We’re All Working Moms – Stay at Home versus Work Out of the Home February 12, 2013 08:27

The pursuit of a work-life balance challenges most working people in today’s society. Mothers tend to feel the pinch more acutely, facing not only the challenge of juggling multiple responsibilities, duties and personal fulfillment, but also guilt.

The more I talk to my mommy friends, the more I realize that everyone, no matter their work scenario, thinks the other side has it a little easier. I recently interviewed a few friends, each with a different work-life scenario, to take the pulse on how everyday mom’s are really handling the juggle. Below are some of the questions and answers…

1) What is your current work/life situation, and is it what you want (i.e. if you are staying home, is that what you wanted/planned)?

Meghann: Working 2 days a week with random side projects. I don't think I planned for anything but I find I'm unhappy if I'm not working a little, but don't think I'd want to work any more. I'd say 2 full days a week is pretty perfect for me.

Bonnie: Currently working full-time. Was home for 6 months with the baby then returned to work. I thought this was what I wanted, but realized within a few weeks back that I was very unhappy and would much rather be at home. Unfortunately, I will need to work for another 6 months, but am planning on being home after that.  

Emily: I am currently staying at home with my two little boys (ages: 7 months and 2 years old). When I was pregnant with my first, I thought there was a good chance I'd return to work. When my first son was about two months old, my boss got in touch with me to discuss my options for returning. The pit in my stomach at the thought of being away from my baby and having someone else take care of him, even on a very part-time schedule, told me I was meant to make raising him my full time job. I haven't regretted that decision for one moment.

My upbringing certainly influenced my decision as well. I was raised by an amazing single, working mom, so I fully recognize the challenges and guilt that working moms face. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I truly understood how hard that time in her life must have been and why she wished it could have been different. My mom is my biggest supporter of the decision I made to stay home. 


2) If you go to work full time, how do you balance time with your child versus household duties/errands/etc.? 

Bonnie: I have no idea! My baby has definitely become my priority, so certain things go by the wayside, but I couldn't do it without my wonderful husband! I recently hired a housekeeper that comes once a month to do the heavy cleaning. Errands are done on the weekends, usually with the baby in tow.  


3) If you stay at home, how do you balance time with your child versus household duties/errands/etc.?

Meghann: On the days I'm at home, I have to be super organized to get everything done that needs done. I'd say I'm barely on top of regular household duties and far behind on anything above / beyond. We just moved and I'd love to put more time into our house, but I'm lucky to get the shopping done, dinner fixed and cleaned and the laundry kept, bills paid, etc.

Emily: The truth is I do not have very good balance, and it is something I am constantly chasing. My children are 100% my focus and priority when they are awake. Errands are typically done on the weekends when I can run in and out of places while my husband sits in the car with the [typically sleeping] kids. I have hired a cleaning company to scour our house top-to-bottom every other week, and that has relieved a tremendous burden.

My husband is an incredible, highly involved father, which also helps a great deal with the balancing act. He has had to travel a lot over the last two years, which has been more difficult than I anticipated, but when he is in town, he tries to get home around 6 pm and dives right into Dad mode: playing with the boys, helping with dinner (or even bringing dinner home) doing bath time and bedtime for our 2 year old, walking our dog, and so on. His involvement frees me up to clean up the kitchen, then nurse and put our baby down, fold laundry, wash diapers, pay bills, etc.


4) What is your child care situation, and are you happy with it?

Meghann: We have a babysitter who comes once a week for a date night, and Sienna's in daycare / school two days a week. I say "school" because it's a preschool when they get older. It's great, it’s like a village for little people and she's super stimulated and good with it.

Bonnie: Baby is at a corporate daycare. Pros are the regulations and standards associated with the company - knowing my child is safe, supervised, and staff is well qualified. Con is that the number of children in the room make it so my child's needs are met only to their best ability depending on what's going on with other babies.  

Emily: I tend to be very hesitant to ever ask for help, specifically when it means enlisting someone to care for my babies when I wouldn’t be using that time to bring in any income. My husband feels strongly that having someone help during a few hours each week so I can run errands, catch up on personal matters, household duties, projects, (and take a breath!) would be an enormous help for all of us and would be a small price to pay. He may be right, but I'm ridiculously stubborn and hate to admit I may not be able to do it all. 


5) All moms tend to agree that parenthood is challenging no matter what - do you think the grass is greener on the other side (i.e. if you are working, do you think staying home would be easier)?

Meghann: I love the balance, or the attempt to balance I should say. I wouldn't be happy with just one or the other. I need both sides to fill all of me, my individuality and my maternal / wifely needs.

Bonnie: I feel that I've experienced a little of both, staying home for 6 months then back at work full time. Although there were days when I was at home where I thought I would go a little crazy, I feel that working full-time is MUCH more difficult. Basic tasks such as getting a load of laundry done become so much harder when I am gone for nine hours a day. Also, the stress from work is difficult to cope with when I want to come home and have a happy attitude or the energy to play with my baby. 

Emily: In many ways, I think working would be easier, but I also understand why working moms feel staying home would be easier. I’ve had an up-close view of both sides considering how I was raised, and let’s be honest: parenting is incredibly challenging no matter how you approach it. I feel true physical and emotional exhaustion, my days often blur into one another (particularly if I've been up much of the night with the baby), I often lack mental stimulation, I can't get a sick day. Motherhood is as much my job as it is my passion, and I have always believed in giving 110% to anything I take on.

Quite honestly, I envy working moms in many ways, but perhaps not ways that would naturally come to mind. More than anything I think they have maintained that sense of their identity by staying in the professional world. I believe working moms may also maintain a healthier balance and sense of self because they have some separation from their children, so that every waking moment of their life is not entirely defined by their role as mom. All that said, I know that for ME, staying home was absolutely the best choice and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.


6) What has surprised you as the most challenging aspect of your work/life situation?

Meghann: San Jose is sprawling so I do a lot of driving; drop Sienna, drop Adrian, then to work (usually stopping at Starbucks), then again on the way home. I feel like my head is a manic mess most of the time because of the juggling act, but I think I strangely like it that way. I'm more forgetful than ever if that was possible.

Bonnie: How sad I really am dropping him off everyday and how much I really want to be at home.  

Emily: Loneliness. In the early days of parenthood, the loneliness was what struck me the most. It never occurred to me that being home alone with my precious baby day after day could make me feel so utterly isolated from the outside world. I found ways to conquer that by getting out of the house for prescribed activities, meeting up with other moms, etc., but there are days the loneliness still creeps in, particularly when my husband is traveling.


7) What has surprised you as the most enjoyable aspect of your work/life situation?

Meghann: Days at work are the easiest days, I love how focused I can be and how much I can get done. Then I love that there are days I just get to be with Sienna, though I find that I'm still trying to cram the other "home duties" into those days so sometimes I'm not fully there with her, which sucks for us both. Sometimes I find I'm never fully present anywhere because I've got so much on my plate. Enjoyable is that I feel strong and like super woman when I'm in the grind, like I'm achieving everything all at once - which I'm sure I'm not but I'm happy in my illusions.

Emily: 1) The laughter that fills my day. My 2 year old makes me laugh out loud all day long. I want to freeze him in time because he is so ridiculously entertaining at this age. 2) The love I feel. I knew I would love my children and love being a mom as I’ve always been a nurturer, but I am more in love with my boys than I ever dreamt possible. My husband and I joke about how we want to lick them and eat them we love them so much –but it’s true; we just can’t get close enough. 3) The friendships I’ve made. I have been surprised by what strong friendships I’ve formed with fellow moms since the birth of my first son.

8) If you work, how do you deal with days when your child's needs prohibit you or your spouse from going to work? Is your employer flexible?

Meghann: It's happened once already this month, I was initially mad in the morning that the day wasn't working out as expected, but then happy that I got to spend the day at home tending to my baby and didn't have anything else planned. I still felt guilty towards my employer, but at the end of the day she's got to be more important.

Bonnie: My husband and I take turns staying home with a sick baby.  It is difficult for me to leave work mid-day, so he will leave work for doctor’s appointments or when we have to pick up our baby from daycare early.


9) Do you have a consistent outlet for adult time outside of work/parenting? If so, what is it?

Meghann: Not really here. I get adult time at play dates, and a date night once a week with Adrian but that's about it for pure adult time. I don't have any great girlfriends here yet. I love when Sienna naps and I can squeeze a juicy conversation with a girlfriend from another state; that makes me feel free.

Bonnie: Not really. A good support system at work, but not many people who can "help" make things easier.  

Emily: Not currently, but I'm beginning a personal training program (after MUCH resistance) which will force me to take time for myself. Otherwise, the answer is pretty much, NO…it’s all kids, all the time around here, and I fully recognize that may not exactly be a healthy balance, but it works for me right now.


In closing, Emily said: “I hope my presence will mean as much to my boys as it does to me. Their existence has put my whole life in beautiful perspective and I am overflowing with gratitude for being able to spend each day making their lives great. My children are without question my greatest accomplishment.”