All parents are striving for more balance—fewer hours at work, more downtime with our families. But in an effort to achieve career success and provide all the perks of a middle-class upbringing, parents are working harder than ever. A recent study showed that 41 percent of full-time working parents have seen their hours increase in the last five years.
This mismatch between what we need to earn and how much time we want to spend with our kids has led many parents to seek work-from-home opportunities—a chance to earn a living while being around for more of the milestones and special moments. When you take into account the high costs of daycare, some work-from-home parents find that they can work fewer hours for an equivalent paycheck.
My own work-from-home career started when I was already in the house on maternity leave. My steady job disappeared while I was away and a little extra money earned here and there while my son slept built up slowly into a profitable business. I now find myself working from home full time, sometimes in my pyjamas, while my son is at preschool or being cared for by others, and let me tell you, while it has some benefits, working from home isn't the panacea I thought it would be. For one thing, WFH mom guilt is every bit as insidious as working mom guilt.
In my three-year-old son's eyes, I am always working and Daddy is the fun one. On Saturday mornings, when I announce that it’s the weekend and I won't be working, he practically throws a party. Cute! But during the week, he whines constantly, in the cruel way small children can, asking, “Whyyyyyy do you have to work?” It always makes me feel guilty and I feel like it would be easier if I left the house to go to my job rather than just going to another room.
The main reason I feel so guilty for working when I could be parenting is that my child is right there. I know when he is misbehaving in another room and boy do I want to intervene. But I am supposed to be at work, so I try as hard as I can to resist the urge. However, this dereliction of maternal duty often makes me feel terrible.
I am also subject to the whines and pleads of a child who just doesn't understand why I can't play because I am right here at home. My physical presence confuses him, in a way that it wouldn’t if I left the house to start work.
I often end up telling him to go away, that I am “at work” or I make a show of putting my headphones on in a passive-aggressive way while he is in the middle of a sentence about why sharks are so awesome. Sharks are awesome, and I really want to hear about them—but not when I am slammed with deadlines, in the middle of a call, or I am trying to chase down a source for a story.
As if mommy guilt wasn’t enough, I suffer from another condition I like to call Self-Inflicted Housekeeping Shame. I am at home all day, so why is my house still a mess? I kid myself into believing I should be able to keep on top of all the cleaning jobs as well as earn a full-time income. In a normal work day, there are many wasted minutes, chatting around the water cooler or celebrating a co-worker’s birthday, and I feel as though I should be able to put those bonus minutes to good use by tackling some small housework duties. But the problem is, once distracted by a load of laundry or a pile of dirty dishes, it then takes ages to get back into the swing of the work tasks I was supposed to be concentrating on.
The result is often that I am neglecting my work and putting in a sub-par performance as a mom and a cleaner. I am failing in all areas: Yay, me!
After a lot of trial and error, I am beginning to realize that I can only really nail one thing at a time. So if I am playing tickle monster with my son, I am not checking my phone or telling him I am too busy, and if I am mopping the floor, I won't stop until that floor is shining.
But that also means that when I am at work, I am going to ignore everything else—save for kissing boo-boos that only mommy can make better, that is. When I am hustling in my home office, I am going to focus on reaching my professional goals, and earn the big bucks all while still wearing my pyjamas, and I am also going to cut myself some slack, because however and wherever you work, and we all work, being a mom is a job.