Seventy percent of mothers in the United States with kids under 18 were either employed or looking for work in 2017. That was the year I gave birth to my son, making me a part of that group. The year prior, I decided a 9-to-5 wasn’t for me, so I ventured into full-time freelancing. That means I wasn’t entitled to maternity leave and had to keep working with a newborn. At the time, I was a full-time freelance writer earning $10 per 500-word article. To meet my target of $2,000 a month, I had to write an average of 10 articles a day. As you can imagine, I was writing around the clock, typing away in between feeds, cleaning, and nap times. Within the first year of my son’s life I was burned out, and there was no relief in sight. At times I wished I had the means not to work at all.
Fast forward to the present and my son is now four. I am not writing 10 articles a day anymore (praise Black Jesus), but I am still a remote working mom. The difference between then and now is that I’m now in formal employment, get better compensation, and have an employer that values work-life balance. Working for a company with unlimited paid time off makes motherhood easier in many ways. When my son is home from school being a mini tornado and my stress levels are high, my managers are happy to move deadlines or give me a day or two off.
While I have more flexibility, which I appreciate and recognize as a privilege, it doesn’t mean being a working mom is entirely easier. Some issues still persist, such as not having the best boundaries working from home, and struggling to find time to connect with myself.
Regarding my lack of work-from-home boundaries, I still find myself feeling a lingering guilt when I’m not present with my son because I’m busy working. All my remote and maybe even in-office moms can relate to how difficult it can be to set work boundaries. Most nights, I find myself picking my son up from school around 4 p.m., doing the dinner time routine, and trying to squeeze in more work while he’s eating. I might also do work once he goes to sleep around 8 p.m.
There have been positive changes, but all that working and the mental load does still leave me exhausted pretty often. And I’m not alone in that struggle. A 2020 survey by healthcare startup, Maven, of 440,000 parents, 226,000 of which were mothers, said they’re burned out too. Working moms were 28 percent more likely to experience burnout than working dads, which is unsurprising considering gender gaps in sharing household duties are still very much real, especially during the pandemic. That said, I’ll take this level of fatigue over working with my son at home during the pandemic any day. Had my panties tied in all sorts of knots.
Another struggle I have as a working mom is not feeling connected to myself. So much of my time is spent doing things for others — my job and my child —that I often feel like I’m observing my life vs. living it. I find myself longing for moments where I’m energized enough to do things that light me up outside of motherhood and work. Painting beside scented candles, listening to music on the beach with my bluetooth speaker, or satisfying my wanderlust by venturing off to explore a new nature reserve come to mind. This isn’t always possible but I’ve been more intentional about doing small but meaningful things. Meditation when I can be bothered, exercise, and just literally taking my day slower by removing the exaggerated sense of urgency often helps. Now, I’m gradually easing back into a morning routine centered around self-care instead of waking up and jumping straight into work. I also recently hired a personal assistant to help relieve some of the mental load and do the mundane tasks I’m always putting off.
The reality is that I had high expectations for working motherhood. I imagined working hard while my son was at school and then having the rest of the day to do fun activities with him, do homework, cook dinner together, read bedtime stories, and then engage in a hobby once he’s snoozing. Needless to say, that was a fantasy. I also thought it would be easy to separate work time and parenting time, but they often bleed into one another.
To ease my mom guilt, I’ve resolved that the quality of time I spend with my son is more important than the quantity. It’s better I spend one dedicated hour with him a day than spend five hours where I’m disengaged.
There is also this belief I have about it being bad for my son to see me working all the time that I’ve had to confront. While I do want him to learn work-life balance from what I model, I also want him to know that work is a major part of our lives and isn’t something to feel bad about. I do work that I love and as a result, despite the hectic nature of it all, I show up as a well-rounded and more fulfilled mother in many ways. I also won’t always “balance” work and life perfectly. Meeting that expectation would require a level of perfection that doesn’t exist.
Everything can’t be given 100 percent every day. Sometimes work will suffer, sometimes the quality of my motherhood won’t be the best, sometimes my relationship with friends and family will be affected, and sometimes my self-care will occasionally be neglected. I won’t balance all of the pieces of my life perfectly all the time. I’m learning to be ok with that.