Mom Guilt: The Working Parent Edition

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Want to hear something ironic? I work for a parenting magazine, and a huge part of my job is finding fun stuff for people to do with their kids and sharing the stuff I find with the community. But I spend so much time looking for fun stuff other people can do with their kids that it takes a load of time away from me doing fun stuff with MY own kids.

First, let me say this: I love my job. Let me repeat (and not just because my boss may or may not browse through my blogs from time to time), I LOVE my job. I can’t say I’ve ever had a job that I love, doing something that I truly enjoy, and feeling like I am making valuable contributions to society using the skills and creativity that I have always known I possessed. As much fun as it was slinging pastrami sandwiches at a kosher deli in Brooklyn for eight years, it wasn’t exactly my calling.

But this job? This is as close to “my calling” as I’ve ever been. Don’t get me wrong, it comes with quite a bit of stress and pressure, but what job doesn’t? At least, what CAREER doesn’t?

I did the Stay at Home Mom thing for a very long time, and it certainly had its ups and downs. Now that I’m working, I never realized just how much of myself I was available to give to my children when I was literally always available for them. We could pick up and go whenever we wanted. There were no schedules to coordinate, no deadlines looming, no emails to answer first. If we wanted to go to the park, we went. If we were low on groceries, to the supermarket we’d go. If they wanted to watch all three Toy Story Movies in a row, I knew we would just play together later. We were together all the time and they loved it.

And I…liked….it. Kind of. Well, as any Stay at Home Mom will tell you, being around your kids 24/7 can be draining. There are no breaks, no real help from anyone else. It’s on YOU to keep those kids happy around the clock. It’s tough stuff. So when the opportunity arose for me to take a job where I could keep a flexible schedule and often work from home, well, mentally and financially speaking, turning it down was never an option.

So while I’m very familiar with the Stay at Home Mom depression, I’m new to the whole Working Mom guilt. And, boy, is it something else entirely. When I tell people I can work from home, I think they envision this utopian ideal wherein I’m simultaneously baking cookies, overseeing fun craft projects, and emailing my boss all in perfect unison. How lucky I must be, to be able to accomplish so many tasks at once!

Well, in fact, I DO accomplish all of these things at once, but perfection it is NOT.

Allow me to set the scene for you.

It’s 3:30pm on any given weekday. My son is working on his math homework, that hellish Go Math common core homework book open in front of him. He’s crying a little because he doesn’t understand how to solve 15-7 by “making a ten” first. Quite frankly, neither do I, and I’m about to cry along with him. At the same moment, my three-year-old daughter is climbing on my back, shoving her Princess Sofia floor puzzle in my face and begging me to help her finish it. I glance over at the clock and see that if I don’t start dinner soon, I’ll have hunger meltdowns thrown into the mix. So I get up and head to the fridge to start cooking.

I wash and chop and slice and prep while my son reads his “book buddy” to me, hoping he’s actually reading what it says and not just making up random things to avoid using his brain. My daughter lingers dangerously over the cutting board, narrowly missing my razor-sharp knife with her tiny fingers as she tries to reorganize the veggies in a futile attempt to “help” me cook. I stop for a quick minute to check my work email, remembering something important I’d forgotten to do earlier. I see that I have 15 new emails and realize that the thing I forgot to do has spiraled into into an entirely new problem, and I absentmindedly spend another 20 “quick minutes” attempting to rectify it.

Suddenly I hear the sizzle of hot liquid hitting the stove and I realize my potatoes are boiling over, which is my reminder to check the oven and find that I’ve overcooked the crap out of the chicken. I look up and find Princess Sofia puzzle pieces and sliced vegetables strewn about the living room— my daughter’s passive aggressive way of displaying her resentment for my ignoring her. My son hands me his homework to check and I try to explain that “We bilted a snwmn” is spelled incorrectly, which immediately prompts a tantrum because, according to him, it IS spelled correctly and I’m the MEANEST MOM EVER and he just wants to go play video games but I WON’T LET HIM and his homework is DONE…..

And then my night-shift-working husband emerges from hibernation, bitching about us all making too much noise and waking him up, and wanting to know why the house smells like burnt chicken.

Fast forward a few hours; dinner is done, baths are done, husband’s off to work, kids are tucked in bed. And me? I’m on the couch, laptop open, typing away—finally able to get some work done.

The sad part is that I actually AM lucky to be able to do this with my family because I’m home from work in time to make dinner and oversee homework. Some working parents don’t get home until well after the kids are sleeping. And as insane as the afternoons with my family are, it’s a whole other type of insanity when you don’t even get to see your kids during the day at all.

The part I hate is when my daughter looks at me with her heart-meltingly innocent baby blue eyes and asks me “mommy can you play with me?” and I have to say no because I have work to do. Or when my son’s school sends home a note about yet ANOTHER school fair and I try to move heaven and earth to make it there, every single time, because I never want to let him down.  Or when I’m up very late, typing away into the wee hours of the night, and it causes me to wake up like Oscar the Grouch, ready to bite the head off of anyone who dares to ask me for plain Cheerios after I’ve already poured milk on an entire bowl of the honey-nut ones.

Sometimes I worry that my kids’ happiest childhood memories will be overshadowed by mental images of Mommy hiding behind a computer screen.

I love that I love my job. I don’t know how many people can say that and mean it, but I love having a job I enjoy, a job I’m proud to do. And financially speaking, I REALLY love that I can finally start putting some money away to someday, somehow, possibly, hopefully, maybe be able to afford my family’s first real home. Or our first trip to Disney. Or maybe even start up a college fund (well, after I’m done paying for my own college loans).

As stressed as I feel most of the time, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. I’m sacrificing a lot, I know. But I do believe that in the end, it’s worth it.

I just wish it wouldn’t feel like my kids are the ones making the biggest sacrifice. Hopefully someday they’ll understand why.

Slippers Vs. Stilettos: The Working Mom/Stay-At-Home-Mom Feud

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There’s a war going on out there, ladies, and it ain’t a pretty one.  Moms– awesome women who should always be united on the sippy cup front, who should stand together as one in all of the trials and tribulations of motherhood —are currently battling it out in a bitter feud so controversial that I almost didn’t want to weigh in.  Almost.

The working mom verses the stay-at-home-mom thing.  You know all about it, girls.  It’s a major source of tension between mamas these days.  From sisters to best friends, to strangers, to people who are closer on Facebook than they’ll ever be in real life, we are ALL guilty of it.  Whichever end of the rope you find yourself on, you can just go ahead and admit to having the occasional feelings of jealousy, animosity, resentment, and even actual anger for the other side at some point or another.  And it’s totally normal– it’s human nature.  The grass is always greener on the other side, right?  It’s hard not to sometimes wonder how that lush, green grass would look on your own weedy, toy-littered front lawn.

But before we allow this petty rivalry to continue, we should probably take a few steps in each other’s shoes for a moment just to see what life is like in the slippers—or stilettos – of the women we are often too quick to judge.

The stay-at-home mom has probably found herself on the business end of a nervous breakdown at least once or twice, brought on by a potentially lethal combination of neither seeing nor speaking to another adult for several weeks at a time and the 24/7, nonstop, earsplitting shrieks of a colicky infant all day and all night.  She is home ALL THE TIME, she hasn’t showered in days or worn anything but pajamas for a month, and all she hears from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes back to sleep is “mommy she’s hitting me,” and “mommy I want more juice,” and “mommy I peed on the couch again.” And if she sees ONE more fucking episode of Dora, she’s going to take that horrible, singing map and stick it so far up Swiper’s ass that he won’t be swiping anything again for a long, long time.  Yes, it’s a pretty lonely, exasperating life.

The working mom, on the other hand, is eternally plagued with stress and guilt.  There are assholes everywhere she goes trying to make her feel bad for doing something as basic as GOING TO WORK EVERYDAY, as though we live in some kind of utopian society where one measly income could effortlessly provide any family with everything they need.  And it’s not like there is some mathematical equation for balancing home and work and everything in between.  It’s not like she ENJOYS coming home to a messy house, the kids needing homework help at 8p.m.,then having to fold laundry until 11p.m., then waking up at the buttcrack of dawn the next day to chop vegetables for the stupid crockpot, so she is literally making everyone’s breakfast, lunch, AND dinner at the same time, and then sitting in rush hour traffic or next to some smelly person on the train for over an hour just to get to work and have some dickhead boss up her ass all day, making sure she isn’t Instagramming pictures of her kids instead of getting work done.  Does that sound fun to anyone?

I, myself, am actually kind of a work-at-home-mom these days, as I do freelance writing in between refilling juice cups and cleaning pee off the couch.  The amount of money I make doing it is practically laughable, but I can use all the help I can get with bills and writing experience, so I do it.  When I started, I thought that working from home was going to be the best of both worlds.  I can work but I don’t need to find a babysitter!  How awesome, right?  Um, not quite.  My daughter literally climbs on my head whenever I attempt to get work done, my son is always on my laptop playing computer games when I need to use it, and I usually have to wait until everyone is sound asleep to get anything remotely productive done, often finishing my work just a couple of hours before the kids will be awake.    

So you see, we need to understand that we are ALL amazing women, and we’re just striving to do the best we can with the hand that life has dealt to us.  If you are familiar with me and my blog, you know that I’m rarely serious about anything.  But I take this seriously because I am so incredibly tired of seeing women tear each other down over something that doesn’t even need to be an issue.  I don’t go to “work” every day, but so what?  Sometimes I’m happy about it, other times not at all.  But that’s my life, my decision, and no one’s business but my own.  The same goes for each and every one of you in the decision you have made for yourselves.

And as frustrating as the working-from-home gig can be, it’s allowed me to see things from the other perspective.  It’s given me a chance to see how stressful, exhausting, frustrating, debilitating, and downright miserable ALL of these situations can be.  But it’s also proven what I’ve known to be true all along:  that being a mom is insanely difficult, no matter what you do for a living.  It doesn’t matter if you have a job, a career, a business to run, a house to run, or maybe some hectic, hybrid version of it all.  Because, at the end of the day, there’s a good chance that the hardest thing you will EVER do is something that we are all doing— raising children.

Can’t we all at least agree on that?

So What Do You DO All Day?

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I’m a stay-at-home mom, an occupation which, by the very nature of its poorly chosen name, implies that I merely STAY AT HOME all day.

Fellow SAHM’s, is that hilarious or what?

I think that in order for a person to be dumb enough to even ask me that question, they must be imagining that perhaps I am doing what THEY would be doing if they were staying home all day– like painting my nails or washing my car or catching up on the last season of True Blood or whatever.

And it makes total sense, really.

Because my nails ARE painted.  I had a mani/pedi before a wedding back in June and haven’t gotten around to removing the bits and pieces of leftover polish yet. So yep, the nails are painted.

And my car?  Freshly washed.  I mean, it rained this weekend, right?  Nothing chips away at bird shit like torrential downpours!

And you KNOW I’m all caught up on my True Blood.  That’s the one with the vampire who counts the numbers on Sesame Street, right?  Haha, I’m joking!  I can’t even pretend that watching a True Blood marathon in the middle of the day wouldn’t give my children nightmares until 2015, so you got me there.

To the idiot who is stupid enough to ask me that question, we’ll call you Jackass from here on out: I want you to know that what YOU do during your free time is completely different from what I do in my free time.

You know how I know that? Because, unlike you, I DON’T HAVE ANY FREE FUCKING TIME.

Jackass, my day begins not whenever I choose, nor simply when I wake up. Nor does it begin even after a nearby alarm goes off that I can bash with my fist in order to enjoy ten more blissful minutes of restful sleep.  My day begins whenever my children decide it’s time for me to get up, usually by poking me in the face or smacking me in the head or screaming in my ear until my eyes have opened fully.  I then rise from bed and change the first of many diapers for the day, cook the first of many meals for the day, answer the first of many random questions of the day, and referee the first of many fights for the day.  I then painstakingly get my children and myself dressed and out the door with less than a minute to spare, drop one child off at school or day camp, or maybe soccer practice if it’s a weekend, then proceed to drag the other along with me on my daily errands, praying that she will let me get at least one thing done before she throws a total shitfit and tries to eject herself from a shopping cart or a stroller or maybe even a moving vehicle.

I then return home and take advantage of her nap time by doing some awesome dishes, a chore that’s nearly impossible to do when my daughter is awake because she gets such a kick out of removing the plates and silverware (knives, in particular) from the bottom rack of the dishwasher whenever it is open.  If I’m lucky enough for her to still be asleep once I’m finished with the dishes I can then fold up some awesome laundry, another chore that’s difficult to do when she is awake because she likes to steal and unfold clothes when I’m not looking and then hide them away in various spots around the house.

Once this is done I make lunch for her and then usually choke down my own lunch while standing over the sink.  After lunch, we go pick up my son and spend the remainder of the afternoon breaking up fights, handing out snacks, setting up activities to divert them from killing one another, and fielding some more endless random questions.  Oh, and in between all of that I attempt to clean the house and prepare dinner for everyone, too.

On really fun days we spend the afternoon at the park, where I perform this really cool magic trick of splitting myself in half so that I can easily chase both children around the hot, crowded playground while they run at full speed in opposite directions.

After dinner is finished and all cleaned up, the next hour is spent scrubbing little asses and feet in the bathtub and then getting everyone pj’d up and ready for bed. Which is a joke, really, because bedtime is always just a game of “who can stay up the latest?” This is a game I lose more often than not.

Once everyone is finally asleep I’m usually pretty exhausted and so I head off to bed myself.  Then I wake up and repeat a similar process the next day.

Even if the next day is Saturday.

Or Sunday.

Or Christmas.

Sorry, “me time.” I guess we can try again another time.

Oh, Jackass.  Come on, now. I’m totally kidding around.  My life really IS as simple you think it is.  In fact, you should come over and hang out one day to see firsthand just how I slothfully I lie on  my couch all day, inhaling Bon-Bons Peggy Bundy style, drinking bottles of Cabernet and ordering new tank tops online with my Macy’s credit card.

See for yourself how my children sit quietly in separate corners of the house, feeding themselves healthy food and entertaining themselves with educational activities throughout the day.

Watch in awe as the pots and pans magically arrange themselves on the stove, and the food flies right out of the refrigerator and chops itself up on the cutting board, all to be cooked by osmosis.

Watch, my dear Jackass, as the laundry leaps from its basket directly into the washing machine, and from there into the dryer, even taking the fabric sheets with it as it goes.

Be mystified at how *POOF* groceries just materialize in my cabinets and fridge, literally forming out of thin air and neatly stocking themselves in the shelves right before your very eyes.

See my amazing dog use his opposable thumbs to refill his very own water bowl all day long, and then witness my vacuum cleaner plug itself right into wall and begin to remove smashed up Cheerios from the carpet fibers all on its own.

And after that, you can go ahead and hop back in your time machine and return to 1925, when it was typical to openly assume that a mother’s job (working, stay-at-home, and everything in between) made her ANYTHING less than a fucking superhero.

I really think you need to go call your own mom right now and tell her she’s amazing.  Do it.

But first, did you have anything else you wanted to ask me?

Didn’t think so.

Jackass.