As soon as my fingers hit my keyboard to start writing an important email or editing an essay, my daughter asks me for something. Every time. Without fail. Sometimes it’s a snack. Sometimes it’s to play with her. Sometimes it’s to ask an arbitrary question like “When are we going to visit Nana’s house again?” or “If I was a mouse and not me, would that make you sad?” Whatever state of flow I was about to fall into is shattered, as it always is because I work from home with my kids.
I wish these interruptions weren’t so taxing on my patience, but they are. Eventually I snap, beg them to give me five quiet minutes so I don’t have to spend an hour writing a single simple sentence. I will try everything to distract them so they give me a moment of peace, only to find them crawling into my lap a moment later. I feel like both an inefficient worker and a terrible mother, and find myself wishing I could just focus on one or the other completely.
Honestly, when that feeling arises, it’s usually because I’d rather be working than doting on the need for attention that immediately arises every time I sit down to get something done. It is rarely an issue of wanting to spend more time with my children when my work is stealing me away. I want to steal away to write, because I’d rather lean into work than motherhood.
No matter how much I love being a mother, it does not fill me in the same way that work does. There is a different need that is satisfied by using the problem solving and creative side of my brain that I exercise when I am writing or editing or researching. Working allows me to feel more fully myself, more fully engaged with the world outside of being a stay-at-home mom. It makes me whole in a way that mothering alone cannot.
Yet it’s more than simply wanting to feel like a well-rounded person. Surely you can be a stay-at-home mother, not work, and still live a well-rounded life. Plenty of women do, and I am absolutely certain that my choice is in no way “better” than theirs. In truth, I could spend my days fully focused on my kids and relegate work to become a more minimal part of my life, still getting that sense of accomplishing both at the end of the day – but I choose not to. The real reason I want to lean into work so much more than I want to lean into parenting is because, honestly, I feel like I’m better at my work than I am at motherhood.
I always expected I would fall into motherhood with a natural talent for it. I had imagined that I would know what to do from the start. That I would learn quickly from my mistakes instead of repeating them. That I would love it all the time, or at least the vast majority of the time.
However, the truth was mothering didn’t come easily for me. I struggled through postpartum depression with my first child. I never felt like I was doing that great or enjoying parenthood like I should. I wasn’t seizing every precious moment. I wasn’t often able to turn around a bad day. When being a stay-at-home mom was my sole occupation, it made me feel like I was failing at life, because I wasn’t good enough at being a mom.
Working gave me back some balance and perspective that I desperately needed. Now when I have a bad mom day, I can at least salvage some sense of accomplishment by finishing an assignment. On the flip side, if something goes wrong with my work, I can take solace in the fact that I have my family. Neither take the whole focus of my life, which helps take off some of the pressure for perfection I put on myself.
Having the ability to lean into work when I don’t feel like I’m the best mom in the world makes me more capable of turning a bad day around. It makes the mistakes not seem so insurmountable, and the tedium of nose-wiping and snack-fetching not so all-consuming. Having work gives me something to lean into when motherhood is tough, and I have the luxury as a work-from-home mom to lean back whenever I please. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it, it’s definitely the best of both worlds.