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People are always asking me this question. I suppose it's because I've been at this work-from-home freelancer business for three-and-a-half years now, so it stands to reason that I would probably have some corner on how to go about this. So, here it is... the answer to that burning question, "How do you find balance as a work-at-home-mom?"
The truth is that while there are a great many things to love about working from home, doing so also means that you will probably always feel at war with your responsibilities. A good amount of the time you will feel like you are doing a terrible job at parenting and a terrible job at your paid work. Sometimes you will feel like you're doing better at one than the other, but inevitably that will mean that the other area is suffering. It's really difficult to be a super awesome mom and a super awesome career person simultaneously.
We want to have it all as work-at-home parents, but the fact is that we simply face a lot more daily challenges than their stay-at-home or work-outside-the-home counterparts. This is not to say that we don't all have difficult jobs, because we absolutely do. Working from home is just more of a logistical struggle.
Parents that work outside the home deal with the pressure of project deadlines just like I do, but they don't have to deal with those pressures while Daniel Tiger is on in the background and children are climbing all over them whining for "more snacks". They also don't have to hope and pray for their children to sleep in or take naps so they can accomplish their work tasks. Of course they come home to parental responsibilities just like the rest of us, but for the most part they don't have to balance both work and family directly throughout their day.
I feel like a crappy and inattentive mom and the other half of the time I feel like everyone I work with hates me because I'm always running behind on my work. It feels like I just can't win.
Parents who stay-at-home exclusively have a completely different set of challenges. Honestly, I think keeping tiny people alive is pretty much the hardest thing on the planet and doing extra "fun mom" stuff on top of the basic life-sustaining necessities? Well, that deserves an award (and probably, OK, definitely some wine). There are countless tasks that require attention on a day-to-day basis and I know that my stay-at-home mama friends aren't just sitting around eating bon bons all day. They are getting it done and holding it down. They are teaching their kids things and doing crafts. They are doing laundry and cleaning toilets and making countless meals. But there typically aren't many deadlines in the stay-at-home world. The fact that you can always put that laundry off 'til tomorrow when your little one is having a tough day is a kind of liberation that work-at-home moms don't always have.
If my kid is sick or having a hard day and I happen to have a looming deadline, I can't just drop everything to snuggle on the couch with them. I have to figure out how to try to meet their needs while still getting my work done and sometimes that feels pretty terrible. Half the time I feel like a crappy and inattentive mom and the other half of the time I feel like everyone I work with hates me because I'm always running behind on my work. It feels like I just can't win.
I can't begin to tell you how much time I have spent agonizing about this over the years. I go through periods of time when I want to quit working completely and be a stay-at-home-mom. Other times I dream of putting my kids in childcare so I can go to an actual office building and work in blissful peace and quiet. But, deep down I know that neither one of those options are for me—at least not during this current season of life.
The thing is, I know what an amazing opportunity I have been given to be able to contribute to our family financially, while still getting to spend time with my children. I've finally realized that it's okay that I'm not doing it perfectly and I've learned to accept that finding true balance probably doesn't exist. I still get to have some really great parenting moments that parents who work outside the home don't have the opportunity to experience and I also have the benefit of finding fulfillment in a personal endeavor like writing. It's really is the best of both worlds...and the worst of both worlds.
So to all of you who are work-at-home moms, my hat is off to you. I know what you do and how hard you work and I just want to say: good job. Stop beating yourself up over unattainable perfection. Simply do your best and let it go. You are a good mama and one day your children will appreciate your efforts.