Friday, May 21, 2010

Glad to be a working mom

Before I had kids, I was a bookworm. I read regularly and voraciously. These days, I am a book slug. It takes me approximately two months to get through a book, and I am typically in the middle of several at once. This is especially pathetic when you consider that one of the books I've been trying to finish is about juggling family life, work life and having a life. It's a funny, charming, relatable read with a title that made me smile the first time I saw it, Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms For The Half-Insane Working Mom. It's written by a former coworker, Kristin van Ogtrop, who's editor of Real Simple magazine.

The book is filled with definitions, mini essays and musings. A few of my favorites:

Boredom fantasy: When you think lovingly back to the time when you were fifteen and had nothing to do but lie around the house, obsessing over the fact that you would never have long, beautiful fingernails, hair like Claire Fleming, or a boyfriend.

Hamster wheeling: The depressing state of being when you feel like you're running around and around and around but not actually getting anyplace or accomplishing anything.

Panic room: Any place where you are held hostage by a meeting that is going on longer than necessary and is conducted by people who apparently have nothing else to do for the rest of the day.

Family-friendly living: The happy-sad reality that your family is actually much, much better off because you work. And we're not just talking about the money.

I kept thinking "YES!" as I read, particularly when I got to that last point. Over the years, I've met moms of kids with developmental delays and disabilities who have chosen to quit working and stay at home to care for their children. I am not that mom. After Max was born and I went through three and a half months of hell during my maternity leave, I wanted to return to work. Obsessing about Max's future consumed me and made me anxious all the time. I cried a lot. I moped a lot. I felt devoid of energy and enthusiasm and the joy of life. None of which was good for Max, me, Dave, anyone.

So I chose to return to my job as a magazine editor. We hired a wonderful nanny, who's been with us to this day. She sat through most of weekday therapies, and then she'd fill me in when I got home. My boss at the time generously let me work at home on Fridays and I'd take Max to aquatic therapy in the morning, and PT in the afternoon. Like any other working mom, I found ways to be there for school events and meetings.

Did I feel any guilt—guilt that I was denying/avoiding/escaping the realities of my developmentally-delayed child? Well, yeah. Vast, dripping, oozing amounts of guilt. I had fled the horrors of what happened to my child for the comforts of an office tower, a place where I didn't have to talk about delays, spasticity and seizures. A place where I could have some control, unlike the seemingly out-of-control situation at home. Some days, as I sat there editing pieces on hairstyles or relationships and stared at photos of Max, I'd agonize over whether I'd made the right choice. But I kept on working. And I still am.

Max has never stopped making progress. He's coming along, at his own pace. I do not think he would be doing any better if I would have become an at-home mom. Stay calm, this is NOT to disparage moms who stay at home, or who quit work to be with their kids because it's financially possible for them. More power to you. I'm saying that working has been the right choice for me, and for my family. It has kept me sane. Which makes me a better mother.

Do you work? Did you choose to stay home with your child?



  1. Oh my oh my I love your post. I am a full time working mom and boy the guilt can be intense at times. I'm with you though I am a better mom because I work. I still have those moments when I doubt it all and want to quit my job stay home... then I realize I'd be home by myself half the time since my oldest is a first grader and my yongest with Ds is in preschool 3 hours a day. I do have a very flexible job so I take Riley to his speech and OT appointments each week and flex in and out for other apointments. I am going to go buy that book. I think I'd love it!

  2. Work is necessary, not optional. Not only for the money, which is vital, but for the "mental health bonus"--it's important to have a few adult conversations and face-to-face intereactions in every 24 hour period. All day/every day with nothing but kids is not good for anyone, you or the kids. It helps that they have grandparents who are semi-retired, incredibly patient, and who (truly) don't mind taking up a lot of the slack, particularly in the "appointments" end of things.

  3. As a single mom (I built my family through adoption), I have no choice but to work. I spend all of my sick leave and a most all of my vacation time on school and health type things. I don't feel guilty about working. I do wish I could do some work at home -- as a computer programer this often works. However, my situation doesn't allow it. Since I've been there 25+ years, I really don't want to leave.

  4. When I found out I was going to have a baby, I was store manager for a chain sporting goods store. I had been for five years and it was wearing me out. When I was about six months along we decided that now was a good time to get off the wheel, while I could and come home for at least a year. Then Faith was born and all the bad stuff happened and it became a permanant thing. I am so happy that we were able to do it. We have to sacrifice a lot, to keep bills down but there is no place in our area equipped to handle a child like Faith. The closest daycare type setting was over an hour a way. Plus I just couldn't let anyone take care of her. I know I am nuts....

  5. I work full time, for all the same reasons you listed... PLUS, I still owe thousands in student loans.

  6. I think I have the best of both worlds (or worst depending my mood)working evenings.

    I'm home all day with the kids, well, D now, G's in school all day. We only need a sitter for a couple hours from when I leave for work at 2:30 and hubs gets home.

    So I get to do all the Mommy stuff, the house stuff, shopping etc... then go to work.

    I don't think I could stay home all the time. I would go insane.

  7. I'm a stay at home mom, and have to say I'm full of admiration for those of you who work outside the home aswell! I would never force my choice on anyone else - it's just what is right for us at the moment. There are days when I miss adult company and earning a few bucks, but there are also days when I'm really glad I don't have to get dreseed up and act like I've had more than 4 hours sleep!

  8. I stayed home for 4 years, don't regret one moment, but am SOOOOO happy to be working full-time again. I am just happier and more fullfilled and a MUCH better mother and wife now that I have my own time during the day. My kids are in school anyway. and it's REALLY nice to have the double income again. Money isn't tight like it was when only my husband worked. I do feel guilt sometimes but that goes away eventually! I think our whole family has benefited from me going back to work. Great post Ellen!

  9. I might have gone back to work sooner if I had a great job like you do, Ellen! Instead, I was a public librarian and feeling overworked and underpayed. Now that Zoe's almost 2 and I'm not as worried about her development, I was thinking of going back to work when the city cut the library budget by 30%- so no job for me there. I wish I had some adult time, though.

  10. Hi Ellen -- I didn't know you were working again -- are you freelancing or working full time?

    Work for me has also been a very important way to balance my life and not overfocus on Ben and his issues. I was home when he was about 2.5 to 4 and I would get so depressed when I worked so hard on all the "stuff" therapists gave us, and he didn't make the gains we hoped for. I was too much of a therapist and not enough of a Mom.

    I know this is different for everyone.

    Very important topic!

  11. I work full time & am currently the sole bread-winner. My husband was laid off almost a year ago. We still have our beloved nanny part time so my husband has the morning to look for a job, work-out, house projects, etc.
    I am lucky that I have a job that allows this to happen but sometimes I feel so guilty that I'm not there full time. I think about my son constantly at work. And I am easily distracted by it... like right now i am checking blogs. I was much more focused on my job before Miles now it's just where i have to go 8 hrs a day. That said - I don't know if i could stay home all day either.

  12. I had to leave my job because my boss was not as flexible as yours AND the State of Texas is not particularly kind to families with a special needs child. My son requires nursing care both the above mentioned situations were preventing me from staying home. Here in CA we do have nursing care,but consistent enough for me to feel comfortable working 9-5 yet.
    When I do return to work a flexible job will be a requirement. You're very lucky Ellen to have a job that allows flexibility...for so many families that is just not an option.

  13. Yes, I was lucky at the time, Janis. I'm no longer at that job. I'm a full-time freelancer now, Louise, and happily so. Anonymous, I'm sorry about budget cuts affecting you as they did. And Taz, I had to laugh at what you said because, yes, I've had to do the fake-awake thing many times over the years. It's heartening to hear how many of you relate to wanting to have a job. Not that this is at all relegated to moms of kids with special needs, since I know many moms of typical kids who feel the same. But with our kids, the guilt can be more heavy-duty since our kids need all that they do.

  14. I stay at home with the three kids...and my online fabric shop. I'd love to work a real job but then I'm sure I would say that I would love to stay at home with the kids. So, until they are all in school, I'm trying to make the fabric biz profitable. I'd love to open a brick and mortar some day.

  15. I am at home. My career pre children was rewarding, but not enough to tempt me back. I really think so much comes down to temperment. Don't we say that all the time about our kids?! I think there is a mom temperment too. My mother worked and she was so happy and it was the best thing for her. I don't work and it seems to really fit me, however it has left me alone sometimes in a very dark place. But I have moved through that now...and finally after 5 years at home I think I am getting the hang of it. Well I say that as I start a button/badge business out of my house. Hmmm what does this say about me? Off to ponder my temperment some more :)

  16. I work out of the home, and I also work in the home as my daughters CNA. I love love love going to my office to work - I get alone time, it's quiet, and I get a LOT of phone calls/copies/arrangements done for my special needs and my typical kiddos. I'm so incredibly productive there! I love the weekends and my crazy life with three small kids, but I can't wait for Mondays!

  17. I work full time, and went back to work twelve weeks after each child's birth. I feel guilty somewhat every day, and I always ask my therapists to tell me if my child is not getting enough help and if I should hire a nanny to be more involved, and they always tell me that you can have too much therapy and that Hannah is making great gains on her own timeline. It is not really an option, as my husband is self employed, so he has/provides no health insurance or any other type of benefit, or any type of retirement plan, etc. I sort of resent that, but I earn at least triple what he does, so my not working just doesn't make any sense now or for our future, and I would not trust him to do the job well if I had him stay home, as he'd have everyone in front of the TV all day, so my kids go the hive. If it were not for the money, I would probably choose to work at least part time, as I never thought I'd have the patience to stay at home. But I do feel envy of the moms who get to love on their kids all day long, with all those extra kisses and snuggles and so on, and yet I don't envy the extra tantrums, testing of limits, whining, etc. I guess I am not too unhappy with the set up, just wish I had four more hours a day to get stuff done and have some me time. Can't we all collectively do something about that, folks?

  18. I work full time, I still wrestle with this. Would Ryan be making more progress if I was with him everyday? But leaving work is not an option, and to be honest I love what I do, and being in an environment that I have somewhat of a control over and I cant obsess about all the delay stuff as frankly there is no time is good for the mind. I do wish I could do it part time though, and I wish it wasnt so mentally tiring so I would have more energy to give RYan when I get home.

  19. Before we had children, we knew we wanted one of of us home with the kids until they reached school age.

    I have been a stay-home parent since 1997 when our oldest was born (had our second child in 1999). We always said I go back to work once we finished having babies and they were all in school full-time.

    Isaiah, our third child, has altered those plans--but only slightly. It has taken me longer to get back into the workforce than I had anticipated. And I am now looking for positions that allow me the flexibility to be available for therapies and doctor's appointments.

    What I have discovered is that I am the best mom I can be when I am doing what works for my family.

  20. I worked part time after my first special needs child was born until I lost my job in 2008. I'm now a single mum of a teen and one child with CP and one with Aspergers, I'm just not sure that I have the time or energy to work, unless I could find a really understanding employer. But with the recession, employers seems to want more flexibility from employees not less. So now I'm making my own work, by doing stuff on-line, which I can fit around my kid's needs. But, yes, I would love to go back to work 'properly' if I could get the right support. Great topic!

  21. thank you thank you thank you.

    love the boredom fantasy. it was so me at 15! and (unfortunately at 29!)

    loved it.

  22. I am blessed I work from home, I am a single self employed mama....I've toyed with going back to the corporate world, but honestly, I have no one to watch my son and special education day care type sitations are few and far between and way too expensive for my taste. My only slight regret, wish, call it what you will, is I have no adult time, none at all. In fact my son was 28 months old before we had ever been apart, even for 20 minutes, just due to circumstances. It's okay, but then a tiny bit of me, if I am honest says well it isn't, but it's life and I make the best of it.
    What a great post and it goes along with another one I read today, Why I drink alone at I feel I am the only one that feels this way, nice to know I am not, just wish the others that feel the same way lived closer....


    tesnjen at aol dot com

  23. I was saying YES! to a lot of those too. I work from home...quit my excellent teaching job to teach online for about 1/2 the pay at home. I definitely don't like it as much and miss my old job, but it works for us. I just wish people would quit judging others for their choices...we're all trying to do what's best for our families and ourselves and that's all that matters!

  24. I am a working mom that has been wanting to be home ever since my daughter was born. It took us about 12 years to have her and I always thought when I had kids I would stay home. It didn't work out that way. I do get to work from home, so that helps some, but I am still on the clock. Right now, my husband stays home with Emily. We would like to switch places at some point, but not sure when that can happen.

    I do wonder sometimes if I can handle being at home. I think we all do that - we wonder about the other side of the coin. Hopefully I will get to find out!

  25. All this post wants me to ask is:


  26. Thank you for the awesome post! I think I will have to get that book....I spend way too much time in Panic Rooms....

    I have the best/worst of both worlds in that we own our own business and I work from home. The best because of the flexibilty - I work around the kids schedules, the worst would generally be all the complaints of a home based business - but it can be especially bad when I accost the salesperson at the door and talk to them like they are my best friends in the whole world because I need that human contact that isn't going to talk to me about my kids or business....

    I enjoyed what I did pre children, special needs, and therapies, and couldn't lose that part of myself...I learned to juggle because I don't want to drop one of the balls...


Thanks for sharing!

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