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Judging the work-at-home mom

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There’s always a lot of controversy when people start debating stay-at-home moms v.s. work-outside-the-home moms. There’s huffing and hubbub about who are the better parents and whose kids are happier/healthier/smarter/fitter, and round and round she goes until everyone’s panties are quite certainly cutting off the circulation to their brains. My sympathies are on both sides, I think because I don’t feel like I have to defend myself; I’m not a SAHM or a WOHM but a rarer hybrid: the work-at-home mom.

In my three-plus years as a parent, the subject of my WAHMness hasn’t created even a ripple in the wavepool of moms judging other moms…unless you count the three times it came up last month.

“Oh, you work from home? That must be nice. But then why is your son in full-time daycare?”

“Um…because I’m working?”

The fact that my desk is the kitchen table and my cats are my coworkers doesn’t mean I can divide my time between my job and my child any better at home than I’d be able to in a formal office setting (unless I just sat my son in front of the t.v. all day, which he’d probably LOVE, but no), and yet there are apparently a handful of people out there who don’t quite understand that I can’t do my job and actively parent my son at the same time. Maybe I’m being a hippy here, but parenting isn’t about mere proximity to your kids, it’s about actually engaging with them, right? I can hardly do that when I’m up to my eyebrows in deadlines.

I’ve been surprised to hear the logic (or lack thereof) coming out of peoples’ mouths when they’ve said these things to me (especially three times in a matter of weeks), but although I’ve been taken aback, I haven’t been offended, per se. I know (or like to believe; “Benefit of the Doubt” is my middle name) that an outside judgment of my personal decision is more likely to be a reflection of the judger than the judged. Perhaps the mom who says these things wishes she could work from home while spending time with her kids. Or perhaps she’s attempting to justify the time she spends at the office, assuaging the guilt that can come with that through careless comments about another’s situation. Or perhaps she doesn’t want to work at all and would be a stay-at-home mom in a heartbeat if that were possible. I don’t know. I can’t know. And it doesn’t matter, really. Her situation has no bearing on mine, just as mine has none on hers. Weird, though, how we still sometimes act like they do.

(Related: Take a look at the images that pop up when you do a Google search for “work at home mom”: women at laptops with kids crawling all over them–a situation that can’t be good for any of them. This IS the common perception of work-at-home moms, whether we like it or not.)

Any other work-at-home moms out there? Has anyone judged you for that decision (or made stupid assumptions about how the location of your office should affect your parenting style)? Do you think people expect different things from you than they do from work-outside-the-home moms?

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7 comments so far...

  • I am a working mom who works 3 days in an office and 2 days from home. I am required by my company to have day care during working hours when I am working from home. No offense, company, but I couldn’t work at home any other way! With children who are young, they don’t understand “mommy has a conference call” or “mommy needs to finish this email”. It’s an expectation I am happy to live up to.

    Ellen G  |  March 7th, 2012 at 8:58 am

  • YES! I am a full-time working-at-home mom. I am lucky enough to have my parents nearby, who come to watch my 22-month-old daughter every day so that I can work. I have a separate office and work remotely from CT for a Virginia-based society. From my perspective, working from home full-time is no different than working in an office full time; there are still the same expectations, the same need for autonomy, and the same demands. There is NO way I could do my job effectively without having child care, especially since I am expected to be on conference calls at any point during the day. People have a really skewed view of what it means to work from home full time. I actually think in some ways, it’s MORE demanding. Not only do we have the work responsibilities, but since we are home we are often expected to do home chores as well (i.e., laundry, dishes, answering the door for deliveries, tending to the pets)! By the end of the day I am exhausted. Sometimes I WISH for the chance to escape to an office!

    Nora Ray  |  March 7th, 2012 at 9:05 am

  • I work from home! But our finances dictate that I work from home AND I have to have Jacob here with me. So yes, he does spend his fair share of time in front of the TV and I hate it. I would love to have him go to a small daycare if we could afford it but it’s just not an option. Just because I’m here working does not mean he has the same attention from me. Luckily, Chris just changed his schedule and will be home with Jacob a lot more, but I know that is not a normal for most families!

    Jessica  |  March 7th, 2012 at 10:54 am

  • I work at home and my kids are enrolled in a good daycare (well, now KG / afterschool care). I am capable of working with them here (looking after themselves), but that would not be best for them all day long. An hour or two here and there, yes, but my job involves long hours. They deserve to be engaged and also benefit from being with other children. And no, I do not feel one ounce of guilt.

    Working from home does have its benefits, of course. If I need to keep a child home sick, that’s easy, and I get to squeeze domestic duties into my work breaks, which leaves more time for my kids when they are out of school. When people say I am lucky to be able to work at home, I don’t deny it.

    If anyone asked me why I use daycare while working at home, my assumption would be that they don’t think working at home is really full-time work. So I just say “I work full time, regardless of where my laptop is set up. Until my kids qualify to be on the payroll, they need something else to do while I work.”

    But you know, even if I didn’t work, I think it would have been good for my kids to attend their daycare program, excluding the afterschool hours. It’s really been good for them to be with other adults and kids and learn about so many different things. Of course I teach them as well - I’ve taught them to read, self care skills, life skills, discipline, values, culture, etc., just like every other mom. But that does not take us all day. I’m glad that my having a job gives my kids the opportunity to have more in some respects.

    SKL  |  March 9th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

  • I agree with you 100%, especially when the kids are under 5. I always felt bad, sending my 8-month-old (and when he was 2, and 3, and 4) away to daycare when I was working at home. It’s right down the street and I hated being in the house without him there - didn’t feel right! But on the other hand, it made working at home possible. (And at the time I was alleviating a LONG commute 2 days a week, definitely worth it!) I got my “8 hours” finished more quickly/efficiently, and could pick him up earlier.

    Now that he’s 7, I don’t mind working with him there once in a while (like on random school holidays that I don’t have off). He entertains himself or we invite a friend to come over and play with him, and they hardly notice I’m there. :)

    el-e-e  |  March 13th, 2012 at 6:30 am

  • I work from home 3 days a week and 2 days at an office. My daughters are in full time daycare. My work from home schedule lets me be more flexible and pick them up earlier three days a week. If they were home, however, I would not be working at all. And people constantly assume they are home with me! Mostly people without kids, though. They have no clue! At 3, my older daughter is just getting to the point where she can play independently for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Other than that, it is TV or nothing.

    Katie  |  March 15th, 2012 at 5:01 pm

  • I’m a work-at-home mom, haven’t experienced the judgments yet because no one knows, but I’ve definitely experienced the judgments in general just being a mom. It’s silly, really. We should cheer each other one. Great post. Thanks.

    Kristina  |  July 10th, 2012 at 9:00 pm