I was sitting at my computer working when I got an email that said next week is Parent’s Day at my kid’s camp. Seriously? I pay boatloads of money to this place to take my kid off my hands for four measly hours a day, and it wants me to cancel my conference call with a client so I can come watch them watch my kid? I guess I could choose not to go, but everyone knows I’m a work-at-home mom, and they all think being a work-at-home mom means I can drop everything for my kids whenever they need me. But that is not what you get to do when you are a work-at-home mom.
Every day, I hear it: You’re so lucky you get to work from home. But guess what? Being a stay-at-home mom is hard, and being a working mom is hard, but being a work-at-home mom is the suckiest choice of all. It may not be worse than the single mom who has to hold down two or three jobs and never gets to be at home with her children, but it’s worse than going to an office 9 to 5 and it’s worse than staying home with the kids all day long. I’ve done all three, and that is my conclusion.
I know how it feels to leave your kids every day and go into an office. I remember sitting at my desk and dying to see my kids in the middle of the day. I remember going back to work after maternity leave and locking myself in the breast pump room just so I could cry my eyes out where no one would see. And sure, part of it was the hormones, but most of it was a super-strong maternal desire to be with my kids, the same desire that makes me want to squeeze their cute tushies whenever I see them. It’s just there. I remember driving home from work and getting stuck in traffic, and it was pure torture thinking about the minutes that were ticking away before my kiddo’s bedtime. “No red brake lights. No red brake lights,” I used to pray.
I also know what it’s like to spend every waking minute with your kids when you’re a stay-at-home mom. Trying to figure out what the hell you’re going to do with them for four hours until the stores open at 10 a.m. because they woke up at six. Playing with them in the playroom for hours and then looking at your watch and realizing it’s really only been five minutes. Walking around a parachute singing "Pop Goes the Weasel" and thinking, “Ahhh, yes, this is why I got a master’s degree.” Sitting down for lunch with them and asking, “What’s your favorite color?” because that’s the kind of crap you ask when you’re trying to have a conversation with a 3-year-old. You know that saying, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Well, here’s another saying. Constant presence makes you want to grab the nearest cup of bleach and drink it.
So being a working mom and being a stay-at-home mom are both crazy hard. But being a work-at-home mom is hard in a whole different kind of way. It’s not about seeing your kids too much or too little. It’s about ignoring your kid—a lot—and feeling like you’re constantly failing them throughout the day.
It’s awesome that I get to pop in and see my kids sometimes during the day, but here’s what else I get to do all day long. “I can’t right now, Mommy has to work.” “Go play somewhere else, Mommy has a very important deadline.” “Hey kiddo, I’m sorry you want Mommy and only Mommy to play Barbies with you, but scram because Mommy has a call with Mr. Very Important Client who paid for those Barbies.”
Day in, day out, I have to tell my kids to leave me the hell alone, and I constantly feel bad about it. Do they think my work is more important than they are? It’s not. But sometimes it has to be. What does it to do to them that I’m constantly shutting my office door in their face or handing them over to another woman? And sure, I get to pop out to see them sometimes when I get a break, but then they freak out when I have to go back to my office, so it’s almost better not popping out to see them in the first place. And you know what really feels terrible? When you’re sitting at your desk and you can hear them bawling downstairs because they fell and they’re calling, “I want Mommmmyyy” and you’re dying to go to them but you can’t because you’re working, so you have to trust that someone else can hug them enough or sing them the boo-boo song or figure out that they’re faking it and tell them to shake it off.
So yes, it is a perk that I get to have lunch with them sometimes. And unless I have a video conference call (damn you, Skype!), I love that I get to go to work in my comfy pajamas. And it’s a time-saver that there’s never any traffic after work on the way downstairs to the playroom. But being a work-at-home mom is wrought with all sorts of guilt.
I made this choice because I thought it’d be better for my kids, but now I wonder. Maybe it’s actually just confusing them. I pray my kids get it one day. I pray they understand that the reason I work from home is so I can see them more. Because right now when they’re younger, I worry that they’re actually thinking the opposite: Why doesn’t Mommy want to see me? Hopefully when they look back on their childhood, they’ll think about the times I came downstairs to eat lunch with them or the time I canceled a meeting so I could go to Parent’s Day at camp. Hopefully, hopefully, they’ll remember those times more than the time I couldn’t play Barbies, or had to ignore them when they were crying.