Part-time, full-time, natural, real, easy, hard… where does it end? We put labels on so much in life to try to understand someone or categorize something. How many times have you been asked what you do or how you do it? In motherhood, these labels seem to be taken especially personally.
In my relatively short motherhood journey so far, I’ve been a work-from-home mom and a traditional nine-to-five mom. I’ve experienced the judgement on both sides. Last year, I hesitated to say that I worked part-time because it felt like I was always working – when I wasn’t feeding or entertaining a little one, that is. We’re full-time parents first and everything else is in addition to that, regardless of how much help you have or how you spend those precious naptime hours.
Even though working from home was certainly challenging as my son got older, going back to work full-time was a completely different beast. I cried every time I dropped him off in the morning. Eventually, we figured out that it was best if my husband did drop-offs. I’m better at pick-up time; at scooping up my son and not letting him leave my sight. We all have our special talents, right? You might be a coding genius but I’m a needy mom.
Fortunately, as humans we’re adaptable and can fall into routines easily. It’s both a weakness and a necessity for survival that we gravitate toward the familiar. Anyway, it’s still not easy to leave him, but I’ve adjusted enough to keep the tears to a minimum. The first time I felt a sense of relaxation when I got in my car with coffee and a podcast in mind, however, I instantly recoiled as if I’d taken a sip of week-old milk: MOM GUILT.
I’m learning that mom guilt comes in many forms. Everyone, regardless of your “label,” experiences it. Mom guilt sneaks up on you like Randall in Monsters, Inc. (clearly a house favorite right now). When I worked from home, I’d feel bad for getting frustrated when my son was teething and wouldn’t nap or when I’d try to multitask when he clearly wanted my attention. And then I felt nauseous for weeks when I had to go to an office and leave him at daycare. Why am I paying someone else to watch my son? What if this isn’t the best choice for him? I’d wish for quiet and then for the exact opposite. My guilt morphed from one shape to another, as all of our worries and fears tend to do. You’re cruising along just fine and then BAM a camouflaged lizard (ahem, Randall) stops you in your tracks. You’re ok and then you’re not.
Most days, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing – which, I’m also figuring out, is just part of the motherhood learning curve. I find myself harboring guilt for any number of strange things at any given time. A ball is certainly always at risk of being dropped. But then I take a deep breath and my toddler smiles at me in between unrolling the toilet paper and sticking his hands in the dog bowl, and I realize that it’s all in how you look at it. It’s cliché but true: gratitude makes a difference. I may not want to leave my son every day, but I’m lucky to have somewhere safe to take him. I may overcompensate on weekends and get frustrated when our limited time together isn’t perfect – but what is?
It’s all too easy to feel alone when we start comparing ourselves to other moms who are “part-time” or “full-time” and forget that grace reigns over guilt. We often build up the other side and idolize whatever we don’t have. How lucky is she to stay at home and enjoy her kids without having to worry about contributing any income? Or how is she so professionally successful in this phase of little ones when I can’t even find clean yoga pants? But at the end of the day, we’re all united by our uncertainty and our desire to get this – our most important job – right.
As moms, we’re always full-time everything. We may get sick days at work, but not at home. We’re all just doing the best we can: whatever we have to do for our families. And I feel like my various experiences across the working spectrum so far qualify me to safely put an end to the great debate: It’s all hard! You’re right and you’re right and we’re all just different sides to the same coin. Everyone is tired and trying to do too much all at once.
Time is a precious commodity. Motherhood is not easy. And even though this full-time life is exhausting, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. After all, the benefits far outweigh the work: A full-time, forever love.