I went back to work full-time when my now-4.5-year-old was just 3 months old, but I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for almost two years now. I’ll admit that the decision wasn’t 100% my choice—I actually got laid off from my former job during my last trimester of the pregnancy that brought me my twin daughters, but in reality, it was a blessing in disguise. Between daycare costs, travel expenses, and the insanity of commuting to Manhattan from my not-so-nearby New Jersey town, going back to work full-time after the twins would not have worked logistically or made sense financially.
So instead I found what I think is a good compromise—I now freelance part-time from home while also taking care of my kids. Some weeks that means working 8-10 hours. Other weeks it means working more than 20. In some ways, it’s the perfect balance, but in other ways, it’s kind of like setting myself up for failure.
Most days, it takes me a good two hours to get my son and daughters dressed, fed, and into the car. From there, we drop my son off at school or camp and then head home to hang out until lunchtime (and by “hang out,” I mean half-work, half-play with the girls), after which the babies (thankfully) nap. During their nap, I can usually manage to squeeze in a solid 90 minutes of work before yanking them out of their cribs and rushing to pick up their brother. And once we get home from school or camp, I typically spend the rest of the afternoon pleading with my son to entertain himself and watching my daughters wreak havoc as I frantically attempt to knock out a little writing here and there to avoid having to work all night.
During that 2.5-hour stretch between coming home from school/camp and dinnertime, I’m often able to squeeze 20 minutes of work in here and there, which helps. But there are afternoons where I get nothing done—and by “nothing,” I mean no paid work, but also no housework. Either way, I go back to work most nights after putting my kids to sleep, often ignoring my poor husband in the process. (To be fair, he’s also overworked and perpetually exhausted, so he usually doesn’t mind entertaining himself for the evening.)
I’m not complaining about any of this. I always imagined that if I were to choose to be a stay-at-home mom, I’d work in some sort of capacity, and I’m extremely grateful to have a career that’s conducive to working from home on my own schedule. (To those of you who mocked my creative writing major back in college—ha, told you so.) But often, I feel like I’m falling short both in terms of my work and my kids. There just never seems to be enough time in my day to do everything. And I feel like I’m stuck in this weird limbo situation where I’m clearly not a full-time working professional, but I have deadlines and work-related obligations nonetheless.
For example, mom friends will ask me to play dates, and I’ll have to decline because of pending deadlines. People will assume I’m free during the day when in fact I’ve got every hour mapped out, partly because of my kids’ schedule and partly because of my work. And on the flip side, sometimes I’ll get asked to churn out a series of articles within a few hours’ time, or get asked to jump on a conference call, and I’ll have to either say no or dial in while simultaneously consoling a pair of crying babies and begging their older broker to keep it down.
It’s a tricky set of priorities to balance, and often, I feel like I’m failing on both sides.
I hate having to ask my son to play alone after school because I have work to finish. But then I think about the alternative. If I were to go back to work full-time, and work outside the home, I’d have even less time to give him. For now, this arrangement seems like a good compromise, but there are days when I really feel like it just doesn’t work.
For the record, I’ve tried hiring a mother’s helper to watch and entertain the kids for a few hours a week, but even that has proved challenging. Most older kids already have jobs or places they’d rather be after school. Younger teens seem more willing, but since they can’t drive, I have to say no. (By the time I get a toddler and twin infants into the car, drive somewhere, get them all out of the car, and then do it again a few hours later, I’ve lost half the benefit of getting a helper. Unless that person can drive him/herself over here, it’s not really worth it.)
Of course, it’s not just my kids and my work I often feel I’m neglecting: it’s my husband, my family, my friends, and even myself. But I can deal with not having much downtime during the week (hey, that’s what Shabbat is for). What I can’t deal with is letting my children down, or feeling like the work I’m producing isn’t my absolute best. (Here’s where perfectionism rears its ugly head.)
I’m not seeking a solution here. I know there isn’t one. The only thing I can really do right now is keep working my hardest at both jobs—and hope science comes up with a way for me to clone myself in the very near future. Maybe I’ll even write an article about that, if I can somehow find the time.