When I was a little kid, my mom didn’t work outside of the home. Instead, she stayed home with me and my sister, playing with us and baking cookies, teaching us things, caring for us, and when we got older she started volunteering at our school. She would “go back to work” eventually, but while we were small, she was a full-time parent. When I was preparing to have my own child, I wasn’t sure if that was something that I wanted or not. Ultimately, the financial realities of my working class family meant that it wasn’t really a decision I had to make, because my family needed me to be working, at least some. And to be honest, being with the baby 24/7 and having nothing else that I had to do during the lengthy postpartum period made me feel antsy and weird. When I started working, and especially when I started working on a set schedule, it felt good to contribute to my family and have something else to think about. But as time wears on and as the baby grows and his needs change, I long for the simplicity of, in my own mother’s words “just being a mom.” Honestly, I wish that I wasn’t a working mom at all.
It’s a complicated issue, and I’m the first to admit that when we talk about “working moms versus stay-at-home moms” it’s never as simple and black and white as it seems. I’m living proof of this fact. I consider myself a working mom because I work somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week, and I bring home a paycheck comparable to that of my spouse. But I’m also home with my kid while my wife is at work four days a week. Like a lot of families, we live somewhere in the in-between. We are neither the “traditional” family wherein one spouse works 40 hours a week to financially support the family while the other stays home to raise up the kids and get dinner on the table (and uh, we’re also gay), nor are we the two-income family wherein both parents work full time and the kids spend business hours in some type of childcare. Instead, our schedule is a weird hybrid. My wife works four days a week in a local restaurant, and in theory, I work two dedicated days per week and the occasional night. But in practice, I work almost every night.
Even when I’m physically with my son, I’m drained and I can’t be as present as I’d like to be.
I love my work and I love that I get to write words for a living, and the cool thing is that I write about parenting, which has been really awesome since that’s what's taking up most of my brain on any given day anyways. But the truth is that the constant juggle of parenting and having to work is wearing me down, and it’s beginning to make me feel like I’m no good at either thing. The fact is that, no matter how you slice it, parenting is a full-time job in and of itself, and no matter how much I may like what I do, it still constantly divides my attention. It means that even when I’m physically with my son, I’m drained and I can’t be as present as I’d like to be. And in my specific case, it means that I almost never get downtime for myself, and I’m constantly staring at my packed schedule trying to figure out where I can squeeze in a little bit more time for work.
Maybe I can write the draft of my next essay in the notes section of my broken phone while I’m breastfeeding? Maybe I can do a little bit of editing while he’s eating lunch? Maybe I can get his grandparents to take him for a couple hours this week? What if I stay up until 2 a.m. just to get this all done? The amount of figuring and arranging is literally endless, and I find myself weighing the costs and benefits of when and how I work even in my sleep. And it isn’t just me. Every time I read something about motherhood it becomes more and more apparent to me that moms like me are so burned out we can barely function. It’s a sad state to be in, and while commiserating with others in the same boat can help, it can also make things feel even more hopeless. After all, if we’re all this frustrated and exhausted, then what else is there? Is there any way out at all?
I long for the freedom to do only one job, the job of caring for and raising my beautiful and amazing child, and to put all of my focus on being the best possible mom that I can be. I ache for the dream of giving him my undivided attention completely, rather than constantly attempting to switch back and forth from work brain to mom brain.
I was already frustrated, but then my kid got sick, and the quality of my frustration changed. No longer simply thinking, “it sure is a bummer that I have to work so much!” Instead, I found myself getting really angry that I couldn’t do what I so desperately wanted to do, which was drop everything for my kid.
I long for a simpler life. I long for the freedom to do only one job, the job of caring for and raising my beautiful and amazing child, and to put all of my focus on being the best possible mom that I can be. I ache for the dream of giving him my undivided attention completely, rather than constantly attempting to switch back and forth from work brain to mom brain. And while I know, sure, that being a full-time mom wouldn’t be all rainbows and unicorns, the fact that I saw my own mother do it and do it damn well makes me wish for it all the more. I can’t help but sit here — working on the laptop in a sea of toys while my kid takes a nap — daydreaming about a life where I could instead be planning the next fun thing we would do together.
I know that it could be so, so, much worse. I know that the lifestyle I've adopted to keep my family afloat in this weird world has afforded me many options and opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I’m thankful to still be breastfeeding, and to finally have enough money to live in a place we actually like. I feel, a lot of the time, incredibly privileged and fortunate. But it's just that I also know that it could be a lot better. And, maybe just for today, I’m admitting that I wish that I had that other life, the one where I could put being a mom first all the time, and never stay up all night working.