When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided I would keep working. My job as a writer/editor enabled me to work from home, and, while it didn’t pay a lot, it did provide decent insurance coverage for my family. My husband, then an independent contractor, also worked from home. Our ability to work where we wanted and flexible schedules, in theory, gave us the perfect scenario for keeping our jobs while raising our children.
Before my baby was born, I arranged, what I thought at the time, was a pretty sweet setup. I would work from home four days a week and come in to the office for one. I could be at home with my child and still work. On those days I had to be in the office, my husband could take care of the baby. What kick-ass parents we would be. Killing it in the workforce and as parents.
Then our son was born.
We were lucky we had a healthy baby. We didn’t have a child with medical issues, developmental delays or other special needs requiring greater attention. What, we did have, however, was a baby who was clingy AF. A clingy baby and working from home is a crappy combo, but I will say more later.
I zombied my way through my 10ish weeks of maternity leave, I was graciously afforded by my company, because it was not legally required to give me the 12 weeks under FMLA. Still thinking we had a good deal, my husband and I embarked on our working parent adventure.
For about six months, my days were spent with my baby attached to my breast about 90 percent of the day; leaving about 9 percent for work and, if I was lucky, 1 percent for sleep. The old adage: “sleep when they baby slept,” didn’t apply to me. When my son wasn’t glued to my breast, lest I wanted to blow out my eardrums from his shrill cries, my few hours of peace were spent finishing up articles or putting together newsletters. My job didn’t care if I miraculously got a few moments of peace, if an article had to go on our website at 1 p.m., it had to go up at 1 p.m.
And those were just the days I worked from home.
While, I was performing my job responsibilities at the office (when I wasn’t searching for an appropriate place to pump), my husband kept things together on the home front. If my job made caring for a child difficult, my husband’s made it nearly impossible. As the head of sales for a growing media company, he engaged regularly with clients and vendors. This was a phone-heavy job. And, just like my deadlines, didn’t care if our baby was cranky, neither did my husband’s client calls. I would return home in the evening to crazy tales of my husband juggling his phone in one hand and a baby bottle in the other.
Needless to say, this wasn’t an ideal situation for either of us.
I felt I was failing both my job and my son. I knew it was impossible to give 100 percent to both. I had to make a choice; I chose my child.
I am sure when I tell people my story, they may wonder why I gave up such a flexible gig. On paper, it seemed great. My company let me be home with my kid, more than what most would allow. But, the thing is, working from home, is still work, and babies are a distraction. Even if you manage to score an “easy” baby, he still has needs which need to be balanced with what your job requires of you.
Thanks to advanced technology and changing attitudes about work, more of us can now earn an income while still caring for our children. I know many women who run thriving businesses right out of their homes. I am inspired by fellow writers who turned their passion into dollars. I am in awe of single mothers who spend their nights working so they can be with their kids during the day.
But, none of this works without help. Help, which, sadly, I know is often hard to find (or afford). I know paying for a childcare would have made me more productive, but, financially, it didn’t make sense.
Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, once said,“I do think women can have it all,” she said, “but not all at the same time. Our life comes in segments, and we have to understand that we can have it all if we’re not trying to do it all at once.”
She is right. When you try to be everything for everyone, you end up with nothing. We women put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all: the amazing career, the perfect family, the incredible marriage. It is exhausting.
I am thrilled more companies are on board with flexible schedules and letting their employees work from home or even bring their kids into the office. However, as I mentioned, whether they are with you at home or in the office, children are a huge distraction. Ask yourself: how productive can I be while simultaneously caring for my child? Managing my blog and freelance work, allows me to control my schedule and set realistic deadlines, something I could not do at my previous job. If you work in an office, you must also ask yourself, is having my child here hindering the productivity of my fellow workers? It is not fair to ask them to deal with your crying baby, just so you can be with her. Conversely, don’t be the employee who side-eyes your co-worker when he needs to leave early to pick his kid up from school. Chances are he’s grinding away long after you’ve gone to bed.
There is no magical solution. And, as we have seen by this awesome video, even if you are able to work from home AND have a spouse or nanny watch your kids full-time, nothing is foolproof. Kids are the ultimate wildcards; they can wreak havoc on your sweet deal at any moment.
I hope my country (the United States) moves forward with family-friendly work options. Companies like Netflix , which offers a generous parental leave packages to its employees, and Patagonia, whose onsite childcare center has lead to greater employee retention, are great examples of what the future might hold. There is also the bigger discussion of federal, state and local parental leave policy, and our culture’s attitude about work and family.
The answer won’t be easy to come by, but it is out there.