I never planned on being a work-at-home mom.
In 2009, I left my job as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill to move back to my hometown of Paducah, Kentucky, and raise a family (and somehow convinced my husband to go with me). I was seven months pregnant with my first son and assumed I would return to work after he was born. Since I had a law degree and the accompanying debt to pay off, the next logical step was to take the bar exam, which I did…when my son was two months old.
Now, if you have any experience with the bar exam and are good at math, you know I started studying when he was only about a week old. Since studying for the bar exam is a full time job, thus began my career as a work-at-home mom. I would spend hours on the couch with my son propped up on a breastfeeding pillow as I learned the rules of evidence.
Despite the Boppy’s contributions, caring for a newborn and studying for the bar exam were not exactly complimentary tasks and I failed the exam. This was my first lesson as a work-at-home mom. Know your limits. Sure, I passed the most difficult portion of the exam (just sayin’) but a few points shy is still a few points shy. Everyone told me I was taking on too much but I didn’t listen.
As a WAHM, it can feel like everything is within your control. There’s no clocking in or clocking out, no managers, and it’s tempting to squeeze in more tasks, more work, more clients. However, I have had to learn over and over again that just because I can doesn’t mean I should. In fact, if I ever get a tattoo, that’s what it will say.
I wonder now what would have happened if I’d passed. Would I have begun looking for jobs immediately? Would I have found a full time legal gig? I’m not sure. I knew I wanted to be home with my son but couldn’t imagine how I could make that happen.
Instead, I took a couple of months off before taking the exam again in February. Those months were the only time when being a mom was my only job. While I remember those times with my son fondly, I needed more. I was dragging a six month old who could barely sit up to music lessons and spending inordinate amounts of time on planning his first birthday just so I had something – anything – to do.
Hence, my second lesson as a work-at-home mom. Don’t feel guilty about wanting to work. Being home with your kids is an incredible gift, but if it’s not enough for you that’s ok. In the beginning, I felt tremendous guilt about wanting to work. Wasn’t this what I wanted? I knew I didn’t want to be away from him so why was being with him ALL the time so hard? Finally I learned that I’m happier when I have somewhere to channel my energy and money to contribute to the family. And despite all media messages to the contrary, my happiness matters.
By the time the second bar exam rolled around, I had stumbled into a part-time teaching gig at our local community college. I got to leave the house a couple hours a week but could do all the prep work required for my course from home, usually during naptime. In the beginning, my grandmother would watch my son while I taught but eventually I discovered Mommy’s Day Out.
Mommy’s Day Out is part-time daycare provided by local churches in our area. My kids go from 9am to 2pm on Tuesday and Thursdays for $15 a day per child. This was my third lesson as a work-at-home mom. Mine your resources.I know Mommy’s Day Out isn’t an option everywhere. To this I say, MOVE! (Kidding…sort of.)
Neither of my kids are in school yet so I have used all manner of childcare over the past few years. My kids go to Mommy’s Day Out. My kids go to preschool. I trade childcare with other SAHMs or WAHMs. My husband takes the boys to lunch while I go to a meeting or I ask for help from family members with flexible schedules. I’ve done it all in search of the holy grail of the WAHM – child-free time.
My teaching gig allowed me enough time and space to put off finding a full-time job until after the birth of my second son. By then, I had co-founded Salt & Nectar with a former law school classmate who was also looking for a career that allowed her the flexibility to be home with her son. As my family grew so did the blog and before I knew it I had a whole new career in social media.
I still teach and my friends and family always jokingly ask how many jobs I currently have. I’ve added social media consulting, web design, and my new personal blog bluegrass redhead to the mix – as well as volunteering for local charities.
I currently work anywhere from 10-20 hours a week. With both of my boys in preschool and becoming increasingly independent, I’ve found a great balance between work and play.
Which is why I’ve decided to try for baby #3!
I know! I’m crazy right? But this is the fourth and final lesson I’ve learned as a work-at-home mom. Time expands when it is work you love. I’ve always heard people explain that your heart expands when you add another child to your family. You think you can’t love the second one as much as you love your firstborn but you do. Your capacity to love and care and embrace grows right along with your family.
I think the same is true of work. I LOVE what I do. I love sharing my stories and connecting with people. I love making people smile or making people think ormaking someone’s life a little bit easier. Because I love my work so much, I find the time to do it. I stay up late or get up early or type out a post on the playground.
I don’t do it all perfectly. Sometimes I miss out on a project I really wanted. Sometimes my kids watch the iPad more than they should. Sometimes I feel overworked, overwhelmed, and over tired but that’s ok.
Because as a work-at-home mom – as a human being – I’m not looking for a perfect life, I’m just looking for a happy one.
This post originally appeared on The Happiest Home.