I’ve been a working mom for almost 3 years now, and I’ll be straight with you–it is hard. Then again, is being a mom ever easy? Wonderful, yes, but not easy. Working outside the home presents its own set of challenges and rewards.
You may think that no one actually enjoys working. I would venture to say you probably enjoy it more than you think. Maybe you enjoy the thrill of overcoming challenges, closing deals or exceeding goals. Perhaps you’re quite good at what you do, and you know no one else can do it quite the way you can. Maybe you enjoy being able to contribute to your family financially. It could be simply the social interaction you enjoy. Some people thrive on the social status that can come with having a career. At work your efforts are recognized– hopefully by accolades, but at bare minimum, by a paycheck. Whether you realize it or not, your job can become a part of your identity. Whereas in theory it may seem easy to just walk away from your job to be a stay at home parent, I imagine that it’s actually very difficult to leave it behind. Being a stay at home mom or dad is a job that often comes with very little recognition and no social status, though it may actually be harder than your regular job was. Your social interaction with adults is minimal, and you are dependent upon someone else for financial support. Not exactly glamorous, right?
Are you starting to think working outside the home is a good idea? Well, it might be for your family. Some women would be miserable staying home. Some families cannot afford to live off one income. However, working comes at a price. I bet you already know the biggest drawback to working outside the home– being away from your kids. So many moments of your child’s life that you miss out on… time that you can’t get back. Frankly I think it’s often harder on the parents than the kids. Children are adaptable. Parker, for instance, enjoys playing with his friends at school, and though he looks forward to his weekends with mom and dad, he accepts school and work as a normal part of life. For me on the other hand, there is a keen awareness of what I’m giving up in order to work and a sadness that comes with that knowledge.
Besides being away from your kids, one of the biggest challenges with working outside the home that I’ve found is there is not enough me to go around. My job, children, husband, house, friends and family, sleep, personal time, exercise… so many demands and not enough time or energy with which to meet them all. For many moms, the first ball we drop is taking care of ourselves. We stay up too late, we stop exercising, personal time becomes almost nonexistent. You can only do that for so long though before you start to physically and emotionally fall apart. So maybe you try to hold your job to 8 hours a day because that’s all you have to give, even though there is so much to do you could probably work 9-10 hours or more. What about the house? Maybe you let it slide a little… or a lot. However, eventually laundry needs to be done and basic house maintenance needs to happen.
So if working is the best option for your family, what do you do? Get some help if possible. Understand that you’re stretched thin and give yourself a break. Just do the best that you can and keep making adjustments along the way. Accept that there will be tradeoffs. Maybe one week you let house cleaning slide so you can get caught up on laundry, or perhaps you get a little less sleep a couple nights so you can save the house from complete destruction. There may be a couple nights when you just need to catch your breath– yes, you’re allowed. On days that I have energy, I try to make the most of my time by doing projects on my lunch break or folding laundry while watching tv with the hubs. Chores need to be done (someday), but I try to spend as much time with the kids as possible while they are awake. This means “my time” consists of an hour or so on weekend afternoons when the boys’ naps overlap and evenings after 8:30 or 9:30 once the boys are down for the night. Fortunately, my husband helps out a lot and takes things off my plate to buy me some extra time when I need it. I definitely recommend making parenting and household responsibilities a team effort where possible.
This craziness is what they call survival mode. The good news is that it gets easier, especially after your child is a year old. That first year is when they’re most dependent upon you. As they get older, they start sleeping longer at night, which gives you some time back. You can start offering cow’s milk during the day, which means freedom from pumping at work. A one year old can enjoy interacting with other children much more than a baby can, so it’s less painful to drop them off at school. So before you start panicking and thinking, “I can’t live like this for 18 years,” don’t worry, it will not be like this for 18 years (or even close to that). One word of caution, however. Last time around I found that once the load started to lighten a little, there was room for selfish Jennifer to come back out. Suddenly I got a taste of my pre-child life and my all about me attitude started to slowly sneak back in. Fortunately a good sermon and a pregnancy snapped me out of it. So should you find yourself in this position, just remember it’s not about you anymore, but that’s ok because it’s about something greater than you. Stay tuned into your family and focused on what’s important to you, and you’ll be fine.
Now what about for those of you that find yourself in a situation where you need to work, but you desperately want to be home with your children and focus your time and energy on taking care of your family? Might I recommend talking to your husband? This is not a one time chat but an ongoing conversation. Start thinking about creative ways to create a situation you can both live with. This might mean being open to some significant life changes, including moving, changing jobs or changing spending habits. Perhaps quitting work altogether isn’t an option, but you can find a way to bring in some income doing something that allows you to be with your kids full time or part time. If you’re sucking up the ridiculously huge cost of daycare, then you may find you don’t have to make quite as much as you did before to bring home the same amount of money you previously had left after daycare expenses. Or you may conclude that you need to work for now, but you can start looking at ways to make it possible for you to be home in the future. These conversations are not easy as finances and kids are the top two marriage stressors, so go easy on each other. It is hard to consider a new way of life, but if being away from your kids is even harder, then you just start moving toward that goal, even if the only thing you can think to do is pray. You may just find the path to your goal unfolding before you if you keep a watchful eye.
Hang in there moms! I feel your pain. Also, if you have any recommendations for moms who are currently dealing with these challenges, please share in the comments.