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As a Work-at-Home Mom, I Am Torn Between Two Worlds

Photograph by Getty Images

Recently, we spent a whirlwind weekend on the other side of the state for my sister’s wedding. I was a very pregnant matron of honor and my two daughters were flower girls. After sleeping in a hotel room, wrangling toddlers into expensive dresses and attending showers, brunches and rehearsals, I arrived home completely worn out.

Rolling into our garage at dinner time on Sunday, I could see in my kids’ faces that they were exhausted, too. We had thrown our typical routine of early bedtimes and healthy meals out the window in exchange for three days of skipped naps, late nights and fast food. Carrying them into the house and setting to work on an easy dinner, I felt the tug of my mothering instincts. My children needed a return to their routine, they needed time with their mom who had been distracted by bridesmaid duties for much of the weekend and they needed rest. My vision of a calm Monday at home was immediately interrupted by a return to reality. I know that, in the morning, not only would I wake to needy children but I would also wake to a overwhelmingly long list of deadlines to meet, emails to return and pitches to send for work.

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As a work-at-home mom, I can never truly be fully at home or fully at work. ... Every day is filled with compromises.

At that moment, I felt incredibly aware of just how torn I was between two worlds. As a work-at-home mom, I can never truly be fully at home or fully at work. My desire to give my children a wonderful childhood seems to be constantly at war with my desire to do my job well and to be better at what I do.

This is the plight of just about every work-at-home mom I know. Every day is filled with compromises. Each morning I find myself asking if I will need to throw on an extra TV show to meet a deadline or set up auto-reply on my email (and risk missing out on an assignment) so I can get out for some summer fun with my kids.

Most of the time, there is no right answer. The answer is doing what I can with what I’ve got. Sometimes that means my kids watch too much TV, I survive on too little sleep or I lean a little more heavily on grandma for help. Most days, it means I am failing in someway. If I’m not putting parenting to the side, I’m sending rushed work to an editor, my home is in shambles or our finances are disorganized. As most work-at-home moms can testify, this mish-mash of working mom and stay-at-home mom almost always means we’ve got too much on our plate to do anything really well.

More often than not, this means I spend a least a few minutes each week deeply evaluating why I made this choice. Is it really worth it to be home with my kids most of the week if I feel constantly distracted by my never-ending to-do list? Is there any way for me to do a better job at managing my many roles?

With a third baby on the way, these questions can no longer be rhetorical in nature. I feel I have no choice but to find a better way to manage our life at home and my life as a working mom if I am going to make it through the newborn months with my sanity intact. I am not exactly sure what that looks like for our day-to-day life, but I have started to make a few changes to my habits in hopes of setting stronger boundaries between my work and home life.

I am choosing to do just enough.

This has included turning off the email feature on my phone, being more diligent to focus on work during scheduled hours each day and avoiding wasting my time with my kids playing around on social media or fussing over elaborate meals or unnecessary housework.

Photograph by Mary Sauer

I am choosing to do just enough in some areas of my life, including housekeeping and relationships outside of my home, knowing this phase of my life is short; before long my kids will be in school and I can recenter and refocus on these aspects of my life when that time comes.

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Most importantly, I am humbling myself and asking for more help. I take too much pride in my ability to make everything work on my own and I am paying the price in the form of high anxiety levels and exhaustion. I’ve already asked a friend to help me find ways to manage my kids and work during the first few months of my new baby’s life and my mom is coming for a visit soon to help me fill my freezer with meals I can pop into the oven when I am too busy.

As a work-at-home mom, I may have a lot on my plate, but that doesn’t mean I have to take responsibility for every single item on my to-do list. I hope that a few simple changes in my life will be exactly what I need to be a happier mom, a better employee and more present for my children each day.

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