Being a work-at-home mom is no easier than going to an office each day, but it often feels less accomplished. In this issue of Working Mom 3.0, Stephanie Taylor Christensen examines how to find meaning in the job of stay-at-home working mom, when your full days may seem to provide little tangible proof of your effort.
A few years ago, pre-baby, I met a co-worker who had my “dream career.” She had returned to copywriting full-time at the advertising agency where I worked, following a five-year “sabbatical” to stay at home and raise her two children. During the time she was a stay-at-home, she also wrote for clients on a freelance basis, and taught an undergraduate copywriting course at a local arts college.
I inquired why she would abandon such an amazing set-up? While grateful to have the option to stay at home with her children, she responded that the past five years had been the toughest of her life. Now she was grateful for the serenity to fully focus one just one task — her career — each day.
Where did the day go?
Now that I am a working mom juggling a non-traditional career and child-rearing, I know that the job requires you to “wear many hats,” usually at the same time. When I worked full-time, I yearned for the flexibility in the day to balance work and family. Now that I have what I wanted, I wonder whether I really chose the easier path. A mom still driving to the office each day will likely say I did. The moms who won’t find time to shower until later today, much less put on makeup or don professional attire, might think otherwise. It’s our natural predisposition to view someone else’s grass as greener. I’m also certain that I accomplish more now than when I worked in an office full-time. Yet I still marvel at how frequently my days fly by, often leaving very little to show for my effort.
When you work in a traditional role, you have structure, deadlines and team status meetings to review progress. This process of publicly displaying the fruits of your labor is part of what makes work rewarding. When you’re going it alone at home, it can be difficult to feel accomplished.
Tracking your time
Christopher Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, wrote for Psychology Today on the idea of goal-setting. He says that “sometimes we do not know what is worth doing until we actually do it and reflect upon it.” I’m not suggesting busy moms add one more task in the form of self-introspection. Just make a list.
Track everything you do as a stay-at-home working mom for a week. Take note of what your days entail at the conclusion of it. If at least 75 percent of it is what you’d consider “productive” (dedicated to your health, family, mental well-being, or career), you’re doing well. In fact, a Microsoft productivity study of US workers found that those who work 45 hours a week in the office say 16 hours of that time is not productive.
Taking time to pat yourself on the back and recognize all that you do, thankless or not, can help to keep the choices you’ve made rewarding and fulfilling.