem to fit together. Or you feel guilty for pushing your kids too hard because there’s a tight schedule to keep. Or you feel like you’re pushing your luck at work (no matter how flexible they may be), because there are endless family obligations to be met.

With choice comes compromise. And in my case, even when you don’t have a choice, you have to compromise.

So we need to learn to accept.

Delegate.

Let go.

And then we can choose to be happy moms, meeting our challenges — whatever they may be and whenever they may change.

How have you learned to live with your choices? Amanda thinks I’ve perfected my role, but the truth is that I have just learned to be OK with winging it. What’s imbalanced one day seems to even out the next. And so it goes…

Happy with My Choice to Be a Work-From-Home Mom

©hortongrou/stock.xchng

I used to commute to work via train every day. Now my pace is a bit slower. ©hortongrou/stock.xchng

When you are insecure about something, it’s always nice when you find out that there are other people worried about the same things.

I’ve been a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom for eleven years. You’d think by now I’d be confident about my station in life. Not even close. Because I think I’ll have it all under control — I will have met all my deadlines, I will have changed the sheets on the bed and prepare a decent meal (plus dessert) — and then something (somethings) will reel me back into earth (the story will change, the toddler will spill something on the bed, the stove won’t work and the soufflé will collapse) and I’ll go back to being convinced that sometime soon everyone will see me for the fraud I am — a woman with a dirty house and unkempt kids who can’t cook, nor diagram a sentence to save her life.

But as it turns out, I’m not alone. Not about the last part anyway (not that anyone would admit to it), but about feeling insecure. A recent study by Working Mother magazine reports that lots of moms — both working and stay-at-home — have some very real concerns about where they are in life and how to balance it all.

Most interesting to me? That nearly half of the over 3,700 moms polled (49 percent of working and 47 percent of stay-at-home) say they are their own toughest critics.

That’s a lot of intelligent, resourceful, supermoms doubting themselves. So I guess I’m in good company.

Interestingly enough, my decision to stay at home and not pursue a “high powered” career, is something I feel totally confident about. The only time I ever slightly wavered my choice to be a work-at-home mom came early on in my tenure. I was a new mom to a baby boy, working full-time from home, commuting to my office just once a week. The position directly above mine suddenly became free. It would have been a nice jump professionally (especially at my young age, 26), not to mention a huge salary bump.

It wasn’t a role I could do from home though, it was definitely an in-the-office job. Especially when you remember that it was over a decade ago when working from home was still an incredibly new concept (I was the first in my company to do it) and things that make telecommuting a natural, cost-saving measure like Wi-Fi and Skype were non-existent (I used a phone line to dial in to our computer network. Adorable!).

I quickly got over any pangs of regret I might have been feeling — being a work-at-home/stay-at-home mom suited me. In fact, I liked it so much that when my daughter was born two years later, I left that position as I was required to work 9 to 5 hours — difficult with a toddler and a newborn. Since then I’ve kept up a fairly decent freelance career with a nice mix of long-term and short-term writing and editing clients. And while sometimes I wish our financial situation was a little more stable, being able to stay at home with all three of my kids and watch them grow up and support them in every way is something I’m so happy I get the opportunity to do.

Even if I burn the chocolate chip cookies sometimes.

What “type” of mom are you? What do you question about yourself? Would you change any of your past decisions?

On days when I’m just happy I haven’t burned down the house, I think about Suzanne and how she really does it all. And I’m jealous. Because she always looks a lot less frantic than me when she does it.

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Misunderstood Stay-at-Home-Mom

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

I’m a stay-at-home mom and my husband thinks just because I’m home all day with the kids that the housework should be done by the time he walks in the door and dinner should be on the table. How do I get him to understand that it’s not that easy?

 ©MCA Television

We can't all be like June! ©MCA Television

Sincerely, Mommy Not Maid

Amanda:

So you aren’t spending your days on the metaphorical couch, eating the metaphorical bon bons that everyone seems so fond of associating stay-at-home moms with?

It sounds like a conversation with your husband is overdue. And before you talk, try to see it from his perspective. I’m not saying he’s right, but think back to before you were a SAHM. What were the visions of your days filled with? For me it meant that every day we were going to have playtime and craft time and music time — after we reviewed the alphabet and numbers and maybe some beginner’s French. If the weather cooperated we’d go to the park. If not, we’d find something to do inside — making a fort out of the couch cushions or decoupaging. Then lunch and a nap for my darlings during which time I’d clean up (which wouldn’t take long because my house would be sparkling and completely organized). I’d do laundry and iron all of our clothes — even the baby’s. Then I’d make a gourmet dinner with recipes culled from my assorted cookbooks.

The reality? I’m home all day and I have no idea what I do. Certainly I’m not hunting down absinthe for Oysters Rockefeller. And I’m not tending to my cluttered, not neat house either. I’m wiping sticky faces and hands and cleaning Play Doh out of the grout in the kitchen tile. I’m handing out snacks and then finding them in the couch cushions. I’m folding clean laundry and then putting it back in the washer because my toddler dumped a cup of milk on it. And the older two haven’t even gotten home yet.

Being a SAHM means being ready for the next thing — which could be playing cars or cleaning up an entire bottle of spilled orange juice. It’s like being lost in the forest, wandering around in circles. You think you’ve made progress, but as it turns out, you’re just passing the same tree over and over again.

So explain to him that you get it. You understand that cleaning the bathroom doesn’t mean dumping bleach in the toilet and hoping for the best. And that changing the sheets on the beds should be done more than once a year. But those household chores aren’t the reason you’re a stay-at-home mom, the kids are. And they come first. And if you’ve spent the day doing nothing but read “Goodnight Moon” 54 times and building a block tower over and over again so your 2-year-old can repeatedly knock it down, well, then life is good.

And much more rewarding than eating something other than cold cereal for dinner.

Suzanne:

If that doesn’t work, find a “business” trip to go on and quick.  Maybe your sister is having triplets in New Zealand — sounds like a great time to visit.  Plan a stay-at-home-mom convention.  Anything that will get you out of the house for a few hours or a long while, whatever amount of time it takes for your husband to walk a day or more in your shoes until he gets it.

Luckily I never had to take these drastic measures, because my husband got it before I did. 

I was the full-time working mom who thought maternity leave (both the first and second time around) would be everything Amanda described.  A blissful vacation — with a darling baby along for the ride.  While I did master Beef Wellington for our anniversary dinner during my first week home from the hospital, it was far from a Martha Stewart marathon on most days. 

And that was OK, because my husband had already spent his fair share of time home with our oldest and was the first one in our family to discover the time warp that is a day home alone with the kids.  I remember walking in the door from work on one of those days (kind of looking forward to a hot meal on the table) only to be greeted by my harried husband, announcing that he had a newfound appreciation for stay-at-home-parents and would never expect his wife to actually be able to keep the house in order and have dinner on the table after spending a whole day with the kids.  Then we ordered pizza and he fell asleep.

That’s where your husband needs to be.  He needs to get through a day of chasing a naked toddler around with a diaper while the dog is eating Legos and the endless snacks, meals, and put-my-toy-together requests that leave you chasing your own tail.  If he dares to venture out for some much-needed distraction, he’ll know the joys of trying to find that magic window of time between lunch, naps, and afternoon meltdowns. 

If there is some way you could coordinate a few hours away (like six or seven) on a day when he’s the only person fit for the job (as in your mom is laid up in bed with a broken leg and his mom is in China), you might be able to make your point without even saying “I told you so.” 

Good luck.

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We said our piece, now it’s time for you to weigh in. What would you tell Mommy Not Maid? And if you’ve got a burning question that needs answering, drop us a line at advice@wearebothright.com.