I have eighteen hours a week to myself. This is when I work on my writing, do laundry, wash dishes, avoid cleaning the house in any meaningful way, shower, watch the occasional television program, cook, and shop for groceries. Among women who are stay at home mothers, I am pretty damn lucky to have those hours. I am also self-employed and working during those hours, so my days are still busy. I don’t really vacuum. Any TV I watch or snacks I devour are done so while writing copy or articles. It’s a good life. A good balance. A balance I’ve finally struck after being in Durham for three months.
I’m as much a stay at home mom as I ever will be, and looking at the above paragraph, I guess that “mom” is the role that occupies a majority of my time. “Wife” (cooker of food and cleaner of laundry, hirer of my amazing cleaning team) is secondary. “Writer-to-make-money” is tertiary; “writer-for-my-soul” is fourth-iary. I think it’s a pretty great balance, but it took some real growing pains to get here. I still don’t have it all figured out, but I might be as close as I am ever going to be.
As a woman with anxiety, I’m going to come out and say that being a stay at home mom is probably one of the hardest things I could have chosen to do. As an intensely independent and strong-willed woman, being a stay at home mom is doubly difficult. I still choose it.
Why is it difficult?
This is my third re-write of the why-is-it-difficult explanation. Ahem. Here it is: being at home with my child challenges me in a way I haven’t been challenged before. I like to be alone. I like to do my own thing. I like to shut myself off from the world and write. I do not like to be tugged on and climbed on when I’m not in a good mood. I don’t particularly like coming up with healthy food options for lunch. Nor do I like playing blocks. Nor do I enjoy finding wholesome and enriching shit to do with my child in lieu of watching television all day. (If I didn’t think it would be crap for his developing brain, I’d have “Toy Story” on a loop all day, followed by “Toy Story 2” the following day, and a topper of “Toy Story 3” every third day.) I am physically lazy, and I don’t really like going places or doing things most of the time. (Don’t I sound charming?)
I also have generalized anxiety disorder, which is a fancy way to say that I worry a lot about nothing in particular. My therapist calls this “free-floating anxiety.” As she puts it, hippie genius that she is, my anxiety floats around and attaches itself to different things day-by-day or week-by-week. That means that I’m really never not worrying about something, which is kind of shitty. It feels like a button is always pressed in my brain. That button makes most everything kind of loud and intense. It makes interactions with people the topic of made-up concerns, or it makes my skincare routine the topic of a whole lot of thinking that might be spent on other things. Or it makes me wake up in the night thinking that someone is breaking in, when the only sound is my dog snoring. The end result is that I am very tired — mentally and emotionally — since a lot of my psychic energy is spent on worrying about inane shit. A lot of my other psychic energy is spent trying to “fix” myself, or as I recently phrased it, “being anxious about having anxiety.” I had to start dealing with my anxiety when it became worse during my postpartum depression, and here I am, dealing with the pieces of it.
In order to be successful at the life I lovingly crafted for myself and my kid, I have to be patient, caring, creative, and active. The anxiety sucks a lot out of the “patient” and “active” centers of my brain, which leaves me at a deficit. More of a deficit than some other stay at home parents, I’m betting. It’s a hard job no matter how you look at it, and on the best days with all resources available, it can tire out and irritate and drain even the most well-rested, energetic, and patient parent around. I’m coming to work with one hand tied behind my back, kinda.
How do I manage?
I have this amazingly excellent day care where my kid goes three days a week for six hours a day. That’s essential, since it gives me time to do what I love to do, something that is very much part of who I am. (That’s writing, if you hadn’t gotten the clue.)
After that, I pull a lot on those caring and creative aspects of my personality. When I’m feeling annoyed, I give kisses and hugs. When I’m feeling at the end of my rope with that anxious rage creeping in, I remind myself that my son is only two and some, and sometimes being obnoxious is the only way he knows how to communicate. That’s pretty simple, but it’s hard sometimes. As all parents know. I try also to extend that caring to myself. I even remind myself that I’m a good parent, I love my kid, and my kid loves me.
As for the creative bit, I keep a variety of low-stress-for-me but fun-for-toddlers activities around the house. I have paints, tape, Play-Doh, hidden caches of unused or older toys, and recipes we can make together. I also have a library card, a garden outside, a membership to the science museum, and a ten-visit pass to the Stay and Play Cafe in Durham. When I know I will opt for sitting on my butt and lackadaisically watching my kid with his HotWheels cars, I take him somewhere. Not because I particularly want to, but because I know I’ll be a better parent if we go somewhere vaguely enriching. And he’ll have fun.
What happens that is pretty awesome — it happened today — is that sometimes, everything falls into place, and a day is lovely and magical. Sam is such a little weirdo with such an awesome sense of humor and a fantastically kind and gentle soul. I come to a place — just about every day that I am with him — where there is this incredible moment that is just pure joy. And it’s okay if everything else sucks. And it’s okay if I’m chronically worried and tired, and if he doesn’t nap and everyone is tired and eats chips for dinner.
And specifically for the anxiety piece, I deal with that as best I can. I don’t sweep it under the rug, and I don’t pretend it’s not there. I see a therapist, and I readily admit that to anyone ever, because there’s no shame in it. I work on meditating, exercising, eating healthy, and all of that irritatingly simple crap that actually makes anxiety worlds and worlds better. I’m also vocal and let my husband and the other members of my support system — my parents and friends — when I’m having a hard time. Most of all, I try very hard not to feel ashamed, which is something that anxiety has always made me feel. I also try to feel okay that this is hard on some days. And okay that other people have it much, much harder, but it’s still hard on some days for me.
Also, I don’t have a no-TV rule. We really like movies.
Why do I keep choosing this path?
As I said before, I keep choosing this job (part-time writer/part-time SAHM) not because it is easy (writing for cash ain’t easy either, but that’s another post) but because it is right for me and my child right now. “For me” and “right now” are the keys in that post, because this is not what is right for every family, nor is this always going to be my choice. In four years time, I’ll be quite ready to choose an awesome kindergarten. I don’t know what will happen in the in-between years, either.
For right now, I take this challenge as part of my growth as a person and as a parent.
Full-on extreme disclaimer: I’m aware that there are a lot of women (and some dudes too, lest I be sexist) out there who are home forty hours or more a week at home alone with their child — or children! MY HAT IS OFF TO YOU, GOOD PEOPLE. I don’t think my situation is unusually difficult or whatever, but I’m writing about it because it is a thing in my life that I want to write about.
I’ve been freelancing since July, but I haven’t touched this blog since June. Well, here I am again, a freelance mom.
I write, I write, I write. After that, I go to my job as an adjunct professor at a local community college. I write during my lunch breaks, and I send pitches when I don’t have writing projects to do. I update syllabi after that. When I get home, I snuggle my kid, give him a bath, feed him some food, and I sit down on the couch to watch a bit of TV before I go to bed. While I’m watching TV, I write again. When I get in bed, I read for my classes. I highlight and make notes. On Fridays, I stay home with the boy and try to get him to pee on the potty. Sometimes we watch movies, and sometimes we go to the nature center and look at turtles.
I took a 40% pay cut to go part time. I have one steady freelancing client, with bigger clients in between. I remind myself that I am at the bottom of a very tall mountain, and that being a writer takes time. I am happy, though, and for the first time in my adult working life, I feel like I am headed in a direction that is exactly where I want to go. I work more, and I work harder than I ever have in my life. I am satisfied, and I know I have found work that will sustain my soul and push me to be a better person.
I decided to change my career because I had reached stagnancy at my former job. When I woke up, I waded into murk, and at the end of the day, I waded back home, with bits still stuck to me. I was weighed down, hurt, and tired because of the emotional output that my job demanded of me. I also felt like I had no room to move or grow. I can write about that more sometime, but I’m not able to just yet.
I don’t really know what I’m doing yet, and sometimes that stresses me out, but I’ve pointed myself in the right direction. I know that this is probably one of the most important decisions I have made because I made it with my son in mind. There were a lot of conversations, and there may have been a bit of crying, and there was some downloading of finance apps to see if we could actually pull this change off. My husband supported me, even though he was nervous, and the people I love have all cheered me on.
Sam doesn’t know much difference at this point. Maybe he knows that he’s home with me a little bit more — that change is probably mostly just for me right now, but it could affect him; it’s not apparent. However, I know that the change in me is the important thing, and it will continue to be important as my son grows up. I think there are some people who have assumed I switched to a part time teaching job just so I could stay home more with my child. This is not the case. It is certainly a bonus, and it has made my transition that much sweeter. The true crux of the issue is what I want to teach my son. When I started thinking about leaving my cozy job with its very nice salary and stellar benefits package, I had to ask myself a lot of questions. Did I want my kid to have a mom who trudged to work? No. Did I want my son to see a mother smiling and happy at her job? Certainly, yes. Did I want to set an example of someone who is proactive, adventurous, and positive? Yes, because those are the things I want him to be. Did I want him to see his dreams as something he could definitely accomplish? Why, yes. So, after many job applications, a lot of horrible SEO writing, and some blind pitches to companies and colleges, I made a change. It fell into place, and now it is what I do. I’m still at the bottom of that mountain, but it’s not unscalable. After my leap, it seems that nothing is impossible.
When Sam grows up, I don’t want him to shut his dreams down because they aren’t immediately tangible. I don’t want him to look at his desires and only see impossibility. I want him to see opportunities everywhere he looks, and I want him to see adventure in the choices he makes. Above all, I want him to continue to value fun and pleasure in the passions he has developed. In being a teacher and in being a writer — the two things that I love and am good at — I am setting an example for him that will last for the rest of his life.
In a book I was reading about self-esteem, the first few chapters focus keenly on the way you, the reader, were parented. If your parents were consistent, loving, and positive, then you’re likely to be a stable, self-assured person. I also heard that what you tell your kids when they’re young becomes their inner monologue. It follows that the examples you set about your chosen work will influence how your child thinks about his. When Sam’s inner monologue starts rambling about his major in college, or his decision to go to Barcelona and take photographs for a year, or his yen to travel the world and read stories to children, or his desire to paint, or make music, or do math problems like his dad — I want it to say,”Yes.” That one simple word will make all of the difference in the way he chooses to live his life, and I want it to reverberate through his brain, and his soul, and his body, and his actions. As he grows, I want to see him glow with positivity at the thought of trying something challenging, I want him to reach heights that I cannot, and I want him to be content with whomever he becomes.
I owe a lot to my own parents. They said to me over and over that I could do or be anything I wanted, and overall, they were happy with what they did for a living. This has made it possible for me to make the next leap forward in my own life. This is not a part-time job that I am taking so that I can spend an extra day or two a week with my kid. That’s just the bonus, as I said. This is the tender little beginning to the rest of my life. It is raw and new, and I don’t know what I am doing. I run to work with a smile, though, and I sit and write with satisfaction. I can only hope that Sam will someday know that every bit of my weird little career is completely for him. May you always be happy, my boy.
When I wrote before, I was just beginning to process being a working mom. Now I am the only mother of a young child (under 3) working at my organization. It’s a weird place to be, and often, it’s a source of internal strife.
My morning alarm clock is the sound of my toddler saying, “Wake up! Wake up! or “Get up!” or simply, “Aaahhhhhhabbbbbaaaaaaaaaaa up down! Airplane!” My limbs are limp from a dose of melatonin. Something clicked all weird in my brain over the past month or so, and I have insomnia. This makes for a slow dragging in the morning, until I’ve made my tea.
If it’s my morning, I go in, milk in hand, lift my child from his crib and into my arms. I sit down in our glider and watch my baby as he gulps, wide eyed and serious. He twirls his hair and makes contented noises as he drinks. This reminds me of when he would nurse late at night and hum, “Um, um um” as he drank. It reminds me that, even at over 30 inches tall and 30 pounds, he is still such a baby. “All done!” he trumpets. He’ll hug me for a moment, maybe let me sing, and then he has to get down quick to find his book, his trains, his elephant and run, quickly, away from me.
I struggle to get him and myself ready in the morning. I never fail to think about being home with him, and how I wouldn’t have to change out of my pajamas or force him out of his before noon. But I carry on. He fights me and sometimes he hits. I look him in the eye and tell him to say he’s sorry. “Sowy,” he says, looking away again. “Kiss?” He kisses me, and grabs for his truck.
After wrangling him into clothes and talking about his shirt — the color, and if there is a snake or a firetruck or a puppy on the front of it — we wrangle shoes on. He spreads his toes, trying to help. It does not help. By this point, I have grabbed something from my floor that looks reasonably professional, and I put it on. My hair looks weird. I never wear make up. I’m not trying to impress anyone, and I figure my husband is probably already impressed. I mean, look at this baby. We did that. That’s impressive.
I coax him out to the car. “Sam,” I say, “Let’s go outside! I bet we can see a school bus! Or the garbage truck!” Sometimes he is fooled. Other times, he remembers we are going to day care. If we are lucky, we see a bus or a dog when we get outside, and outside is exciting. If we are unlucky, the sun is too bright or the rain is too cold, and the indignity of being a toddler is simply too much. I have to hoist him into his car seat, a rabid monkey, red-faced and arching his back, all his tiny muscles straining against me, screams piercing the humid morning air. “Sam!” I say, sweating, my hair even weirder, “Let’s sing! We can listen to music! Florence and the Machine!”
“Machine! Music! Song! Music! Sooonnnggggggg…. MUUUUUSSIIIIICCCCCC!” I hustle to get the car started and I plug in my music. It starts. He goes silent for the rest of the ride, listening. Near day care, he starts to sing. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Ooooooooooooowwaaaaaa!” He says. Tears may or may not come to my eyes.
Sam may or may not refuse to walk down the stairs to greet the other children at day care. He may or may not wail when I leave. He may or may not hold onto my legs for dear life. Drop off is a crap shoot.
I get in the car and drive to work. “Au revoir,” I call. “Au revoir, Camilla! You see, you can’t hear him crying anymore! He is playing!”
I blast “Shake it Out” on the short drive to work. Traffic is bad. I think to myself that I’m glad I don’t give a shit if the music I listen to is cool. Why did I ever care about that? I sing, badly. It is wonderful.
When I get to work, my advisee comes by my desk. She tells me that it is hard to leave her little girl at day care, and she thinks about her all the time. My advisee is funny and loud. I understand her. I tell her I will bring her extra diapers, when I remember.
When I pick Sam up from day care, he doesn’t want to leave. But in the car, we listen to music, and we sing. He watches Eric play the guitar in wonder when we arrive home. “Ditar!”
We dance in the kitchen while I am making dinner. He throws all of the food I have made from his highchair onto the floor, or feeds it to the dog. He asks for his hand to be wiped. “Hand?” he says.
When we put him to bed, he drinks milk again, contented, hungry, wide-eyed. He asks me to sing to him, Eric to tell him about his fire truck. We read stories. “Bed?” he says. He rolls over and goes to sleep, smiling.
I’m sitting here in the quiet of our basement, watching old episodes of Law and Order SVU while Eric is working. In general, this is what I do when Sam is napping on Saturdays and Sundays. It gives me a bit of quiet space. Later, we will probably all go to lunch. When Sam is taking his second nap, I will attempt to fold laundry and write a to-do list for my job for this week. After that, we’ll make dinner together and begin the process of putting Sam to bed. Somewhere in there, we’ll go for a walk, or to the park, or just run around in the backyard.
Our weekends are mundane, but they are the best weekends of my life. The weekends are also easy on Sam. He sleeps well, gets to come and sit in a lap whenever he needs to, and has the attention of both of his parents.
Tomorrow morning, we will start his week again. He will wake up, hopefully, after 5AM. It’s Eric’s day tomorrow, so he will get up with Sam right away, feed him a bottle and change his diaper. I will sleep in until 6AM, and then get myself ready while watching Sam go in and out of my closet and open and close the door, over and over, while trying to get me to look at him. I will not have time to fix my hair, put on make-up or eat breakfast. I have a timeline of getting Sam to day care right at 7:30AM, and he needs my attention for that hour and a half. I will hurriedly put on clothes, put in contacts, wash my face and brush my teeth. For a few minutes tomorrow morning, I will get to read a book with Sam, or watch an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba, or just watch him get in and out of his wagon. I will feel rushed and anxious, but will try to enjoy my little daily time with my son. He will not get his morning nap, and may not nap at day care. I’ll come home to a very cranky little man instead of the burbling cuddle bug I get on weekends.
I often feel like I am not doing a good job as a mom, even though intellectually, I know I am. On the other end of that, I often don’t feel like I am doing a good job at work either. I get into work at 8:30, usually tired, and I eat breakfast. I leave by 4:30, often with work still left to do at home, so that I can see my child before he goes to bed between 6 and 7PM.
While I’m at work though, I might find out that one of the program’s graduates has gotten a scholarship to college, or a job that pays well and has room for growth. I might get assigned to an incredible project or have the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with one of my advisees. In bits and pieces, I see that I work at a place that makes a difference in the lives of many young men and women who pass through our doors. I often leave work with a sense of accomplishment and come in the morning with a strong sense of purpose. When I was away on maternity leave, I missed my job, and I missed that part of who I am.
I cannot imagine being a working mom at a job I don’t love, or with coworkers I dislike. To do that would be agonizing — and I feel lucky that I am not one of many, many women who have to go in day after day, missing their little one and not being rewarded by the work that they do. I am also a woman who needs meaningful work — if I were at home, I would be writing, sewing, or cooking in the pockets of time that Sam would allow. My job fills that part of me, keeps my brain working at a different level, and allows me space to collaborate with other adults on work that I enjoy.
To be a mother and work at a wonderful job — it sounds like I am quite lucky in both ways. I remain thankful for these things. Everyday I say thanks for a healthy, thriving child and a good job. However, I feel pulled in both directions, a constant tug. On days I stay home with a sick baby, I know I’m doing the right thing as a mother, but know that I will be scrambling at work the next day. When I return to work, I usually keep thinking to myself that I should be home. That Sam will not be sleeping like he should at day care, and that he’ll be missing me, and he won’t feel well when he gets home. I know I shouldn’t be thinking this last one, but I do — that someone else is raising him for me. (Eric points out that this is partially true, and okay, since we have the very best day care provider in the area. Very few kids these days — or kids in any lifetime — have been raised solely by their parents.)
I am able to talk myself down from a lot of these thoughts. It takes practice to refocus, but I can nowadays, and it is necessary for my well-being at home and at work. It’s still a daily occurrence — that draw towards home and child — and it’s something I know I am not alone in experiencing. I think some of this feeling will always weigh on me, particularly when my child, or children, are young. I have to recognize that there is always a pull in life, and the best I can do is respond rationally, mete out my time and give myself credit for doing the things that I feel are right for my family and for my work.
I’m officially back at work. Well, if you consider part time official. I consider it official, since I have a full time job at home (being a mom), and a thirty hour a week work from home/work at work job. It’s a lot to manage, and it feels pretty official to me.
I like it. I like it more than I thought I would.
I like it because we do fun things at work, like guided meditation and small group activities for training. I like it because the students we teach and guide are smart, funny, passionate, and unique. They break stereotypes. They learn, and we learn from them.
I like it because my coworkers are excited to see me, and there’s always someone to sit down and eat lunch with.
I like it because my work serves a good purpose. If I can convince one student to pursue his or her dream, finish college, or love a book, I’ve done good in this world. And I want to keep doing that.
I like it because I have a new role that I’m excited about. I will still be teaching, but I will be designing and observing classes. And that is really cool.
I like it because my coworkers are smart and insightful, and they inspire me to grow. I like it because I work with other working moms and dads who love their kids and make time for their families. I like it because they share their experiences with me. I like it because I work with some of my best friends, mentors, and people that I truly admire. My coworkers are a gift.
I like it because it is a part of me that is not mom. And that’s okay. It is a part of me that is me, and that is beautiful.
I like it because, when I get home, Sam smiles at me, and I remember how much I’ve missed him all day.
I like being at work because it gives structure to my life. It is a challenge, but it is good and real and solid.
It’s good to be back.
Welcome to the Savvy Mom Space
I’m a liberal feminist that believes that liberal, feminist ideals should gel with embracing your gender and motherhood (if that’s what you feel like doing). I support all kinds of moms and dads and parents. Oh and, although I totally love that natural vibe and not harming the environment, I supplement my organic milk and fresh fruits and veggies with the occasional Twix, the frequent Oreo, and the daily Coke Zero. I’m opinionated, not easily offended, and a loudmouth in person and on the internet. I am what I am. Welcome.