There used to be two clear paths for parents. Continue in the work force or stay home with kids. Both options have always been valid, with challenges and rewards unique to either lifestyle.
However, in recent years, a third option has become increasingly popular, the mythological full-time parent who also works, all from the comfort of home. A cursory glance online will reveal hundreds of men or women who work these types of jobs. From mid-level marketing gurus to bloggers to Etsy shop owners to whatever exactly a social media “influencer” is, these people seemingly have it all: gainful employment without the prohibitive cost of childcare and the perks of cash flow with the flexibility to stop at any moment to bake cookies or craft or go to the zoo.
There is a perception that these “work from home” parents have cracked some kind of code, achieved the elusive aspiration of having it all, and that the poor suckers who work outside the home or who stay at home without a supplemental career are missing out.
As a former nurse-turned-writer, who is also a full-time stay at home mother, I am here to tell you that perception if wildly incorrect, and one that only exists because people work very hard to create it.
I’m not trying to knock people who go this route. I’m also not denying that it is without its perks. The flexibility is truly amazing. It’s wonderful to be able to earn extra income without paying for childcare. This is all true.
But, and this is important, parents who stay home and work, who are with their kids every day and also generating income every day, are not living some kind of magical dream.
They are HUSTLING. These people are quite literally working not one, but two incredibly difficult, incredibly demanding jobs. And it is exhausting.
Social media has created an archetypal image of a “work from home” parent. Think of a woman in cozy sweatpants and a large mug of coffee, curled up on the couch with a laptop while her children play happily at her feet. The lighting is soft and perfect. Everyone is clean and smiling and adorable.
That image is a lie.
This is what it looks like to work from home as a parent:
1) Your children will watch a lot of TV. Like an inordinate amount. An amount that can in no way be healthy for their little developing neurons and synapses. It will be literally the only way to keep them somewhat occupied while you write or make a call or send an email, and you will have to swallow your guilt and shame deep inside you with the mantra that you’re doing it all for them (which you are…mostly).
2) You will never not be multitasking. Long gone are the days you will do one thing at a time. You have two jobs and they will constantly be overlapping. You will dictate a blog post or client message or essay while you fold laundry. You will check your email while you boil pasta, make calls on speaker phone while you change diapers. You will do work in the drop off line at school, in the car when your kids fall asleep, while you watch TV with your husband, and in the morning before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee. It never stops, and you never feel like any one thing has your full attention.
3) Your house will take the brunt of it. If you are working from home, two things will get priority: the work and keeping your kids alive (and sometimes dressed). That means that everything else, the cleaning and the laundry and the groceries, will sometimes get forgotten, or overlooked, or flat-out ignored. And unlike your full-time, work-outside-the-home counterparts, you will feel you have no excuse, because you are home all day.
To the outside world, you don’t have a justification for the fact that you legitimately lost your one-year-old in the mountain of laundry in your bedroom closet or that you’ve fed your kids English-muffin pizzas five nights in a row. But anyone who has done the same job will understand. There is no way to do five full-time jobs at once. Some days the best you can do is three.
4) 75% will become your best. There is simply no way to be 100% at two jobs simultaneously. It is impossible. Some days you will slack on your work because you want to take the kids to the playground. Other days your kids will stay inside in their diapers from morning to bedtime, because you have a deadline or important call or mountain of invoices. The fact that you can give 75% effort to two jobs is pretty darn phenomenal. You will reluctantly let go of your inner perfectionist and learn to be okay with 75%.
5) You will wonder if you made the right choice – almost constantly. Some days you will desperately miss a workplace. You will crave the company of other adults, office small talk, and gossip. You will miss leaving your kids and miss missing them. Other times you will wonder if the income and creative or intellectual stimulation is worth all the added stress and exhaustion that comes from trying to do it all, to be all things to all people. Like all parents, your mind will always be an endless loop of questions and insecurities.
As much as we would like to believe otherwise, no magical lifestyle exists in which a parent gets to have it all, a well-managed life at home with kids and all the benefits of work. No matter what path we choose, there are going to be as many challenges as there are rewards.
But the good news? Well, the good news is that if you love your kids and your work…and you always do your best…you’re already way ahead of the game.
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