Dear working, stay-at-home moms: We’re not that different
Dear Mum :
I know if you are reading this you are probably exhausted. Your feet can ache from the countless hours you’ve spent chasing your little one or walking around the office in high, unforgiving shoes. Your eyes can burn from lack of nutrition or sleep or the glare from your computer screen. After all, the best time to respond to emails is before the kids wake up or after they go to bed.
And your shoulders may be sore. Carrying the weight of your family is no joke.
Another thing I know is that you feel guilty: for leaving home, staying home, or not doing enough.
Why? Because parental guilt is real. Because “mommy shaming” is real; because parents, especially mothers, are under a lot of pressure.
I was ashamed of breastfeeding and not breastfeeding. My decision to put my eldest in daycare was met with applause – and some scathing remarks. And I have been criticized for pampering my children too much and not holding them enough. (Yes really.)
But mom’s biggest shame occurs between working parents and stay-at-home parents.
There are frictions. Restraint. “You’re so lucky” is a phrase I’ve heard over and over again. But as someone who’s been a working parent and stay-at-home parent, let me tell you this: you are not wrong or wrong. You are not a failure or a madman. And you are not alone.
We are both facing the same struggles.
Our obstacles may be different, but our experiences are shared
You see, when I was working from home, I was exhausted. I felt like a hamster on a wheel. A candle lit at both ends.
I left my house at 7 a.m. hoping to arrive at work at 9 a.m. I spent 2 hours driving to work. I produced stories fast and furiously. I was a journalist, and there were deadlines to meet, quotas to fill, and that had to happen between bathroom breaks and pump breaks.
I ate my lunch while a little battery operated machine pulled my son’s dinner out of my chest.
I arrived home at 6:30 p.m. and immediately prepared a quick meal: for myself, my husband and my 6-year-old daughter, and we did our homework until dinner. I answered emails while I changed and held my son.
To say I was stressed would be an understatement.
I felt anxious and worried. I spent my days dreaming of my family and my evenings worrying about work. I worried about my faults and shortcomings and all the mistakes I had made. And then I woke up and started again.
My life was like Groundhog Day. It was rinse and repeat.
But that’s not all. When I worked at home, I was sad. I cried for the moments that I missed. For the hugs you need to have.
I felt like a bad mother
I was paying someone else to raise my children. To raise my children. And it affected their lives – and mine. My daughter has fallen behind in school. My son got so attached to others that he had trouble sleeping for (and with) me.
And when I worked from home, I resented those who didn’t. I was jealous of mothers who had the “good life”—the “easy” life. The life of a stay-at-home mom. But when I finally quit my job and took the role (and the title) for myself, I realized I was wrong.
Although my situation has changed, my feelings have not changed.
I was still sad and anxious, and my heart was overwhelmed. My days of feedings and diaper changes were overloaded and too full.
Don’t get me wrong: being home with my kids has made some things easier for me. I no longer had to pump, for example, or sit in traffic on the Staten Island Freeway or outside the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, and I was grateful. I considered myself (and still am) #blessed. But new stressors and pressures have emerged.
My attention was always divided between my school-aged daughter and my helpless toddler son.
My exhaustion grew
I have never woken my husband for night terrors or feedings because his alarm clock was set. He had a job to do. And the desire has appeared. Working parents had freedom—flexibility. I was stuck inside and alone.
I also hated myself for hating my role.
I was a “horrible” mom. A “bad” mom. I viewed my flaws as a failure for months until my therapist told me I was a great mom.
“If you were a bad parent,” she says, “you wouldn’t worry about it. Your anxiety proves your devotion and love.
And she was right. (She is always right.)
So know this: whether you work outside your home or are a stay-at-home parent, your thoughts matter. Your feelings matter. You important, and you’re good enough.
You are quite smart. You are strong enough. You are kind enough. you love enough and you do enough.
Because even though your attention may be divided, working outside the home shows your kids that you’re smart and powerful. You are independent.
Working from home shows your kids that you’re a super woman. No one multi-tasks like a stay-at-home parent, and no matter where or when you work, the hugs are the same.
The words “I love you” are not minimized by your role or your place of work.
So be kind to yourself, sweet mom, because all moms face the same pressures. This is not a contest. It is not a competition; hard is hard.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including The Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy, to name a few. When her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater than: disease, a non-profit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health issues. Follow Kimberly on Facebook Where Twitter.