Wanna hear something ironic? I work for a parenting magazine, and a huge part of my job is finding fun stuff for people to do with their kids and then sharing the great stuff I find with the Staten Island community. I love my job, but I spend so much time looking for fun stuff for other people to do with their kids that sometimes it takes me away from me doing fun stuff with my own kids.
I did the stay-at-home-mom thing for a long time, and believe me, it certainly had its share of ups and downs. But now that I’m working, it’s occurred to me that I never realized just how much of myself I was available to give to my children when I was literally always available. We could pick up and go whenever and wherever we wanted. There were no schedules to coordinate, no deadlines looming, no emails to answer first. If we wanted to go to the park, off we went. If we were low on groceries, to the supermarket we’d go. If we were bored in the house, we’d go for a walk. We were together all the time and they loved it. And I did like it. Well, kind of. As any Stay-at-Home-Mom will tell you, being around the kids 24/7 is extremely draining. There are no breaks, no real help from anyone else. It’s all on you to keep those kids happy around the clock, which is no simple task.
So when the opportunity arose for me to take a job wherein I could keep a flexible schedule and often work from home, well, mentally and financially speaking, turning it down was never an option.
While I’m very familiar with stay-at-home-mom depression, I’m fairly new to this working mom guilt. And, boy, is it a something else entirely. When I tell people I work from home, I think they picture this utopian ideal where I’m simultaneously baking cookies, overseeing fun craft projects, and emailing my boss all in perfect unison. How lucky I must be to accomplish so many tasks at once!
Well, in fact, I do accomplish all of these things at once. But perfection it is not. Allow me to set the scene for you.
It’s 3:30pm on any given weekday. My son is working on his math homework, that vile math homework book open in front of him. He’s crying a little because he doesn’t understand how to solve 15-7 by “making a ten” first. Quite frankly, neither do I, and I’m about to start crying with him. At the very same moment, my three-year-old daughter is climbing on my back, shoving her Princess Sofia floor puzzle in my face and begging me to help her finish it. I glance over at the clock and see that if I don’t start dinner soon, I’ll have hunger meltdowns thrown into the mix. So I get up and head to the fridge to start cooking.
I wash and chop and slice and prep while my son reads his “book buddy” to me, hoping he’s actually reading what it says and not just making up random sentences to avoid thinking. My daughter lingers dangerously over the cutting board, narrowly missing my razor-sharp knife with her tiny fingers as she tries to reorganize the veggies in a futile attempt to “help” me cook. I pause for a quick minute to check my work email, remembering something I’d forgotten to do earlier. I see that I have 15 new emails and realize that the thing I’d forgotten to do has since spiraled into a whole new problem, and I then absentmindedly spend another 20 “quick minutes” attempting to rectify it.
Suddenly I hear the sizzle of hot liquid hitting the stove and I see my potatoes boiling over, which is my reminder to check the oven and find that I’ve overcooked the hell out of the chicken. I look up to find Princess Sofia puzzle pieces and sliced vegetables strewn about the living room— my daughter’s passive aggressive way of displaying her resentment for my ignoring her. My son hands me his homework to check and I try to explain that “We bilted a snwmn” is spelled incorrectly, which immediately prompts a tantrum because, according to him, it IS spelled correctly and I’m the MEANEST MOM EVER and he just wants to go play video games but I WON’T LET HIM even though his homework is DONE!
And then my night shift-working husband emerges from hibernation, complaining about us all making too much noise and waking him up, and demanding to know why the house smells like burnt chicken.
Fast forward a few hours: dinner is over, baths are done, husband’s off to work, kids are tucked in bed. And me? I’m on the couch, laptop open, fingers flying over the keyboard, finally able to get some work done.
The funny thing is that I’m actually lucky. I’m fortunate to be home from work in enough time to make dinner and oversee homework and spend some time together as a family, as hectic as it regularly is. A lot of parents don’t return home from work until well after the kids are sleeping. And as chaotic as the afternoons with my family are, it’s a whole different struggle when you don’t even get to see your kids during the day at all.
The part I hate most is when my daughter looks at me with her heart-meltingly innocent, baby blue eyes and asks, “Mommy, can you play with me?” and I have to say no because I have work to finish. Or when my son’s school sends home a note about another school fair and I try to move heaven and earth to make it there, every single time, because I never want to let him down. Or when I’m up very late, typing away into the wee hours of the night, and I wake up like a sleep-deprived Oscar the Grouch the next morning, ready to bite the head off of anyone who dares ask me for plain Cheerios after I’ve already poured milk on a whole bowl of the honey-nut ones.
I love that I love my job. I don’t know how many people can say that and mean it, but I love having a job I enjoy, a job I’m proud to do. And financially speaking, I really love that I can finally start putting some money away to buy my family’s first home. Or our first trip to Disney. Or maybe even start up a college fund (well, after I’m done paying for my own college loans). As stressed as I feel most of the time, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m sacrificing a lot, I know. But I do believe that in the end, it’s worth it.
I just wish it wouldn’t feel like my kids are the ones making the biggest sacrifice. Hopefully someday they’ll understand why.
By Jeannine Cintron, a Staten Island mom of two. Read her blog at www.HighchairsandHeadaches.com.