I was always a career woman before I got pregnant with my first child. Pitching stories, chasing staff editor positions, pounding the footpath in stilettos I could barely afford. A writer’s life isn’t nearly as glamorous as Carrie Bradshaw made it look, but I love my job. I was always able to adapt to the challenges that both it — and life — threw me. That included two interstate moves in the few years surrounding getting married. Then, suddenly I found myself seven months pregnant and out of work.
A first-time mum, I was completely clueless going into her birth as to what things would be like afterward. I was even emailing with one of my editors during labour, promising to have a story filed 10 days later while neglecting to mention the fact that I was about 30 minutes from breaking down and asking for the epidural. Sure enough, nine days after my daughter’s birth and a mere five after we left the hospital, I found myself up at two in the morning typing up that article with one hand while using the other to try and secure a good latch for breastfeeding. To say I was overwhelmed would be the understatement of a lifetime.
But, even then, I heard it all the time: “You work from home with her? You’re so lucky!” Strangers would proclaim this as I sat in a cafe, forcing back tears after a completely sleepless night with a deadline looming, my daughter bound to wake up screaming at any moment. Being a brand-new mou, recovering from an emergency caesarean, learning how to breastfeed, having no family around to help… there were days when I literally felt like doing nothing more than curling up in a ball and crying my eyes out. But not only did I have a baby to be there for, I had a job to do — at the same time — and it seemed everywhere I went everyone expected me to be nothing but grateful for my “perfect” situation.
I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mum, but at 7-months-pregnant no one would hire me after a face-to-face interview. I managed to scrape together a few freelance gigs in the months before motherhood, and then 4 kg of pure change came screaming into my life.
Fast-forward to a year later. My writing career had continued to grow alongside my daughter, who as a toddler, was into everything and taking less frequent naps. Because assignments and pay are inconsistent, we couldn’t sign up for daycare and also, I figured if I was to hire childcare then why bother working from home? So, on it went. Writing at two in the morning. Missing entire Saturdays with my husband and baby while I sat, hunched over the computer with a cup of ice cold coffee in hand.
Dishes and laundry piled up. How was I supposed to take care of the home when I had to spend every moment she slept working? What kind of mum would I be if I used the television to entertain a 1-year-old while I worked or did the washing? Meanwhile, my friends expressed envy. When we would meet up for our weekly group play dates or if we were texting and I happened to mention my stress or frustration, they’d tell me I shouldn’t complain. “You have the perfect setup — you stay at home and earn an income.” What I wouldn’t give, some days, to retort that having the “best” of both worlds typically meant not giving my best self to either one.
Look, I have perspective. I know I’m lucky to spend my days with my daughter while still making money from home. I get that a lot of mothers work full-time and wish they could spend more time with their kids. And that a lot of stay-at-homers would kill to have an extra income to help with the bills or just have some fun. But I would never respond to another mother who was struggling and tell her she shouldn’t complain because she has it so great. Why do people think that’s okay to do to work-from-home mums?
The fact is, working from home with children is a complicated setup, especially when your hours and pay are inconsistent. We don’t know from month to month what my income will be, so it’s tough to commit to any kind of help. Meanwhile, there will be weeks when all my deadlines come pouring in at once. Suddenly, our 2-year-old will randomly give up her nap for a few days. And then there I am again, laundry and dishes piling up, working at two in the morning. Sensing a theme here?
I know that I have a lot to be thankful for — all mums do. I love my job and wouldn’t want to give it up, even if I was able to. I also love being home to witness my daughter’s milestones firsthand and enjoy the rewards of stay-at-home parenting. But I’m sick of being told how perfect and great it is, because the truth is, oftentimes it’s not.
Instead of the “best of both worlds,” as people like to insist that I have, I often feel like I have the worst of them. All of the drama and stress of full-time, stay-at-home parenting combined with the pressure of deadlines and deliverables for work. I have absolutely no time to myself and I don’t sleep nearly as much as I should.
Mostly, I just feel like I’m held to an incredibly high standard. I’m supposed to be nothing but grateful for having a career and being home with my daughter. But just like every other mum out there, my life can be incredibly stressful. As women we should show empathy and compassion to each other, despite how “great” things look from the outside. But trust me, if you ever need to vent about your full-time job or stay-at-home mum status, I’m all ears. And I promise I won’t tell you how great you have it, because it’s equally amazing and tough for us all.