‘I’m that bad mom at the playground looking at her phone. You assume I’m on social media. Nope, I’m working!’: Mom’s immense guilt over being a ‘stay-at-home-working-mom’ despite others thinking it’s a ‘perfect situation’

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“Every night while I sit up in bed nursing my newborn and try to stay awake, I search for articles to help me determine if what I’m feeling or experiencing is normal.

Is my toddler talking enough?
Is the baby gaining enough weight?
Is cramping normal at 5 weeks postpartum?
Is it wrong to grieve your life before kids?
What does it mean that I can’t control my mood swings?
Is the dog depressed or bored?
Why am I not losing any weight?
Am I being a good enough wife to keep my husband around?
What are easy dinner recipes you can cook with a baby on your hip and a toddler hanging on your leg?

I come across endless articles about working moms, and how terribly painful it is to have to drop your children off each morning and risk missing their first step, first word, and every other milestone that tends to happens when they’re in the care of someone else. Who have to give up any self-care time to use every last minute they have to be with their kids because they miss them so much. My heart breaks for these moms.

Courtesy Teri Forst

I come across hundreds more about stay at home moms who lose themselves in the mindless everyday tasks of childcare, cleaning and cooking. Who have had to give up jobs and careers and trade them for changing diapers and wiping up spit up. Who forget how to have conversations with adults because they’re so used to only talking to their children. My heart breaks for these moms too.

What I have yet to find an article about are stay at home moms who work. This is me.
You might be thinking, that is the perfect situation. To be able to be with your kids every day, watch every milestone and still make a full- time income? You’re right, it is perfect. I couldn’t possibly be luckier. Which only adds to the feeling of isolation because you can’t complain when you have a situation most can only dream of.

Stay at home working mom- I’m going to call us SAHWM’s for the ease of writing. This is the pinnacle of balance.

Most of the days consists of waking 2-5 times a night to nurse, some mornings getting up early to pump and shower before my husband leaves, otherwise I’ll have to sit in my filth, unable to shower because leaving a 1 year old and newborn unsupervised is frowned upon. ‘Wait until the baby is sleeping and bring the toddler into the shower with you,’ they say. Well, my toddler happens to be terrified of showers and wrangling a screaming slippery toddler is not worth the satisfaction of washing the sour milk from my boobs or the spit up from my hair.

Back to starting my day. The morning really begins as I balance feeding the baby, preparing breakfast for the toddler, letting the dog outside, checking work emails, and feeding myself. At least once a week is a morning meeting which I do all of the things above while my teleconference is on mute. You can guess who ends up eating cold oatmeal every morning.

Courtesy Teri Forst

Next is toddler entertainment. You’d think that was easy, but nope, toddlers want someone to play with, so I hold the baby in one arm while we play. When I can’t do it anymore, I change the environment. Get outside or get in the car and go. Meanwhile regretting that I chose that after carrying both kids downstairs, getting them into car seats, gathering the necessary stuff for the adventure (snacks, warm clothes, strollers, etc.) by which time both are crying loudly. Usually I take this opportunity of having both kids secured to again check and answer work emails as they sit strapped in strollers or car seats wondering why their mom is looking at her phone instead of getting them where they want to go. Yes, I’m that bad mom at the playground looking at her phone. You assume I’m on Facebook. Nope, I’m working, because I’m a SAHWM.

After the morning adventure it’s lunch time. The dreaded meal time where I carefully choose what to feed the toddler who will end up either refusing to eat or eat a bite or two, say ‘nope’ and push his plate away. Eventually I get myself lunch and that’s when the toddler decides he’s hungry and almost everything on my plate now becomes his, one ‘bite’ at a time as he climbs on me to sit in a ‘big boy chair’. I’ve mastered the one arm pick up because don’t forget, the baby is still in the other arm. Who knows where my fork is at this point.

For you parents out there, you know the best time of day is coming. Nap time! You’re right! Except this doesn’t mean relax, shower, or nap for a SAHWM. It means a precious 2-3 hours of work! This is when my time clock actually starts. I race to my computer to pick up where I left off the night before. Meanwhile hoping the toddler won’t take a short nap and completely ruin the day. To make it easier, I prop the baby on a nursing pillow and just leave my boob in her mouth so I can work uninterrupted.

Nap time is over. Time for an afternoon adventure. I won’t go into detail about that process again.

Next, we get home and begin counting the minutes until dad pulls in the driveway while preparing dinner with a kid in the front pack and another whining because he is hungry. Dad coming home is the toddlers most exciting part of the day. Regardless of the stimulating and exciting games I’ve made up and adventures we’ve gone on, it never fails, dad coming home is the best part of the day for him. It’s most exciting for me because it means help. I used to get excited because it meant I could spend time with my husband, we could do something fun. Now it means, I’ve survived another day and help has arrived.

We now start the dance that has become our normal. Feeding the toddler and ourselves, cleaning up after dinner, taking turns entertaining the kids, bath time, teeth brushing, pajamas, read books, until at last, the other best time of the day. Bedtime.

Toddler is asleep. Now the second portion of my work day begins. By this point I have anywhere from 3-5 hours of work left to make a full 8-hour day. Then finally, with pure exhaustion I fall into bed, in hopes of getting a couple hours of sleep before the first of many feeds. To then wake up and start all over again. Day after day. And to think that in two short weeks I’ll have my 6-week postpartum clearance and will be expecting to add a work out into the day.

Now that you’ve got an understanding of the day to day physical demands, I’ll move on to the emotional demand. One word. Guilt.

Guilt- all day long, every day, that I’m not getting enough work done, that I won’t meet my deadlines, that my quality of work will be affected by sleep deprivation. That I’m not giving 100% attention to the kids because I’m working. Guilt because between children and work, my husband gets about 1% of my time and attention and it’s usually to blame him for something or tell him he’s doing something wrong. Guilt that I’m not my rested and happy self like people expect. Guilt that I daydream about what life was like before kids, before two kids, or what it will be like when they go to school. Guilt that I don’t clean the house enough or make dinner every day. Guilty that my husband works all day then has to come home to chaos and immediately get put to work again. Guilt that me wanting kids has prevented him from the adventures he desires.

Courtesy Teri Forst

If I worked outside of the home, I wouldn’t feel guilty for half of these things. Because who would expect the house to be clean or dinner to be made if I hadn’t been home? So why do I feel guilty when it’s not, when I’ve been working AT home? Many people, including my biggest supporters have said, just quit working, you don’t need the extra stress. For me, after 6 years of rigorous school, internships, thesis’ and 7 years of building a successful career and reputation, that’s like asking me to stop being a mom. It seems impossible for me to fathom. To let go of the one piece of me that remains the same as it was before I was a mom? To let go of the one thing I feel that I am good at? To let go of the one thing that gives me purpose outside of keeping tiny humans alive? To let go of the one thing that allows me to have productive conversation with adults? I’m too scared. If I give that up what will I be?

Courtesy Teri Forst

As a therapist, emotions and behavior make sense to me. I’m a professional in these things. But the emotions surrounding motherhood are so complex and don’t make sense. How can you love your children with every part of your being, with a love so strong you’d literally do anything for them yet all you think about is the next time they’ll be asleep, or the next time you can get away from them. How can you feel like you’d never change your life and that they complete you, yet think about the days they didn’t exist and sometimes wish you could go back to those days.

I only write all this to help other working moms, SAHMs and SAHWMs know they are not alone. Articles like this have helped me gain perspective so if this helps even one person feel a connection, know that you’re normal, or know that someone else has felt similar things, then it has served its purpose. To all mothers, fathers, grandparents raising their grandchildren, foster parents, and any other parents, keep showing up. Your kids are watching. It may not be easy or fun, but it is necessary, and your children will repay you by becoming productive members of society if you show up, teach them, love them, nurture them, and care for them.

As a therapist I can’t help but end with a few words of advice. First, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Second, find a real mom friend, don’t stop looking until you’ve found one. Make sure it is someone that you can text and say, ‘I hate my life’ and they will respond with, ‘Me too.’ And then 20 minutes later you will be sharing stories and pictures bragging about your children and how much you love them. The kind of friend who does a ‘mental health check’ to make sure you don’t need to be committed. The kind who brings you food on your worst days. Find one of these and it will make the difference. Third, don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry to your partner for your erratic behavior but simultaneously be able to tell them what you need from them. Last, you CAN be a stay at home working mom, just because it’s not common, and even though it’s excruciating at times, OWN IT. Good luck!”

Courtesy Teri Forst

This story was written by Teri Forst, 31, of Alaska.  Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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