On a sunny summer morning five years ago, I walked into the office of my dream job—a job that I had poured my heart into and worked hard at every day right up until the day before my son was born—and quit. When I boarded the GO Train bound for Toronto, I was the editor of a Canadian parenting website. By the time I got back on the train to the suburbs, I was a work-from-home mom, ready to begin a new career as a freelancer.
Three years into my freelance career and a few months after the birth of my youngest son, I was sitting in a chair at the dentist’s office, making small talk with the woman who was about to x-ray my teeth. When I mentioned having a new baby, she asked if I was on maternity leave. I explained that I was a freelance writer, home with my kids during the day, but working around their sleep schedule.
“You’re so lucky,” she said. “I wish I could stay home and do nothing all day!”
Stay home and do nothing all day. Somehow the comment was more painful than the dental work.
I smiled politely, too tired to contradict her, and not wanting to make a big deal out of what I assumed was a well-meaning comment. But the words rattled around my exhausted brain long after I left the office.
In truth, it wasn’t just one off-the-cuff remark that bothered me, but the way that it reinforced a recurring theme that I’ve noticed since quitting my job: no matter how many times I try to explain what I do, people just don’t take it seriously. As soon as they hear that I stay home with my kids, my work suddenly becomes less valuable. It’s been described as a hobby or a side project, as if it’s not a career with an income that helps our family pay bills and put food on the table. Meanwhile, staying home with my kids is reduced to “doing nothing all day,” as if somehow it’s not valuable work, too.
In the constant push and pull between stay-at-home moms and working moms, it seems like work-from-home moms get caught somewhere in the middle. You might think of it as a “best of both worlds” situation or the motherhood Holy Grail of “having it all.” But in my experience, “it” is just code for guilt. And there is a lot of it.
Working from home means feeling guilty for thinking about work while you’re with your kids, and worrying that you’re not doing enough with your kids while you’re working.
Being a work-from-home mom also means learning to juggle a lot of moving parts. Imagine running a home daycare and a side hustle at the same time, but since the kids are your own, they just never leave. By the end of the day, you’ve made 3 meals and 132 snacks, read 75 picture books, spent 10 hours in the bathroom trying to potty train a toddler, had an impromptu dance party while you cleaned up the playroom, made some crafts, played with toys, walked 10,000 steps around the park and tackled all of the invisible work that mothers do every day. But rather than settling in with a glass of wine and your PVR list after the kids go to bed, your second shift is just beginning. The Good Place will have to wait.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining. The woman at my dentist’s office was right about one thing: I am lucky that I get to stay home with my kids. And I recognize that I am fortunate to even have the ability to work from home, because for many parents across Canada, that choice does not exist.
At the end of the (very long) day, the challenges of being a work-from-home mom are always outweighed by the amazing rewards. Every late night of editing means that I can attend field trips with my 6-year-old or volunteer in his classroom.
And every early morning spent writing before the sun comes up means knowing that I get to spend the rest of the day chasing my 3-year-old around the park, or watching him gleefully toss pebbles into the lake. It means just getting to be there, with them, every day.
That may sound like nothing to some people, but it means everything to me.