By Guest Blogger Laura Simon
A year ago, I was working full-time as a high school teacher, my oldest son was in kindergarten, and my two youngest children were in daycare. Between the daycare drop-offs and pick-ups and a thirty-minute commute, my average work day was around ten hours long, leaving precious little time for anything in the evenings before baths and bedtimes. I raced through bedtime stories, yawning at inopportune times, before turning out the lights and getting to work on the dishes, the laundry, or the paperwork I’d brought home to complete.
For me, working outside the home meant constantly drawing water from an empty well. I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained, and my kids took the brunt of that. Our family felt fractured all over the city each day. I couldn’t tell you what my oldest was learning in school, I could tell you some things my middle child was learning (that I didn’t want him to know) and my youngest gave me ear-piercing screams that followed me down the stairs and out to the parking lot every time I dropped her off in the morning. We ran on fumes, an exhausted family helmed by an exhausted mother.
Every time one of my stay-at-home-mom friends heaved the littlest sigh, rage boiled up inside me. I wanted that life so badly for my own family; how could there possibly be anything to complain about? I considered the fifty hours a week I spent on my job and then I looked at ALL THAT TIME she had and envisioned what I could do with it. There was no way I’d be struggling to get a workout in or manage the laundry with over fifty more hours in my pocket, I was sure! I suspected I might even get some alone time to nurture my introverted self. When the opportunity to stay home and work as a freelancer presented itself, I was sure it would solve all our problems.
But guess what? Now that I’m working part-time from home and homeschooling my kids, I am, in fact, (way) behind on the laundry. Our house is actually dirtier…because we live in it all day, every day. And sometimes, I’m still stressed. Balancing a freelance career with homeschooling and no childcare is its own special challenge, and it comes with lots of late nights, early mornings, and constantly saying, “I’m sorry…I can’t talk to you right nows” to my spouse. I’ve even discovered that I have to step up my workouts because my day to day in the house doesn’t burn the calories that I did while I ran all over a large public high school. I still have to go for runs at night or early in the morning because my responsibilities don’t give me a break during the day.
You know how they say the grass is always greener on the other side? I can tell you from experience that there’s a little brown on both sides. For me, it turns out, the real question is, “Which side is worth watering?”
Our new reality is a good one. It is absolutely the right thing for our family. My kids are thriving. I’m thriving. I know my oldest son’s reading level and the books that hold his interest. I know which math facts my five-year-old knows and which ones he still needs to practice. I spend hours every day holding my not-so-little Velcro baby because even at two, there’s really no one she wants more than her mama. I get to do professional work without handing my paycheck over to childcare. After several years in a situation that simply wasn’t working, I am so very grateful to have landed where we are. But that doesn’t mean it would be the right place for you and your family to land.
As someone who’s been on both sides of the working mom fence, I can promise you there’s going to be struggle no matter what you do. If you’re sitting on the fence, trying to decide whether to work or stay home, or if you feel like you’re languishing on what feels like the wrong side of the fence with no idea how to climb it, remember that neither choice is going to solve all your problems. The real dilemma is choosing the struggle that is right for your family. That might mean working because you love your job and it keeps you sane. That might mean staying home because your spouse travels and you run the household by yourself. It might mean finding an arrangement somewhere in between.
Whatever you do, it’ll be hard. And good. Because the best things are worth the struggle.
Tell us about your experiences inside or outside the workplace! What works for your family, and what are your tricks for dealing with the challenging parts of your situation? (And if you have a system that makes laundry less than awful, I really want to know what it is!)