Confession: I suck at being a working mom

Guest post by Charlotte Porter
By: Sara V.CC BY 2.0

Real talk: leaving my babies to return to work felt like the most unnatural decision I could make for myself. I returned to work when my son Jack was sixteen weeks old, and again when my daughter Emily was twelve weeks old. On both occasions, I left them at daycare — stoically choking back tears as I walked to my car to commute to work.

Friends and family often wonder how I “do it all” but the truth is there isn’t any magic to it. I think of how much time I spend apart from my children, and launch into panic mode. I know I’m being a responsible parent by providing the health insurance, food, and security that my job affords my family, but I can’t help but feel that just as not every parent is meant to stay at home, not every parent is meant to be away.

The truth is, I kind of suck at being a working mom.

Our house is a mess. My son needs a haircut. Sometimes Jack and Emily go for more than two days without a bath because we forget or don’t have the energy. There is more processed food in our house than I would prefer because I don’t have the energy to cook — and this all says nothing about my pony-tailed hair and neglected relationships.

I can only juggle madly for so long until I give up and just drop all the balls — then the carpets don’t get vacuumed, the crud builds up on the stove top, and I let Jack watch extra television while I catch my breath. Typically, the sight of Emily “snacking” on random crumbs on my raunchy living room floor sends me running to the vacuum, and the cycle begins anew.

We live a modest life.

My husband is an artist. His work is freelance — feast or famine. Over the past year, it has been mostly famine. We live in a small apartment and are constantly in each other’s faces and on each other’s nerves. That said, we also manage to have fun together.

There is really nothing on which we can cut back in terms of our expenses so I could work less and be around more. Because of the nature of my job, there are no short-cuts at work to reserve energy for when I am home. My job depends on my ability to exude warmth and positivity to engage people in need. I believe compassion is infinite and abundant, but sometimes I arrive home so drained, and it is nearly impossible to connect with the people at home who need my warmth and positive energy.

We have thousands of pictures of our children. My husband has them on his computer and they function as his screen saver. The whole family often zones out as these many happy moments blend over his screen. Lately, I am stricken by the fact that Jack no longer looks like a baby, but like a real big boy in these photos. I catch photos of him as a toddler out of the corner of my eye, and can not reconcile that this surly five-year-old is the same person as the baby in the photos. Emily will follow suit, and morph from baby to child while my back is turned for but a moment.

As mindful as I try to be, these facts devastate me. As mindful as I try to be, I have still missed so many moments of my babies’ lives when I was too tired, too busy, too stressed to tune in and turn up.

I believe compassion is infinite and abundant, but sometimes I arrive home so drained, and it is nearly impossible to connect with the people at home who need my warmth and positive energy.

Getting ready in the morning is the worst. Jack’s homework has been cast onto the floor because he was too tired to do it when we all got home at 6:30 the night before. Tears and snot flow down Emily’s face, as she sobs, because she has been left in her pack-and-play as we rush about getting ready to go. I am struck by the full-on suckitude of my inability to balance everything the way I ought.

And here is the worst part of my confession: I don’t know if I could stay home full-time with my children, even if it were an option. Some days it is honestly easier to go to work and deal with incredibly damaged people than it is to stay at home and manage my own brood.

I wish this were one of those posts where I muse a bit, make some pithy observations, blah, blah, blah mindfulness, and then decide that in the end I truly rock this party. It is not one of those posts. I am, in fact, feeling guilty for taking the time to write this post, and dwell in negativity, instead of doing an hour of yoga or mopping the kitchen floor and cleaning the toilet.

I guess for now, the best that I can do is set some little goals for myself to try to do better. So, I will check in and hug my kids three extra times every day this week, and try to smile a little more.

Comments on Confession: I suck at being a working mom

  1. Thank you so much for this post!! While I am not yet a parent, I worry about being a working mom. It takes bravery to write this down, and I bet a lot of other moms who work outside the home feel the same way. I think almost every parent does the best the can with the rescources the have, and no one can ask any more than that.

  2. Hello Beautiful Lady. I know you in “the real world”, and when I see you next I cannot wait to give you a big hug.

    Sometimes it is important to remember the chorus to The Rolling Stones:

    “You can’t always get what you want
    But if you try sometimes well you might find
    You get what you need”

    We all want that glossy magazine picture perfect home, with well mannered children, and a husband who remembers to take out the trash, and will buy flowers for special anniversaries…but is that what we “need”?

    I rather settle for what I need, children who laugh, a husband who loves, and a roof over our heads (even if said roof needs a good scrubbing). If that means I also have to work out of the home to get these things…well then there is the sacrifice.

    Until we all win the lottery… 🙂

    Love and Hugs to all those hard working moms and dads, who work both inside and outside the home.

    • Well, Laura, your hugs are pretty much the best, so we will have to see each other soon!! Thank you so much for your generous and thoughtful comment (and for reading my inner cray-cray!) The lyric I always go to is “Love what you have, and you’ll have more love.” (Regina Spektor) The good news is that I don’t suck 100% of the time. I wrote this piece on “one of those days” so it isn’t everyday that I feel this… and I knew that many moms could relate, but I didn’t know just how many! It is good to know that I am in good company… such good company!

  3. I hear ya! I’m a recent back to work mom who just started therapy because I feel like I now suck at everything. Instead of doing any one thing 100%- being a mom, wife, worker, business owner, blogger, friend I do everything half assed, and that just isn’t me. But I have to be ok with it. And I guess half assed is better than not at all. It is so tough, but comforting to know I am not the only one who feels this way so thanks for sharing.

  4. I suck at being a work at home mom. But I have come to understand that most of us suck at being a mom and that the ones who look like that have it all together are usually just as sucky as the rest of us. They just hide it better. Embrace the suck. The only important thing is that we love our children and that they always know it.

  5. “I believe compassion is infinite and abundant, but sometimes I arrive home so drained, and it is nearly impossible to connect with the people at home who need my warmth and positive energy.”
    This quote could have been pulled directly from the book on burnout (Burnout, The Cost of Caring) I am reading right now. I just wanted to say that you don’t suck at it! It’s not about you; it is about the situation. The book says burnout is a risk in any helping relationship, from helping professions to parenting, and you are doing both. I won’t urge you to “take care of yourself” because that is saying that if you just did things better, you would be able to do it. I hope that you can let yourself off the hook and then eventually change the situation. Anything that you can delegate, delegate (I love the comments suggesting hiring a cleaning crew). I had to actually change careers. It’s not what I would have chosen to do, but my body forced the issue, and now I am glad it did :). I am much happier. I also enlisted the help of my family. “I SHOULD be able to do this” became a red flag for “I am attempting to do something that I don’t actually have the capacity for, and I am trying to make it happen through guilty self-punishment, so maybe I will ask for help instead or let this thing go.”

    We are infinite beings in limited bodies. 🙂 I send you so many emotional hugs! Remember it’s not you! You ARE truly rocking this party, as much as is humanly possible! Everything else? Not within your capacity, and not your fault.

    • Thank you! I do have a fairly good support network, which I didn’t really address in this post, as it was more about my own limitations personally. I love “we are infinite beings in limited bodies”. What a beautiful way to put it.

  6. Adding another “you are not alone”. I have a 2.5YR old toddler and work full time. I’m gone 12hours a day Mon-Fri and I hate myself for it. My fiance also work full time. I am lucky enough that he picks up my son (not his, my son’s father and I are divorced) from daycare every day for me, takes care of him for a couple hours and makes us all dinner. But even with all of that I still feel overwhelmed at the amount of stuff that still needs to be done around the house, its a choice between cleaning/laundry or spending every waking second with my little guy while I can. I miss so much during the week, and he goes to his dad’s every other weekend, so I can’t bear to give up any of my time with him. As a result, the house gets cleaned every other weekend when he is away and laundry usually gets thrown in before bed, then switched before I leave for work, etc etc. Gotta find a way to make it work. My fiance and I desperately want to start trying for a baby after the wedding, I just can’t handle the thought of leaving my infant at daycare ALL DAY. I love the l;adies ther and trust them completely, they were fantastic with my son, but it was hard enough the first time. I have a breakdown any time I even think of leaving my yet-to-even-be-conceived baby there too….

  7. Your story is really touching, Charlotte. If I imagine myself in your position, but working from home and raising my family instead of going to work outside of the home every day, I actually feel quite the same. When I sit with these incredible similarities, I think back to some workshops I went to, pre-baby, about men and women ( I learned that men’s testosterone regenerates daily, almost immediately, yet 1/2 of ours is stored in our adrenals, and when it’s gone, it’s gone for quite some time. Whether we are WAHMs, SAHMs, or whatever the silly acronym for work-outside-the-home-moms (WOHMs?), we are ALL doing too much and not able to recharge ourselves with the way life goes these days. I know very few women who are not burnt out on some level. I’m actually (after baby #2 is born and done nursing) considering bioidentical hormone replacement evaluations and therapy to see if I can get my energy rebalanced after years and years and years of wreaking havoc on myself, my adrenals, and my natural limits as a woman. I look forward to at least trying what seems to be the only way for me to really feel that childhood energy I’ve never had since joining the workforce, having a baby, joining the WAHMs, and full-time mothering. Hmmmm…hoping for all of us who are spread entirely too thin.

  8. Wow. Thank you to everyone for your reall thoughtful, kind, and compassionate comments to my post here at Offbeat mama. I am beyond humbled and touched that you all took the time to read my post and make such supportive comments. I wrote this post on “one of those days.” I think that most of us feel spread way too thin, and this can be really draining and frustrating. What I failed to address in my post is what a supportive safety net I do have– husband, parents, inlaws, and friends– who all love and care for me and my family. One reader commented that “it takes a village” is a good mentality to adopt and I totally agree with that. Another reader very aptly said that even with all the supports, the village, “ME” time, good nutrition, exercise, and a cleaning lady, etc., it can still just feel plain hard. I couldn’t agree more with that statement, and if I went back and edited this post, I would probably add those two items. Again, thank you so much for reading and commenting– all you Mamas rock!

  9. I am your suckitude twin apparently. Except… my “husband” feels that simply going to is full time job should be all he needa to so because he makes the most money, so every night he gets to come home and hide in the basement on his computer getting drunk and passing out around eleven, but not before he spreads his dirty work clothes around, makes a can full of trash, shits all over the back of the toiley, leaves dishes everywhere and in the sink….and fully thinks it is acceptable to leave the rest on me which is a full time job, giving my child all the attention she needs and having a perfectly spotless house 24/7…. because apparently his mother had jo problem so I shouldn’t. I kind of fantasize about him leaving me!!!!! I feel like I could be wayyyyyyy less sucky of a “working mom” without him. Sometimes I pray for it.

  10. You have effectively captured my life in your post! I work 3 days a week and am a mum the other 4. I feel like I do neither well, which I guess probably means the work-life balance is right. But it’s hugely unsatisfying. I’m not able to make myself available for new opportunities at work as these would require me to go fulltime, and my kids are growing up before my eyes and need me to do more fun stuff with them. We’re currently trying to re-jig our situation so that I am able to stay home until our twins get to preschool, but foregoing my regular income and living off my self-employed husband’s income will be really tough. Anyway, just wanted to say you are definitely not alone in your struggles!

  11. I could have written this. Thanks for showing that there are others out there trudging through the same days. I can only hope and assume that somewhere along the way, it gets easier and we can look back to realize that we did everything we really could have.

  12. I read this yesterday and last night as I sat on the floor surrounded by toys with my 8 month old precious daughter looking at the dog hair on the floor that needed vacuumed once again, the dust collecting on the T.V. Stand and the Pile of laundry blocking my bedroom door, I thought of all you said..and just let myself be in the moment with her. It felt really good. She is at that stage of wanting to be on my lap ALL the time..usually I get frustrated..sitting..thinking of all the things I NEED to be doing but am not. I get impatient with her and sometimes Im not the best mommy. But last night I made a choice to let it go and just BE ..with her and enjoy our play time. I also have a son, who yesterday turned 21 years old, trust me the time is gone with a blink of an eye and the times of sitting on the floor surrounded by dog hair they don’t last very long..sadly.Thank you for helping me see that Im not the only one last night sitting in a dirty house playing with my little peanut..but I was a mommy that was present and SO in love with being right where I needed to be. Im going to try and remember this every time Im on the floor and catch myself looking around at all that needs to be done..Thank you Thank you!

  13. I’m on the verge of going back to work full time as a teacher after several happy months of maternity leave – happy, except for missing my competant, professional side and the buzz of doing a job I enjoy! I’ve loved the time I’ve had to focus on being just a mom, but I’m also looking forward to getting back to work.

    My role model in this is my own full-time educator mother who raised myself and my sister semi-single handedly because for much of my childhood my father had a job that had him travelling most of every week.

    We spent time at daycare, where we made friends with other kids, we had pizza and salad or sandwiches and fruit for dinner a couple of times a week, which we liked, and, yeah, we often fished our clean clothes out of laundry baskets, because who has time for folding? We grew up knowing we were loved and cared for, and we didn’t particularly care that the floors got grubby in the busy weeks leading up to school holidays.

    Most importantly, I think, my sister and I grew up admiring our mom for being both a loving parent and a strong, competant professional. This is how I want my son to see me, even if some days we skip a bath or get take-out because neither my husband or I have time to cook.

  14. This is me. This is my life. I only have one child so far but I am also working full time (12 hr shifts on an ambulance) and trying madly to finish nursing school. Our house is a mess. We have nearly no extra cash. It feels like a total mess. I see my part time and stay at home friends with clean houses and children who seem to always be one step ahead (total projection I am sure) and I just think “I suck at this”. I love my daughter, I love my job. I hate being a grown up. I need a house keeper and a gym membership and about 6 more hours in every day. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this post. I feel less alone.

  15. I’m really glad you wrote this because I feel on the brink of your life in a way. I am on Mat leave now; my son is 6 months old and I have three months left (of paid leave). I feel pressure to figure things out before the money runs out. I have decided not to return to my job that was incredibly stressful, in a company that has done massive lay-offs two of the past three years. I keep going back and forth between thoughts of working full time or part time; I am reluctantly applying to jobs and almost calling daycares in the area to find out their rates and if they have space.

    I think you are doing an excellent job. Please give yourself credit for being so strong.

    I am frustrated by the impossible expectations put on moms by society, the limited jobs with decent pay and flexibility, and the huge cost of daycare.

    I want to work part time. Ideally I’d be home with my son about 60% of the week. It would require strict budgeting and time management… Some suggestions about how to make this work and find time to have fun/de-stress would be appreciated!

  16. thank you so much for the blog post. I can completely completely relate to it! My husband and I both work 3/4-time non-profit jobs because that is where our calling is, and we need the income to stay afloat with two small kids (ages 2 and 4), but I honestly don’t know if I am cut out to be a stay at home mom even if we won the lottery tomorrow! I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to read about how messy other people’s homes are, how kids go unbathed, laundry goes unfinished, kids are eating scraps on the floor, and emotions get a little heated sometimes. I have really struggled to learn how to prioritize and “balance” (whatever the hell that means) things, and it’s definitely not been pretty along the way. it was slash and burn for a couple years as I cut out more and more ‘optional’ things in my life in order to retain some semblance if sanity, and i’m still overwhelmed ALL the time, never getting to more than 50% of my to-do list, and working hard to not resent it all. I wash my hair about every 4 days because I just don’t have the time to do it more often! (it’s long and a pain in the neck). I, too, have an amazingly supportive husband who does a TON at home, but considering he’s gone 11 hours a day, and working a night shift every 6th night, it’s utterly exhausting, EVERY day.

    and like you, mornings are the worst. I’m trying to get my 4 yr old to preschool, get my 2 yr old’s diaper bag ready, look half-way presentable for my fundraising position, make sure I haven’t forgotten anyone’s lunch, feed the cat, change a poopy diaper that my 2-yr old just announced she has, turn the heat back before leaving, bring water bottles in the car, get my daughter’s nap bag, make sure I have snacks so I can avoid full-scale melt downs on the way home when I really need to be already home and fixing dinner. it’s unbelievable! and yet, I still berate myself for being late EVERY blessed day, like – why can’t I ever get out of the house on time? we have this ideal we think we need to live up to, and it’s utterly unrealistic and only adds to the stress. regular self-talk has finally helped quiet that voice for me, but it’s taken a looooong time.

    in short, hang in there, sistah. you are so not alone. I hate that someone else spends more time with my kids than I do, and sees/experiences so many fun and special moments, but I’m secretly not sure I’m cut out to be a stay at home mom either, which feels a bit like a dirty secret to me. thank you again for sharing, and sorry this is so rambling.

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