Working At Home When You Have A Toddler: Expectations Vs. Reality
When I found out I was pregnant, I quickly realized that my work situation would need to change. I wanted to stay home and spend time with my child but I needed to figure out how to be a working mom work so I could continue to help provide for my growing family. I made the necessary steps and hustled with a newfound sense of purpose and was able to, eventually, work from home. As my stomach grew and my due date approached, I felt confident that I was getting the best of both worlds: I could take care of my kid and still have a career. Easy, right? Like, why didn't all parents just work from home if they could? Why was I such a genius??
But — shock, I know — working from home is not as easy as I thought it would be. People tell me how lucky and fortunate I am and while I can't argue with that, I can argue that working from home is significantly harder than working from an office. It's wonderful that I don't have to drop my son off at a daycare and I appreciate the fact I'm not forced to miss out on even the most mundane of moments, but there are far too many misconceptions when it comes to working from home, perpetuating the idea that it is "easy" and not "real" work. (Of course, this fallacy was clearly thought up by someone who has never worked from home, because it doesn't even take a week to realize that not only is it difficult, it is arguably ten times harder than you could have possibly imagined.)
Because if I'm being honest, every day is exhausting and there's no such thing as a lunch break and your baby will grow to be a mobile human being so you can't just stick him or her in one spot and expect them to stay put. The expectation of working at home with a toddler versus the reality of working at home with a toddler, is something every parent should realize before they commit to this kind of completely awesome, totally worthwhile but extremely taxing work environment.
Expectation: I Don't Have To "Get Ready" Every Morning
I thought going straight from bed to the couch, computer on my lap and yesterday's mascara still on my eyelashes, was going to be just the best. I wouldn't lose sleep because I had to wake up early to shower and do my hair and put on my makeup and dress in professional but slightly uncomfortable clothes. I could work in my pajamas and still get paid and, well, that's the dream.
Reality: I Never Have The Time To Shower
Because showering isn't a necessary priority, it doesn't really become a priority at all. Meeting deadlines and cooking breakfast and making sure that your child stays out of the trash and the cabinets and doesn't stick their finger in an electrical socket are all more important than hopping in the shower. When your child finally goes down for a nap, you'd rather use that far-too-short alone time to make headway on work, instead of taking time for yourself and, you know, grooming.
Expectation: I Don't Need To Commute To An Office
It doesn't matter if it is raining, snowing or a scorching 110 degrees outside, my work day isn't effected. I don't have to worry about how bad traffic is and or hustle to leave the house in time to make it to my desk at a reasonable hour. There's never a five-car pileup between my bedroom and the living room or my at-home office so my "commute time" is all of .456 seconds, and that is awesome.
Reality: I Never Leave The House
I hardly ever leave the house. Ever. (Unless you count a trip to the grocery store for necessary provisions, and when you're walking down the food aisles with a toddler in tow, that isn't much of a break, my friends.) My apartment starts to feel way too small and the inability to leave a singular environment starts to make me feel like I could might maybe possibly be going crazy. At this point, a 17-car pileup on any highway sounds freakin' fantastic.
Expectation: I Make My Own Schedule
The idea that I wouldn't have a boss breathing down my neck or that I could set my own schedule, work on my own timeline, and be the only person responsible for turning in quality work at a reasonable pace, was freeing. Finally, I wouldn't be at the mercy of someone else's planning. I could wake up when I wanted and plan out my day and I'd, no doubt, have a few moments to relax with a cup of coffee or play with my perfectly behaved child.
Reality: I'm On My Kid's Schedule
If you think your boss is mean, strict, or at the very least, unreasonable, you clearly haven't met the tiny terror that is every toddler. Toddlers don't care if you're tired or hungry or have a plan. My day, and everything I do in it, depends entirely on my kid and his schedule (or lack thereof). I work around nap schedules and eating schedules and those can vary depending on an number of factors that are all completely outside of my control.
Expectation: I Won't Have To Deal With Annoying Coworkers
I thought it would be so wonderful to not have to deal with, well, people. I wouldn't have to smile and nod when I listened to another neverending story from that one coworker, and I wouldn't have to try and work through the drama or in spite of condescending comments from that other coworker. Sure, it's great to work as part of a team but sometimes that team can be a hinderance, so I was so excited to be the only one responsible for my work.
Reality: I Never Talk To Adults
I would kill to have a conversation with a human that can form complete sentences and successfully go to the bathroom by themselves. I say "potty" and "num-nums" and "owies" way too often and even if the adult was uber annoying, kind of rude and didn't stop talking, at least they would be an adult.
Expectation: I'll Always Be With My Kid
I thought it would be the perfect set up: I could spend every day with my child while working and making money. I wouldn't have to ask someone else to tape first steps or first words. I didn't miss a single sound or smile or movement and I knew that he was safe and fed and cared for.
Reality: I'll Always Be With My Kid
Taking a break from your child is not only beneficial, it is necessary. I know that a lot of parents feel like that makes them horrible people, but I'm telling you, interaction with the outside, adult world is essential. I love my son and I love my ability to work from home, but I also love my sanity and spending every waking moment with my child can be nothing short of exhausting.
Expectation: My Kid Will Play Quietly While I Work
I figured my kid would entertain himself while I worked studiously. I mean, he has enough toys to play with and books to read and room to explore, so there's no reason why he should take any interest in what I'm doing on my computer.
Reality: My Kid Is Up In My Business Constantly
The moment I open my computer and start typing, my child wants to know what I am doing and how I am doing it and why I am doing it. He climbs on top of me and tries to shut my laptop and thinks throwing his mini-football or basketball at my head is the best new game ever. He couldn't care about the pile of toys he has, he wants to press buttons and keys and use my already exhausted body as his personal jungle gym.
Expectation: I Can Take A Work Call Quietly In The Next Room
Work calls won't take that long so there shouldn't be any reason why I can't go into the other room and talk, quietly, on the phone with perspective clients and colleagues. My son will continue playing or watching the latest episode of Sesame Street and will hardly notice my absence.
Reality: My Kid Will Be At His Loudest As Soon As I'm On The Phone
The moment I even reach for my phone, my child starts to yell or scream at the top of his very small, but very healthy, lungs. I'm convinced that he thinks everyone on the other end of the line wants to hear his voice and while it is adorable, it is also unprofessional. It's hard to sound reliable or knowledgable or even just capable when there's a tiny toddler voice in the background, screaming toddler talk for no apparent reason.
Expectation: I'll Nap When My Kid Naps
It says to sleep when my kid sleeps in every baby book known to man so I'll definitely be able to nap during the day, right? I'll work when he is awake and when he is down for the count, I'll be able to rest my weary eyes and wake up refreshed, more than ready to take on another few hours of simultaneous work and parenting.
Reality: Nap Time Is The Only Time I Get Work Done
The only time I am able to get any significant amount of work done is when my child is unconscious. Even if I am completely drained and 30 minutes in dream land would do wonders for my overall mood, I can't. I would rather take the time to work unimpeded, then try to do even more work when my child is awake and climbing all over me or asking for this this and that or just, you know, being a toddler.
Expectation: I Might Feel Guilty For Not Giving My Kid All Of My Attention
Guilt and parenthood tend to be synonymous, so I definitely expected to feel some guilt while working from home. I can't play with my child every second of every day, and I was going to ask him to entertain himself, at least sometimes. But it would be a manageable amount of guilt, right?
Reality: I Definitely Feel Guilty For Not Giving My Kid All Of My Attention
The guilt is hardly manageable. I have learned to live with the all-consuming feeling that I am never doing everything my kid needs. I see other mothers making the latest Pinterest craze and doing arts and crafts and taking their children to the park or on outdoor adventures, but I can't do those things because I have to work. When I can't give my kid everything he wants exactly when he wants it, well, I kind of want to die a little.
Expectation: When My Partner Comes Home, He'll Take Over
In my mind, I see my partner and I as the ultimate tag team champions. When he gets home from work I can tag him in, and he can wrestle our toddler while I take a few minutes for myself or finish a work project and actually get some work accomplished or, at the very least, finally go take that shower I definitely need.
Reality: When My Partner Comes Home, He's Tired And Wants To Relax
Yeah, I usually just end up tagging myself in for another round. My partner works full-time as well, so when he comes home he is exhausted and wants to relax and even though he is understanding, he can't fully grasp the relentlessly exhausting juggling attempt I have been semi-managing all day long, in his absence.
Expectation: It'll Be Worth It Because I'm Setting A Great Example And Staying Fulfilled
Sure, it might be hard but at least I will be able to stay true to myself while being a good mother. I don't want to give up the other parts of me just so I can consider myself a decent parent, and I want my child to know that his mother is more than just his mother; she's also a working and a partner and a lot of other things to a lot of other people. My child is a big part of my world, but he is not my entire world.
Reality: It's Worth It Because I'm Setting A Good Example And Staying Fulfilled
Regardless of how exhausting or overwhelming or all-around taxing working from home with a toddler can be, I know I am setting a wonderful example for my kid. I'm letting him know that women like me can carry life and birth life and sustain life and provide life, all while living their lives as well. I get to be a mother and a career woman and I'm not alone so maybe the "can women really have it all?" question can finally be put to rest. Because they can and they do, it's just a lot of work, just like anything else that is worthwhile in life.
Images: Bradley Gordon/Flickr; Giphy (22)