I’ll never forget the day that I finally decided to work from home. I held various positions in the social services industry prior to the birth of my first child. I taught parenting classes, I worked with at-risk youth and juvenile delinquent teens and I investigated child abuse and neglect reports. In the eight years I worked in the field, I’d convinced myself that many of the social problems I’d been hired to fix were partially the result of moms that were too busy working (outside the home) to properly care for their children.
I worked in an office that was comprised of about 95% women. Most of them were young mothers. I threw the first grenade in my own “mommy war”when I proudly announced my intention to quit my job and work from home.
As I packed up my desk and said my “good-byes”, I was convinced that my co-workers were insanely jealous. Why wouldn’t they be? Nearly one-half of their paychecks were spent on someone else caring for their children. They would only be able to see their kids a few hours each day and on the weekends. They had to ask for permission to go to soccer games, school plays and lunch dates with their kids. I felt so sorry for their poor children who were probably languishing in daycare centers.
I was a twenty-nine year old, know-it-all, brand new mother of a baby girl. I had a booming direct sales business that I launched during my maternity leave. I had it all and I was not afraid to puff out my chest and discuss the horrors of child-care centers with anyone who would listen to me. I was doing the right thing. I was sacrificing financially for my new baby but she was worth it. Those other mothers probably just wanted new cars, nice clothes, a great career or a break from their kids once in awhile (heaven forbid). All I needed was a healthy baby and a few hundred dollars per month to pay the bills. I firmly believed I had everything that I needed (at least for a little while).
I had my second child (a little boy) fifteen months later. My family was the vision of perfection. Two beautiful, healthy children, a mom that worked from home, a healthy marriage, we had it all. I went on play-dates. I attended bible studies. We went to the park whenever we felt like it. It was pure bliss. My business was flourishing and so was my family. It didn’t take long before I was swamped with business. I loved the pace and paychecks. I loved the incentive trips. I loved working on my patio while my children played in the backyard, at the park while my children slid down the slides and in my car while my kids watched DVD movies. I rarely left home without my cell phone and laptop.
“Honey, help your brother up the slide, “I have another call I need to make.” “Sweetie, why don’t you play your games on the computer while I talk with Janet?” “Maybe your nana can take you to the park today, I have a lot of work to do”. “Please…just watch Sesame Street for a little longer, I have to enter orders on the computer”. “Mommy has to work. you need to leave me alone for a bit!” “I’ll play with you in a minute, okay, just a bit longer…after the next call…I promise”.
As I mentioned earlier, my direct sales business was booming. Within two years, we didn’t need to sacrifice anymore. I was making more money than I had as a social worker. I went from puffing up my chest and espousing the values of working from home, to puffing up my chest and sharing my “you can have it all” work-at-home success story with anyone who would listen.
The second grenade that was launched in my personal “mommy war” landed straight on my own self-righteous lap. It started when I watched a fellow direct-sales mom quite literally “shoo” her daughter into preschool while she chatted on the phone in her brand-new SUV. The well-dressed little girl hopped out of the car, looked back at her mom and waved. Her mom was too busy chatting on the phone to wave back. With her ponytails hanging down, she walked into her school…alone. Would that be me soon? Was that me…already?
Later that month, I talked with a direct-sales coach and told her that I was having a tough time balancing my family and at-home career. Her response was, “why don’t you put your kids in daycare part-time or hire someone to come to your home to help, that’s what I did and I had a thriving business”, she bragged. She was rich. It was tempting.
That summer, I attended a national sales conference for my direct-sales company. Ironically, it was at the event that was supposed to be motivating, uplifting, fun and inspiring that eventually led me to my breaking point. If you’ve never been to one, it is a sight to be seen. There are balloons everywhere, free feasts, gifts, prizes, awards, music, dancing and hourly pep-talks from other women who have everything. (At least that’s what they’ll tell you).
As soon as we arrived, one of many motivational speakers stood up and shared her success story. She attended soccer games, playgroups and sporting events while managing a booming full-time business from her home. As I sat in the audience with listening to pens clicking and women feverishly jotting down notes, I remember thinking, “wow, she makes it look so simple, what is wrong with me?”
At the grand finale of the so-called motivational weekend, I watched as my co-consultants were paraded across the stage and given spa-certificates and other goodies for various accomplishments. I was one of them. As I shook the hand of the CEO of one of the largest companies in the nation, I felt empty inside.
Was this what I was striving for when I made the decision to stay home? Wasn’t my goal to spend more time with my kiddos? On one hand, I desperately wanted the attention, the cheers, the awards, the dinners, the cruises and the career. At the same time, I cried when I looked at all of the “stuff” I had been awarded and wondered how many hours of sacrifice my kids made for my tote bag, coffee mug, gift-certificate and framed award. After three years of my home-based “busy-ness“and one so-called “motivational weekend”, I finally got it.
As far as the “mommy-war” is concerned I am Switzerland. I love staying home with my children and wouldn’t change it for the world. I love my flexible schedule and weekly play-dates. I simply don’t think that working from home is necessarily a better option than putting children in daycare and in many cases, it is worse.
I am often envious of the mothers who have a career outside of their homes. What would it be like to leave your work at the office and give 100% attention to your child when you return home? One of the biggest challenges work at home moms rarely discuss is that work is always there. As I pass my desk during dinner-time I often catch myself thinking, “maybe I’ll just send out one more quick e-mail”. When my phone rings in the middle of family movie night I’ll wonder if it is a customer. “I’d better take it, you guys”. I would love to leave work at work someday.
After experiencing the pros and cons of both worlds, I am neutral. I’ve heard many fellow work-at-home moms argue that that they chose telecommuting or a home-business so that they could “be there” for their kids. But what if they really aren’t there? Wouldn’t it be better for a child to have a care-provider whose job it is to pay attention to them versus a mother who is so busy trying to earn a living from home that she is more focused on working than the children?
When I hit my breaking point a few months ago I considered returning to work on a part-time basis. As I was jotting down the pros and cons of working at home vs. outside the home, I had an epiphany. Instead of trying to figure out what worked best for me, what if I focus completely on meeting the needs of my family. My pro and con list suddenly turned into a schedule and a plan. I asked myself the following questions;
- How much money do I need to make per month to make ends meet?
- How many hours per day can I devote to earning that amount of income where it will not affect the quality time I spend with the children?
- What types of expenses do we have that we can get rid of so I can focus more upon the children and less upon work?
Instead of completely walking away from my work at home career, I decided I could learn a little something from my successful working friends. I set work hours. I enlisted the help of friends for childcare. I planned ahead to ensure that I wasn’t “shooing” my daughter into preschool so I could take another phone call. I figured out my work schedule and I stuck to it. When I “returned home” from work, I devoted 100% of my attention to my kids. I even changed my answering machine message, “thanks for calling…I work out of my home and my office hours this week are …to…, if you are calling after hours leave a message and I will call you back on the next business day. I became the toughest boss I’ve ever had.
When I think about my ten year journey into the workforce, into motherhood, out of the workforce and back in it again, I am reminded of a quote by Oprah Winfrey that is a valuable reminder for working moms, stay at home moms and work-at-home moms, “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.”