Whenever I tell other women with kids that I'm a mom who works from home, the reactions are pretty much always the same. First, they eye me with suspicion, thinking I'm about to try and sell them something. Once I assure them that's not the case, that I am a writer who works for publications on the internet, I'm told how "lucky I am" and how "jealous they are that I get to earn money while also staying home with my 3-year-old twins." I often hear, "I'd kill for a job like that," and when they say it, I smile politely and edge away slowly, just in case they're not joking.
From the outside, I get why my job seems like the perfect solution for every woman who ever hated paying for childcare or missed a school play because she had to work. I have a job that allows me to make money but still lets me stay home with my kids. But being a work-from-home mom is harder than it looks. Maybe to everyone else it sounds like a feminist alternative ending to Cinderella, where Cinderella is just as happy in the castle with her prince, but also has two kids and decides she's more intellectually fulfilled when she's working than not. But it's really not. From the outside, it looks like the best of both words. But on the inside looking out, working from home and taking care of two kids at the same time leaves little room for anything — or anyone — else.
Besides the fact that I love the actual content of what I do as work (bless even the nasty commentors and their damp, clammy, basement-dwelling hearts) there's also plenty to like about working from home. I can make my own schedule. Birthdays, holidays, a random Thursday when my cousin is in town? If I want the day off, I can make it happen. I don't have to pay for childcare or worry about pissing off my boss by calling in sick when my kids come down with a stomach bug, because I can set them up on the couch with a puke bucket and some cartoons while I type. I don't have to stress over what to pack for lunch or putting together an outfit for work. In fact, I'm typing this while lounging on my bed in a pair of yoga pants, and I'm not even wearing a bra.
But while I'm a work-from-home mom, I'm also a mom whose kids aren't old enough for school yet, and that's where my work-life balance turns into a flaming ball of garbage. Most people tell me I'm lucky that I don't have to have some kind of childcare for my boys right now, but there are many days where I feel my boys would be better served in a program with games and activities to entertain them rather than being ignored by me or playing on the iPads for hours on end while I work against a deadline. I can't tell you how many mornings I look up from the computer and my downstairs looks like a toy bomb went off.
As much as I want to believe working from home gives me the flexibility to have more family time, I wonder if my kids would be better off if I had a traditional job outside of the home.
Sometimes if I'm working on my computer or checking emails on my phone, my boys will grab my face in their hands and beg me, "No more emails, Mommy, please!" Other times they'll grab their own toy laptops and yell, "Hold on! I just have to do something real quick!" Even though their impression is spot-on, it hurts to know this is what they think of me, that I'm not available for them when they want me to be. As much as I want to believe working from home gives me the flexibility to have more family time, I wonder if my kids would be better off if I had a traditional job outside of the home. If I had a job outside the house, I could leave my work at the office and focus on them once I come home. All women with kids have moments when they're not the best versions of themselves, but I feel like these moments happen more for me as a work-from-home mom than they would if I worked outside the home. I'm super quick to get frustrated and yell at the kids when I'm trying to work, and that's not their fault, it's mine.
Sometimes I want to invite the UPS guy in for coffee just to have someone to talk to.
It's silly, but miss having my own work space. I gave up my career when I had my kids, but before that, I loved having a desk to decorate with picture frames, to arrange my pens and sticky notes just so. Kids tend to insert themselves into every corner of your world, but while I anticipated waking up next to a stuffed bear or finding a superhero by the shower drain, I never thought they'd take over my workspace too. We have a small house, so there's no real office for me to work from, and since I'm also watching the boys during the day it's not like I could head to a desk and leave them alone. I have a planner and a couple notebooks I use for work, but even though they have plenty of their own coloring books, every now and then I turn a page to find a stray scribble or drool mark on the pages.
Then, there's the loneliness. No matter how annoying your co-workers are, you get used to being around other people at work, and if you're lucky you form a few friendships with some of the people you spend the workweek with. I've met some amazing fellow writers all across the country online and while we've become close enough that no topic is off limits, typing into a screen is not the same as chatting face to face. Sometimes I want to invite the UPS guy in for coffee just to have someone to talk to.
I'm not just burnt out, I'm extra crispy.
Other woman who stay at home with their kids might combat this feeling of isolating by joining a play group or going to kids' activities at the local library, but these all take place during the hours that I work. When it comes to making friends, don't fit in with the working moms, but I don't fit in with the stay at home moms either.
Working from home takes a giant toll on my relationship. In order to minimize the impact my job has on my kids, I try to do most of my writing when they're asleep. Nap time and evenings aren't ever a time when my partner and I Netflix and chill; it's when I disappear with my laptop to catch up on whatever work I wasn't able to. Sometimes he'll watch the kids after dinner so I can get a bit more work done and if I have a really busy week, I'll set the alarm for 3 or 4 a.m. so I can sneak in a couple hours of writing before the boys wake up around 5. If I still need more time to work, I find it on the weekend when he's home to take over kid duty.
After all this, I'm not left with very much me time. I'm woefully behind on all my shows and podcasts, I never even got a chance to try the adult coloring book trend, and I know Kim and Taylor were fighting about something but I never found the time to read what that whole mess was about. I'm not just burnt out, I'm extra crispy.
There are pros and cons to everything, and seeing as how many parents still go out of their way to tell me how lucky I am to work from home, I have a feeling that despite the difficulties my work schedule adds to my life, I have to consider myself pretty lucky as a whole. I just wish that people would stop assuming my job isn't demanding, time consuming, or stressful just because it's done from home and not in an office. Working from home is still work, even if I don't have to wear a bra to do it.