Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Domestic Enemies of the Work at Home Mom

We've had a lot of requests for this post so you can imagine how happy we were when our friend Carolyn sent it to us. Here's a little bit about her:

Carolyn Neeley is a self-proclaimed Mommyland Lurker. She's a work at home mom who - when she's not chasing down her two adorable, yet fiesty IHPs with washcloths and frantic cries of "Oh no!" - can be found desperately banging on her keyboard trying to make deadlines, sitting completely absorbed in front of the entire USA channel lineup or one of the many cheesy horror movies she cannot live without, and cuddling up to her darling husband who luckily always has a smile and a glass of wine handy just for her.


Being a work at home mom is sometimes like having the best of both worlds - retaining a professional life and still getting to participate in the everyday magic of your kids. However, as with any other kind of mommy, WAHMs have their own set of domestic enemies. Some of these may be similar to other mom's enemies because along with the best of both worlds, WAHMs also get the worst of both worlds.

Phone Calls
If I'm calling a friend, family member or pretty much anyone else who doesn't pay me, my kids will be perfect angels. Playing quietly with each other without turning the house into a nuclear disaster zone or anyone dying. But heaven forbid I should be on the phone with a client. Suddenly, the same people who ignore pretty much everything I say and prefer their father/grandmother/aunt/stranger-at-the-grocery-store to me, cannot live without me for two seconds and cry hysterically, clinging to my legs as though I'm abandoning them in the Sahara with no food or water.

People, please stop giving me THAT look when I mention that I work from home. Yes, it is a REAL job, with a REAL paycheck and REAL work. And do not, I repeat do not, ask me who watches my kids! This goes for grandparents, relatives, friends and anyone else who automatically thinks I ignore my kids just because I happen to have a home office. I probably spend more time playing and talking with my kids each day than the average mom. It's not easy handling working over 30 hours a week and having full-time charge of two preschoolers, but guess what? With a little planning and a flexible schedule, we manage it. Without anybody being neglected.

But after listening to so many skeptics, so many critics, I start to doubt. Maybe I'm not doing enough for my kids, maybe we're not spending enough time together. Do they know I love them? Do they understand that those times when I have to lock myself in my office to take a phone call and give them the mean mommy glare to be quiet, that I am just trying to make a living - put food on the table and a roof over their heads? Are they going to fall behind in school since I chose to keep them home with me rather than send them to preschool? What if they grow up thinking that making money is what's important since I spent so much time working when they were little? What if they feel ignored or neglected but just never say it or can't express it?  Here I go down the shame spiral - weeee!

Sadly, my house is never as clean as I want it to be. I have my own personal Randy. And he has sidekicks. My floors haven't been vacuumed or swept in at least a week. Although I balance the work and parenting thing pretty well, there just isn't much time left over for things like cleaning or cooking or folding laundry. So, yes, my IHPs and I wear wrinkly t-shirts and lots of sweats, but hey - I'm at home most of the day anyway.

Working at home, I rarely meet any of my clients or colleagues face-to-face. And since I don't have time to go to all the weekly playdates and outings and places where other mommies congregate, I don't generally meet and/or get to know many people. (And why do mommy organizers insist on having things at 11am or noon? It will take me at least half an hour to get the kids ready and in the car, driving time, an hour or so spent playing, then the drive home, etc. That's at least two hours out of the smack dab middle of the day! Can't we be reasonable and hold these things in the morning or afternoon?!)

But the fact that I can't get to the playdates or outings often means that the only adult I ever have a real connecting conversation with is my husband when he gets home from work - thank Maude for that man! I can tell he really enjoys those nights when he walks in the door and I pounce on him in an effort to have a conversation that doesn't include multiple Dora references.

The problem with juggling so many different things is that you feel like you're never good ENOUGH. Jack of all trades, master of none. If I'm good at my work, I'm being a bad mom. If I'm a good mom, my writing career is down the tubes. Either way I'm still a bad housekeeper with mountains of unfolded laundry and a not-so-terrific cook except on those rare occasions I can devote an hour to making a meal. In almost every part of my life, I'm facing some kind of failure every day. And unfortunately, the necessity of being home all the time means I rarely get a change of scenery beyond grocery shopping or the post office. Kinda makes you lose perspective and make mountains out of molehills.

Don't get me wrong, I love my kids, I love my husband, and I truly, truly love my life. After all, I get to take vacations whenever I please, choose an impromptu day to goof off and do whatever sounds fun at the moment, and still manage to help pay the bills and retain an identity that helps me remember who I was before I lost my mind and my first name and just became "Mom". 

But sometimes, when I'm juggling everything, when deadlines are looming, clients are calling, kids are wanting cuddles and mommy-time, the house is filthy, I'm filthy, I haven't had a real conversation with an adult I'm not married to in three weeks, and my only relief and rest just called to say he'll be home late, and I get really close to losing my schmidt... 

So I take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine, find something to laugh at and remember that I'm in Mommyland.  And I'm in excellent company.  Cheers! 

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011


  1. SO funny.

    FUNNY b/c it's true.

    What shocks me is that when I quit work to stay home with my kids I actually ACTUALLY thought, "now I'm going to get things done."

    What in the world was I thinking????

  2. I'm a SAHM who can barely keep everything together on many days. I have a superwoman sister-in-law (one of my best friends) who has just as many kids as I, at about the same ages, who is a work at home mom who juggles medical transcription, cleaning the house weekly, cooking (okay, occasionally her hubby helps out there) and does it well. She seriously puts me to shame. Occasionally I think it would be cool to have her mad typing skills so I could do a job like that too (my skills involve large groups of students--not really a work at home possibility) but then I realize, who am I kidding. I am so impressed by her energy and ability to get so much done. I'm just thankful my husband doesn't expect me to be the powerhouse his sister is. Hats off to you!

  3. OH, YES! OH, YES! Now. Imagine if your job were an artist. And sometimes (much of the time), there's no income on your part. Explain that to a group of folks. Can you say "leper?" It's fun to be a leper that neglects her children and cannot provide steady income. And I just love the looks I get when I refuse to make costumes for the school play or bake pretty cupcakes (being creative, and "non-working" I'm supposed to do these things).

    I've actually been told by other child-rearing neighbors that I do nothing.

    Sometimes it helps to put your fingers in your ears and scream LA LA LA LA LA.

    Tonight, when I have my glass of wine, I will toast you!

  4. YES! I'm a WAHM-student-military spouse-mom to six wunderkins and TOTALLY agree with what she says here. I would just add the combo one (combined SAHM/WAHM) of that phone call...."you're home, doing nothing, surely you can watch Princess and Junior for me while I go to the spa/shopping, etc." Um, NO. I have a JOB, at home, that requires my attention...and did you perchance think that *I* might need that trip to the spa or lunch out with the girls? *sigh* I LOVE being a WAHM...and now that my kids are all in school (okay, not at this moment, since it is summer...), I get more breaks than I did previously, and even the occasional lunch with friends. Now if the man would just get back from his world-travels, I could have a DATE...Ah, the life...

  5. May I add another domestic enemy? It pertains to PERSONAL phone calls. I've been working at home full time for 9 years. Friends and family who DON'T work, think they can call to "shoot the Schmidt" at any time and don't understand that I'm working and have deadlines too and then give attitude when you have to, heaven forbid, call them back!!! I've tried ignoring the phone but they figure, she's home, I'll just keep trying, and trying, and trying....And don't even get me started about the friends that DO work and call me and say, "Little Johnny peed his pants at school, can you bring him clean clothes?" Arrrggghghghghhg!!!!

  6. I also work about 30 hours/week, but I visit my clients' offices a few days a week so there's 6+ hours of commuting. Every once in a while I manage a WAH day, or can arrange for one if one of my 3 boys needs me (mine are all school age now). On those WAH days I struggle with the tug of household chores - just one more load of laundry, a few minutes to unload the dishwasher, would you look at the filth on that floor, etc. It's hard to juggle it all, but I wouldn't trade the flexibility I have and NEED for anything.

  7. I can not thank you enough! I work from home and am totally feeling ya. I have been a WAHM for 8 years, and juggling it all changes as they do. Only my kids will act up when I'm on the phone with anyone - UNLESS I announce "I'm getting on a client call and need ABSOLUTE SILENCE - or ELSE!" :) Thank you for showing me I'm not alone! The Failure paragraph was like you were peeking inside my head. Thanks and good luck to ya!

  8. "And why do mommy organizers insist on having things at 11am or noon?"

    Yeah, why is that? I am a WOHM and would like to occasionally take my kids to a playgroup, too.

    People may think work at home mamas have the best of both worlds being able to be with their kids and have an extra pay check, but in all honesty they have twice as many enemies.:)

  9. Love this! I just submitted my own version of this last week to you, I'm so happy to find out I'm not the only one out there. WAHM unite!

  10. Though my SAHM/WAHM situation is different I definitely relate. I tutor high school math several nights a week (yay for a break during summer break- boo for no $$$ during the summer).

    This means that for 3-4 nights out of the week it's like my husband and I work different shifts at a factory: I watch the kids during his day shift, then he rushes home to watch them while I teach for 6 hours or so... Just imagine naked toddlers streaking past the french doors while you're trying to tutor a 15-year-old boy. Fun times...

  11. Even yesser! It's nice to see I've got some company in the loony bin! My kids will be off from school after today, and because they are OLDER (10 and 13) doesn't mean I get help! And we're planning to move over the summer too, and I have column deadlines and am working on getting syndicated. SO even yesser to the fifth degree!

  12. I was a SAHM for almost 10 years, now I am a WAHM - since January this year. My daughter is at school so at least I have the time to work, but my work day takes a pause at 3pm when she gets home - She is still getting used to the fact that I now have a "real" job and can't just drop everything. She also doesn't realise that what used to be the computer room, and accessable to everyone, is now my office/work room, and that the computer is for the business and not just for her to use whenever she wants.

    As for those phone calls, I use my answering machine to screen calls, and I have caller ID. Luckily most of my correspondance is via email but I do have to keep reminding my very helpful daughter not to answer the phone every time it rings.

    I never was much of a domestic goddess but I manage to vac at least once a week, more often in the livingroom, and I make sure the bathrooms and kitchen are clean. Laundry still taunts and haunts me so not much has changed there.

    I love what I do, and for the first time I actually feel I have a better role to play in our future as a family.

  13. I big pink puffy hear this. I'm a wahm and this describes my life perfectly.

    But I'm going to add one - the client who doesn't understand that the two hours after my kids get home from school is "kid time" and I can't handle his emergency rewrite immediately.

  14. Thanks for this post - I love the part on Doubt - and the shame spiral....wee indeed. I'm so out of it, I didn't even know WAHM was an acronym but I'm very grateful to now have a label for myself, even though much of the time I have to literally leave my house just to get my "work at home" work accomplished. All that while my toddler cries horribly because I am abandoning her (usually with her own wonderful father). Sigh. Bad housekeepers unite!

  15. O.M.G! It's amazing how she wrote this from my point of view with exactly the words I would use! oh no...wait, there must be one other person out there that I can commiserate with! She hit the nail on the head for sure. I have been a WAHM for over two years now, since I was pregnant, and some days everything goes so smoothly it's like it's meant to be, while others, I think I might self destruct if my husband doesn't make an attempt to come home early!

    Loved this blog, just like all the rest at RFM. Also....Can't wait to see some more art from the kids! Those always make me laugh like a crazy person!

  16. Oh yes. Yes. Yes.

    As a fellow writer, might I add: You, lady at the playground who said "I loved to write in middle school. I bet I could write for magazines like Real Simple," - being a freelance writer is not "easy."

    Writers often do this thing called "college," where we take years of classes on writing. We also have been writing professionally for years - often decades. Our bylines appear in The New York Times and still we can't get the good people at Real Simple to return our emails.

    So, it is highly unlikely that you, lady whose last paper was on unicorn stickers, will appear in Real Simple.

    Getting off soap box now ...

  17. Great post and like others I feel like you are peeking into my life. I have been a WAHM for almost a year now. Our family used to live in NJ, just outside of NYC-my husband and I both worked out of the house and everyone, including the kids, were gone from home for 10-12 hours per day...fast forward a year and my husband was downsized and we moved everyone back home to WI. My husband is unemployed and I kept my NYC job, but just do it from home. We are all home, all the time-it's a big freaking adjustment.

    One of my biggest enemies (in the WAHM sense) is my own husband. His job is to take care of the kids and house so I can work (unfortunately I don't have quite as much flexibility with my time...I have to be online 8-4 and always available). He is doing a great job in his new role most of the time but he doesn't always "get it". Quickies in the middle of the day are still not really feasible...

    My house is a disaster most of the time and I go days without getting out of pajamas (I have actually held board meetings via video conference wearing a suit jacket over fuzzy Grinch pj pants! For all those enemies I still feel lucky to be able to see my kids so much more than I did before.

  18. I am a WAHM on Mon/Fri and a WOHM on Tues/Wed/Thurs, and I found myself nodding ever more vigorously as I read further and further into this post. Thank you for connecting our suffering selves with others just like us.

  19. @Carol - it's almost as if we have the same sister-in-law, except my sister-in-law works outside the house. Somehow she juggles that and being the PTA President at a rural school which means she cooks like 3 turkeys for their Christmas party and organizes all kinds of events. She makes me look lazy as heck!!

    I tried working from home and it didn't work for me because my then 3 year old just couldn't grasp the idea of mommy not giving her full attention. So I went back to working outside of my house. My hat is definitely off to those of you who can manage to WAH because I failed miserably at it.

  20. Huge fan of this blog. I'm telling all my friends. I'm WAH too, but I still send DD off to preschool. I couldn't do my job and take care of her (3.5 yo). I can't even go to the potty without her wanting something so I know I couldn't spend all day on the computer with her around.

    I've seen far into the future and already I'm training her to do her own laundry. No endless laundry for me. And she has other "chores" too so she is learning early that I'm not her maid.

    I'm also a single mom, but I have a secret weapon -- I have my own "wife" -- my best friend is also a renter in my home. And in exchange for her room and total access to the facilities she pays a minimal rent and does almost all the cleaning and all the yard work. And she helps shop and cook. And, she helps with childcare. Don't be a hater.

  21. I loved this post! Man does it hit life right on the head. Being a stay at home can be challenging within itself let alone adding a work at home adventure. Thanks!

  22. Yes! WHY do children wait until an important phone call to lose their minds and freak out?! One time I had to lock myself outside on the back porch just to finish a call--while my 2 yr old banged on the glass door and screamed the entire time. Oh, and messy house? I found out that little ones LOVE the swiffer sweeper--keeps them busy and keeps my kitchen floor bearable.

  23. I was a WAHM for many years and it could be really annoying but the worst thing was the "I know you are at home today and do you think you could look after my kids as well...they wont be any trouble and I'll just be 45mins I promise." Several hours later my "friends" collected their children who had ransacked my house, and terrorised my children. It was and still is a real job, but so many people thought it was a hobby, or something I did when the kids napped. The best part of it was once their little darlings had left, I realised how darling my little ones really were.

  24. YES! Add to that list: "Help". You know, when the kids are still small enough to need supervision while I'm with a client? Yes, and someone (ahem) says, "Sure, I'll keep the kids quiet while you're with your client, we'll have a great time!" This is apparently Husband-Speak for, "The kids are going to come into the office to find you at least 5 times in this one hour because they want something and I'm either zoned out on the internet or in the bathroom being conveniently deaf." This is probably why my clients are primarily other mothers/grandmothers who are thrilled to hear their kids are welcome to mingle with mine while we chat. The playroom always ends up decimated, but on the plus side I'm not counting on anyone else to make this appointment possible. And everyone's so grateful not to have to arrange for childcare, they don't comment on the state of my housekeeping (or lack thereof).

  25. I just love the "so when are you going back to work?" crowd. Like I'm not earning pretty good money working at home. Why would I go back to work outside the home when I'm making it work here?

  26. I am a WAHM with a full-time corporate job and have been telecommuting since 2002. The Failure paragraph seems like it was written just about me.

  27. Yep. Yep. and YEP. Love this. I regularly live in the land of 'I'm failing at everything'. Great job describing it!

  28. I LOVE THIS POST. Its nice that others out there "get it"

    I am really good at ignoring or deflecting or down right snarking back a comment at a "hater"

    I say ROCK ON WAHM! Real American Hero...We salute you!

  29. I am glad that I have the luxury of working at home with my wife and that I am able to share in all of the above joys.

  30. Work at home success takes a bit of courage. You are still stepping out of the box even with the masses that are transitioning home to work carving the path for you. Most people in society believe working involves leaving the house and taking care of your family's financial obligations by putting in your time and working a job. Leave their opinions far behind you as you find your own work at home success.

  31. Working from home definitely has its ups and downs! Time management and dealing with distractions is the biggest hurdle. No commute, flexible work hours, loving what you are doing are the perks. In the end, patience, persistence and hard work will bring success!

  32. I love this. WAHM... working right now...well, taking a break to read this and comment!!! It can be so hard sometimes, but is so worth it!!

  33. Oh my gosh! This is my life! I'm bookmarking this to reread whenever I'm losing my schmidt! This is seriously so perfectly fitting to my life!! I'm a first time mom to my 6 month old son and...*wait for it* I run a daycare form my HOME! Yeah, there's something wrong with me!
    My house is never in perfect shape, but idgaf because I'm an awesome mom! That is so much more important to me than have a perfectly clean house!

  34. I'm a writer who works from home, too, so THANK YOU for this post. I always feel like there are either SAHMs or WMs and no one ever understands what I go through.

  35. Super funny. You forgot the part where neighbors that stay home and have no deadlines send their kids over to play.......because "they need to run to the store or gym alone". Those are awesome!




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