the work-at-home mom: worst of both worlds?

Before I had kids, I thought that being a work-at-home mom would be the ideal scenario.  It seemed like the best of both worlds: I could continue doing work that felt meaningful to me, and I could also be the one to care for my kids.   I loved the idea of working for myself, having flexibility with my schedule, and avoiding the dreaded daycare situation.

I’ve been a mom for five years now, and in that time I have morphed my professional roles into a work-at-home job I assumed would be perfect for motherhood.  I work part-time, all of it flexible to my own schedule.  I edit a website and write a personal blog and an advice column.  I also teach a graduate psychology class once a week.  In all, my work should require about 20 hours of my time each week.  On paper, it seems like a win-win scenario.

One year into this new schedule, though, and I am here to testify: I think being a work-at-home mom is a lose-lose.  In fact, I HATE working at home.  I would rather put my kids in daycare, or not work at all.

Working from home means that I am constantly distracted.   My job requires focus and attention (as most jobs do), and just when I start getting into my groove, a fight needs breaking up or a sippy cup needs refilling.  I feel grumpy and irritated with my kids when I have work to do.  I feel resentful towards my husband because he gets to go to an office and do his job in peace, without four small children at his feet.  I feel overwhelmed by my deadlines, because I never know when I will be able to catch a quiet and uninterrupted moment to write.  Every day I assume I will be able to complete a few tasks, and every day life with four children takes precedence.  I end up doing the bulk of my work at night after the kids have gone to sleep, which means I have no “downtime” for myself, and also means I stay up way too late.

In all honesty, I often think my kids would be better off at a daycare setting than at home with a mom who is sitting at the computer, distracted and annoyed by their needs.  I think I would be a better mom if I was free to do my job uninterrupted, and then pick them up and have meaningful time with them.  In the struggle for quality over quantity, being a work-at-home mom has meant a lot of time with my kids, but very little quality time.   It has also meant that my job is done in small, distracted bursts, and I live with the constant feeling that I am letting everyone around me down.   In this scenario, my work suffers and my kids suffer.

Last month, I finally admitted this to myself and we took the steps needed to secure childcare for the 20 hours a week I need to do my job(s).  There is still a part of me that is reluctant to have someone else “mothering” my kids – I wish I could do it all.  But I enjoy my job (and need the income) and I think this is best for them.  I am looking forward to having the clear space to write, and I’m looking forward to coming home to my kids a few days a week without a nagging to-do list that I don’t have time to complete.  (Well, at least a few less items on that to-do list).

As I tried to write this post this morning, my toddler was throwing books in my lap and trying to shut my computer.  Regardless of what toys I put in front of her, she wants and deserves undivided attention.  I am glad that we are shuffling our life around so that she can have more of it, even if sometimes that attention is coming from a sweet and enthusiastic babysitter instead of me.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself. 

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