The competitions between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers has been a thing for what seems like forever. Who knows, maybe one cave woman went out to help hunt and gather and felt like she had too many responsibilities, while the ladies back home were dying to get out of those dreary caves and wished she’s stop complaining.
A couple months ago, the debate stirred again when my best friend posted a blog post to her Facebook page: “Can I Be Honest? Sometimes, I Get Jealous.”
The gist is this: Dear Stay-at-Home Mother from Working Mother, I’m jealous of you. You have it easier than I do. But wait! There’s a twist! Blogger Kim continues that as a working mom, she gets it—gets what’s hard about being a stay-at-home mom.
And then, another twist! Dear Working Mom from Stay-at-Home Mom, she writes: I, too, get jealous, but I also feel your pain.
But then I read one of the comments under my friend’s post on Facebook: “Dear Part-Time Working Mom,” someone had written, “who do I have to kill to get your same gig?”
That’s me. I have that gig. As a freelance writer, I work when I want. I can be home with my kid and do my job in the same day. I can write for one hour or for six. It’s up to me! I’m so lucky!
Can you hear me quietly sobbing as I type this?
First of all, as a freelance writer, I don’t simply work when I want to. I write when someone pays me to write. Except, sometimes, I have to write for free to inspire people to pay me to write. This means having childcare in place at all times because, as it turns out, most nannies aren’t willing to work zero hours per week until the day you get a new gig and suddenly need them for 30.
Our sitter comes 10-12 hours a week and it is in those hours that I do much of my writing, run a lot of my errands, and schedule most of my appointments. It doesn’t always work. One of my first new mom meltdowns came when I hired a sitter to start a script rewrite; on her first day, I managed only to shower and get stuck on the phone with my insurance company over a medical bill. I was furious. I felt like a failure.
And then there are those days when I’m feeling so inspired and creative, I’ll sit down at 7:30 a.m. and write during my son’s first nap. But what if I’m on a roll when he wakes up? There have been plenty of days when I’ve sat him in the swing or bouncer, tapping away on my laptop and idly chatting to him, “Hi, buddy! How are you doing? Is that your toy?!” Mother of the year over here, right? I should be reading to him, singing to him, engaging him, and making memories! This is mom time, not writer time!
The thing is, when you’re a part-time working mother, those lines are constantly blurring. One of my friends is an academic, doing research and teaching part-time. When she’s working, she misses her son fiercely and feels she should be with him, but when she’s the hands-on parent, she’s distracted and worried about what feels like her never-ending to-do list.
Another friend has that part-time gig most mothers think they want, working from a home office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day. She has no commute! She can work in her pajamas! Magic, right?
Except when the sitter calls in sick and her conference call doesn’t coincide with nap time. As she said while we commiserated about that ever-elusive mommy/work balance, “It’s absolutely impossible to focus. If we were going to an office, we would be there. Enmeshed in it. Here? My son is currently chewing on my non-typing hand.”
The issue with being a part-time working mother is that each day feels like it’s comprised of blocks of time, and we have to choose how to fill each block. Parenting? Working? (Not to mention there’s also showering, eating, exercising, hobbies, and quality time with a partner or spouse, but let’s not get crazy here.)
Each day is a constant series of negotiations. Because we have the luxury of choosing, we also have the burden of choosing—kids over work or work over our kids—several times, every single day. If I worked more efficiently, would I have more time with my baby? But if I always take more time with my baby, could I do damage to my career? Personally, I almost always feel like I’m making the wrong choice.
So when I read that Facebook comment, I felt a little angry and defensive. But the truth is, I get it. Because before my baby was born, I really thought I had the ideal situation. I didn’t have to give up my writing, which, if I’m being candid, feels as essential a part of me as being a woman or a mother. I didn’t have to commute to an office and leave my growing, changing son. And I didn’t worry that I’d feel bored or isolated when my days became suddenly consumed with all things baby. I could satisfy my creative side, earn a living, and be a hands-on parent! This was having it all, right?
How many times do we have to tell ourselves that there is no such thing as having it all before we’ll finally, really get it?
It’s challenging to be a stay-at-home mother and it’s challenging to be a working mother, so naturally, it’s challenging to do both at the same time. You know why? Because you made a human being.
Before this kid came along, you had a life full of relationships and responsibilities, and for the most part, you still have many, if not all, of those same obligations. Only now, you also have a tiny, needy little person and you have to meet his every need. In the same amount of hours in a day. With less sleep.
You know what might make this parenting thing a little easier? If we weren’t always trying to figure out who has it harder.