I Both Want, And Don’t Want To Be A Working Mom

I need to get a job because we need the cash flow.  

My girls are 8 and 10 and I’ve had freelance writing jobs throughout their lives, but nothing that dominated my schedule in any meaningful way.  

I was also able to budget my time the way I saw fit. The job I’m chasing now will be an intense commitment if I land it. It would also be a creatively challenging, grab-you-by-the-balls roller coaster ride.

(No, I’m not planning on becoming a real-life dominatrix, I’ve seen enough feces in my child-rearing, pet-owning life. Read Whipsmart by Mellisa Febos, a former dominatrix and you’ll see what I mean. It’s no 50 Shades of Gray.)

This job I’m hoping to win is in the writing arena, but I don’t want to say what it is in case I jinx it.  

I’m also worried I’m jinxing it just by being afraid it will ruin my relationship with my daughters.

is this a damaging image for real human women? Whose baby is that model carrying anyway? Maybe we can get her to put him down long enough for us to trip her.

Henry said he’d stay home with the girls if I ever got a big job. We’d have that luxury, but the very idea of having a job that takes priority makes me nauseous.  

It’s a visceral reaction. As I’ve written many times about my exceedingly patient mother, when I was 9 her second marriage ended and with it so did her sanity for a time.  

I moved in with my dad and went from seeing my mom every day, to seeing her summers and holidays for the remainder of my childhood.

My mom was my first great love and my first great loss, which makes me a guilt-stricken mother.  

When the girls were little, I felt guilty if I went to a yoga class, or out to drinks with girlfriends.  

That guilt is gone, but how can I go from taking them to school in the mornings, picking them up most days, cooking them dinners most nights and reading with them at bedtime to … the nebulous I-don’t-have-control-of-my-own-schedule future?

I never want them to experience the sense of devastating loss I felt during that time in my life. And I know I’m over-compensating, but my internal nervous system simply isn’t practical.

There’s also the not small fact that I will miss them.  

My flesh calls to theirs. I need to rub my cheeks against their cheeks. Sniff their hair. Spoon and cuddle at will while they’re still willing.  

What if I don’t have enough time to enjoy those languorous moments? And important conversations about life, death, sex that always seem to happen at unexpected moments?

Also, puberty lies in wait and with it the greater influence of peers.  

I’ve had the good fortune to know most of my children’s friends and their families. If I work will I still be able to know what is going on in their day-to-day lives the way I do now?

The ultimate fear, of course, is that they fall into the wrong crowd, become drug addicts and die hideously.  

Oh yes, my mind went there. Ground zero. Apocalypse Now.  

I see the headlines on my AOL home page. I can’t escape seeing every day how many children have had every horrible imaginable thing happen to them. Thank you 24-hour news cycle.

So here’s what I want to know.  

How are you doing it? How do you stay close? Do you feel guilty and if so, how do you deal with it? Because just in case that book The Secret isn’t just a load of kick-the-victim-while-they’re-down horse manure I want to think positively about getting this job.  

I want the opportunity to stretch, grow and provide, but really need to get a bead on my worst-case scenario thinking.

30 thoughts on “I Both Want, And Don’t Want To Be A Working Mom”

  1. I had a similar opportunity recently, and decided not to go for it because my baby is only 15 months old. I would guess the circumstances are different with older children, especially during the school year, but I’m guessing it’s hard not to be as available as you’d like to be even if your kids are 30! Best of luck with the job prospect, and with the decision. You are certainly not alone here. And it certainly is a luxury for us to be in this position, and not working round the clock without many choices.

    1. It’s true. It’s actually a luxury to be able to stay home with your kids. Sometimes it feels like a punishment, but I realize how lucky I’ve been.

  2. It’s because you’re an attentive mother that your daughters won’t fall into some godawful teen trap of bad peer groups — you’ve already given them that solid identity, sense of self-worth and idea of what it means to be female. They won’t need nasty druggie gross girls to give them all of that instead.

    1. I also don’t like the social media mean girls. We had friends whose teen daughter was bullied online, people can just be so much more rotten when they’re not face to face.

  3. I am lucky enough to work while my son is at school. I highly recommend it. Perfect blend of parenting and real-world challenges. I don’t love the sound of your job opportunity because if it is something in “The Industry,” where you truly have no control of your life, you need to be ready to walk out that door and let the Nanny handle the kids.first, if you are hurting so badly financially that you have no real choice then don’t agonize: JUST DO IT. If you have a little more wiggle room perhaps consider prioritizing a job whose hours more closely match those of your daughters’ school hours. (9 to 5 was invented for families.) Most of all: GOOD LUCK. There is always, always, always the “I quit” clause… 😉

    1. It is an Industry job. My saving grace is my husband offering not to work. One of us does need a full time gig. It’s way too soon for me to be doom and glooming, but I’m a planner.

  4. Boy, did this post hit home! I worked in mortgage for a decade when my 1st was born and it KILLED me leaving him everyday. I would rush home for lunch to hold & feed him then go back to work for another 4 more hours. I even brought work home with me forcing me to put my son to bed early so I could get my work done. I hated it! When I was 3mths pregnant with our 2nd child, my company filed bankruptcy and I saw my opportunity to talk to hubby about staying home. Thank GOD he agreed and supported me. I have been a stay at home mom since 5/2007. Now, I’m looking forward to getting them all in Elementary school so I can have a little time for myself to read & shower!!! 🙂

  5. My two cents is as such: I think young women need powerful role models in their lives. And going for what you want in life, succeeding in your career, etc. help show your girls that they too can have what they want out of life.

    This isn’t to say that being a stay-at-home mom is bad, but I really wish my mother had pursued her dreams. Instead, I saw her sacrificing everything for us daily long past the point where we needed her to…and eventually resenting us just a bit for it.

    Certainly there’s a balance to be struck…but I wish more women would go for it, particularly when their kids are old enough to have some independence. Watching your mom succeed in her wildest dreams is a powerful, powerful motivator in a not-yet-totally-equal world.

    Don’t focus on the time you are missing, but on the gift you are giving: something to admire and aspire to.

    1. Hi Gigi — you are reminding me of my sister telling me the same thing. She had three young children when her husband’s business hit hard times and got herself into law school and is a practicing attorney today. I know it was difficult, but she did what she had to do and became quite good at it.

      We definitely need one of us to have a full time job and we’re both going for it but don’t know where our luck will land us. If I were able to get the job I want it would be incredibly validating for me. What I’m hearing is there’s no black and white answer and I need to cross the bridge when I come to it. Which has always been hard for me.

  6. I feel your pain! My kids are 9 and 12 and I have been “retired” from outside work since 1999. The last 3 years I have struggled with wanting to go back to work and losing the flexibility of staying home. Last year I got offered the “perfect” job- well, perfect on paper. In reality, it made me sick to my stomach and I flip flopped about 25 times- I even turned the job down, only to call back to be reconsidered- and turned it down again! I realized that I just wasn’t ready. Of course, I’m still looking around- maybe this will be the year I find what I’m looking for!

    1. Hi Allison — I’ve never succeeded in the career of my choice. I’d love to before I’m gumming crackers and wearing Depends. So I want this job to happen, but I want to know my girls will be ok too. As women we have more choices than ever, but in its own way that’s a challenge.

  7. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I frankly think I am a better mother because I work. I’m sure there are some (many) who chastise me and think that I place my career and myself ahead of my kids, and maybe in some sense I do. HOWEVER, everything I do, I do not only for myself, but also for my kids. I have always wanted them to see that they can do anything they want, no matter what, and that as an adult, having a fulfilling life is incredibly important. That is way more important than having a perfect house or being at every single brownie meeting. Of course it was hard dropping them at daycare at 12 weeks old, but, they were very well cared for and frankly loved it. They grew to be social, happy, independent kids, and I am certain it is in large part because I have always worked My daughter is now 14 and recently told me she was glad I worked and wasn’t “one of those stay-at-home mom’s (no offense to anyone!) who need to get a life and stop always being at school”. Okay, maybe she hasn’t learned tact yet, but hearing her say that really touched me. Of course, she did suggest I quit my job in healthcare to work instead at jCrew to help her wardrobe! After all my many hours working, i am very close to my kids. We find time for each other–like breakfast every morning with my daughter. it’s a time I won’t give up…just the 2 of us).. And although I can’t chaperone lots of field trips or be a math helper, and I may not know every kid in their class or where all their families go on vacation, I do know that my kids are happy, GOOD kids and they have no hesitation about coming to me whenever they need their mom. And, somehow, we’ve so far avoided the dreaded time in teeenagerhood where they are embarrassed to be seen with me!

    You always have guilt, not matter what you decide to do (work, stay at home etc). And, no one can tell you what the right decision is for you. Only you know what the right decision will be for you and your family. It is never easy. Go for it and good luck. You’ll figure out how to keep close to your kids. Maybe, this will allow you to get even closer….

    Sorry for the rambling. It’s a subject that’s been close to me for many years.

  8. Wow, how timely! I just turned down a job today because it meant that I would never be able to pick up my kids. If you figure out the secret, let me know!!

    1. Hi Julia — We all have our hard limits (wait, I think that phrase is from 50 Shades – yikes). I have a friend who’s a lovely actress and when her kids were little she was cast in a play in London and couldn’t be home for bedtime for 6 months. She decided no more plays until her kids were older.

  9. it’s always a tough decision, if we work we feel guilty if we don’t we also feel guilty, we have to do what makes US happy, Happy mom-Happy kid

    1. Yes Tania. We all suffer from the damned guilt. There was a wonderful therapist I saw in my late 20s and I was telling him I was worried that I might be acting irresponsibly (I forget what I was referring to) and he fixed me with his wise eyes and said, “Shannon, you don’t have to worry about being irresponsible, you don’t have that gene. There are some patients I might be concerned about, you’re not one of them.) I wonder if the moms who feel guilty are the ones who shouldn’t worry about it?

  10. Ok… so I tried being super mom (having it all) and I personally found that you could do everything, but something would suffer. For me it was my body. I gained 30 pounds in 2 years. My blood pressure sky rocketed. I was cranky as all heck.

    But both my husband and I were juggling very full time jobs, and I was juggling overtime work too. I just couldn’t be the mom I wanted to be.

    My recommendation. Test the waters. Sit in the waters, but have a back up plan in case you realize it was a mistake. But hopefully you will find the waters to be perfect and that your family can make it work. 🙂

  11. Hi Shannon,

    I am a Mom so I still & always will find a way to feel guilty. I get that most Moms do. Guilty about what I didn’t do while my life was spent rushing around; working, girl scout leader, soccer coach, Sunday school teacher, part-time student, all while working full-time.

    You will always be MOM and your children will always Need you. I have always worked at doing the BEST at was able at all the above. Do what you can while you can. My only advice, since you asked, is make time for your girls. Even if you do not always make dinner, tuck them in, or attend every event; make all the time you do spend with them memorable and free of work. Completely free from all distractions; cell phone, email, telephone, blogs, etc…Make it obvious they are special and a priority. No matter what your daughters and your husband must know they come before your commitments with work.

  12. Shannon…you are such an amazing mother…I definitely you can work and be a mom that’s present and involved. I worked when my kids were younger and experienced the same guilt so I took the past year off…but I will go back b/c I feel like I’m missing out on helping others (I’m a nurse)…I feel like I have education and skills that are not being used and I know that there are families hurting….I also think that as my kids get older…it’s good for them to see me work…to be a role model for them….

    1. Hi Caryn — thanks for your input. I guess we can try something for a while, then change our minds and try something out. Kids are constantly evolving, going through different stages and we are too. I am always trying to be the “perfect” mom and the truth is there’s no black and white definition of what that is.

  13. I work 20 hours a week outside the house. I leave to pick him up from school and then freelance in the afternoon when I can get work.

    The downside to this is that I get paid part-time money. It’s really good part-time money because it’s a professional position (writer/editor), but it’s still part-time.

  14. I can totally identify with the “wanting it all” spirit, but logically knowing something’s gotta give. In the end, you always have to flow with what’s best for your family and for yourself. You must be fulfilled, happy and love what you do because your kids will always percieve that.
    But, it seems like you already know that!!

  15. My theory is that present parenting is what is important. That doesn’t mean being physically present 24/7. It is more about when you are with your kids you are present with them. I know dozens of SAHM that complain that when they felt guilted into staying with their child 24/7 and their physical bodies were there, they were not available in the way a mother should be when she is with her child. When your children are well attached to you it is perfectly normal and healthy to be away from them during the day, or even overnight on important trips…and really…what a wonderful message to send to your kids. Understanding they are loved to the point where you would trade your life for them, but also to know that the earth does not revolve around them! They need to know their mom has another respect and loves herself enough to make time for what she feels called to do as a human being. We are so blessed to be given the opportunity to be parents, and it is important our kids know that they are part of a family their are individuals with passions and dreams working towards their goals in the family. My mom and dad definitely did that with me, and I never had anxiety when they were away because I knew they were excited and it was important to them to be where they needed to be. Also (wow I feel like I’m writing a novel) I think everything in moderation. This doesn’t even apply to you Shannon, because I already know you never do this. I’m sure there are selfish parents out there or parents too career driven that neglect their family and it does hurt them to be away as often as they are. It is something each family needs to look at. Making the most of the time they have together and watching their family thrive. If they don’t see their family thriving with the amount they are away, perhaps they should reevaluate. I say work on, mama…just don’t feel guilty about it, that is what your kids will pick up on.

    1. Hi sweet girl — I need to see you soon to brighten my day. Thanks for the encouragement. I often wonder if guilt isn’t a useless emotion. Unless you’re a serial killer, then it would be good.

  16. Not sure if this is still in the cards for you, but assuming it is…Could you work one day a week from home? I did that for 5 years, and it was great. Got to kick professional ass for 4 days, On day 5, had breakfast and dinner with the kiddos and saved my thinking/writing/strategizing for that day when I’d be undisturbed by co-workers. Also consider checking out an online biz model (e.g. clientattraction.com or uplevelyou.com). You’re a smarty pants–you don’t have to settle.

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