Work from Home vs. Parent from Work
Most parents have already Made A Plan before their child arrives. They Will stay at home. They Will go back to work. A friend of mine due in a few weeks has even decided that she Will Drive Sixty Minutes Each Day With Her Three Month Old So His Daycare Is Near Her Work. I have not yet told her that her newborn may not cooperate in the car, or that work may suddenly feel aimless and idiotic in the sleep deprived and emotional state of new motherhood, because I have no idea what it will be like for her, only what it was like for me.
One thing I’m sure of after speaking to a bunch of other moms and dads on a variety of different work/parent paths is that no matter what path you choose you cannot win. No decision you make to balance working and parenting will A) feel one hundred percent right to you, or B) feel one hundred percent right to everyone else. Accept this now. Even if you feel 75% okay with your choice most days you’re doing a hell of a lot better than everyone else.
While the work-parent scape is varied and unique to each individual, there seem to be three paths you can take and after speaking with people in each vein, I wanted to explore the pros and cons of each. Whether you’re expecting a child or just unsure if you want to make a change, read on. But be forewarned, there is no easy answer.
Path 1: Parent From Work
In the morning you place your child in the hands of a trusted care provider and sail into work without a worry. This is the pre-natal dream. This is what women’s liberation is made of, you and your spouse can be free to pursue your own passions and have a child. You can truly have it all. The reality is a little different.
Pros: You can have a career and a baby too. Keep earning money in your chosen profession, have grown up conversations and actually get dressed in the morning. People respect your ideas, your mind gets exercise, and the life you’ve worked for isn’t completely put on hold until all of your children are conveniently in kindergarten. You can eat lunch in peace, you can respond to emails in a timely manner, you can listen to podcasts while you commute. When you get home your baby is still there, hopefully fed and happy, you can enjoy them for an hour and put them to bed, then play hard on the weekends. Extra bonus: when weird things happen to your house or child it’s always the nanny’s fault.
Cons: Having a nanny or any full time child care provider is not all peaches. A nanny is an employee who has good days and bad like anyone else, and you are their emotionally invested manager. There will be long exhausted text messages that say “please don’t feed my child chocolate at 3pm,” and “I would prefer it if you didn’t let him sleep in the car seat, because when you do he’s up all night.” You will agonize over each word because this person has a strange hold over your life, knows your routine better than anyone else, and can get your kid back to sleep without calling you in a fluster. You can’t admonish them without risking everything. Even if you love this person, even if they’re someone you trust, even if they’re your own mom, they will have their own way of doing things, and you may have to give up some control. You have to prep lunches and breakfasts and dinners and arrange classes yourself if you want your child to interact with other kids. You will miss her, while you’re at work you will wish you could be playing with, reading to and teaching her about the world.
There will be no time left in your life to do anything else, and on top of everything you only get to see your child for an hour or so every day, and that hour can be burdened with office stress and a fussy tired kid. It can feel like the money is deposited and withdrawn from your account in the same breath and most days you’ll wonder if it’s worth it.
Path 2: Parent from home
If you did the numbers and realized (like many people) your entire paycheck will go straight to a nanny or daycare for your child, parenting from home might be the right choice for you. But don’t think of it as semi-retirement, think of full-time parenting as starting a whole new career from scratch.
Pros: You don’t have to pay anyone for childcare and you can take on the full responsibility of raising a person. Your little person. You get to share in all the moments, text your spouse pictures of them hanging upside down from the monkey bars, teach them about airplanes and doggies and flowers and trucks. You are it. You don’t have to explain to a nanny why you don’t want them watching tv (like at all. not even an hour) or why you really don’t want your kid to eat Cheetos even though your nanny’s child loves them. You make all the decisions, there is no middle man.
You get to meet other moms and dads at classes and hang out with them during the long days at home. You don’t have to commute to work or even get dressed if you don’t want to, and you get to cherish the precious and formative years of your child’s life.
Cons: Your full time job is basically being a nanny but no one sees it that way. If you were a full time nanny your childless friends would say “You spend twelve hours a day with a one year old? That sounds insane.” But it’s your kid, it’s your house, so they think you just eat bon bons and watch tv all day. Raising a person is hard. Especially when it’s your person.
There are days when you will not speak to another grown up. There are days when you will run a fever of a hundred and two and still have to be a parent. There are days when your spouse gets home late and you can’t even have a conversation before you pass off parenting responsibilities and check out by doing laundry or any number of household chores that now seem relaxing compared to engaging with a toddler all day. Your life is domesticity, cleaning the same mess over and over again, saying every iteration of no, midday baths to get what is this sticky stuff? out of his hair, and fighting dramatic tantrums. You are the one that keeps your child safe and healthy and fed before keeping yourself safe and healthy and fed. There are no breaks, no free lunches, no slacking off at your desk. Full time parenting can be a lonely endeavor, there are wins, but there aren’t as many personal successes, and certainly less recognition.
Path 3: Work and Parent from home
This is the best of both worlds and likewise the worst of both worlds, and it can feel like trying to do everything gives no part of your life fair attention. If your work life allows this possibility it can be a tempting option, but it is not easy sailing.
Pros: You can parent full time and work full time, see above pros for each. You get to keep all of your paycheck, and make all of the parenting decisions. You can feel fulfilled by your work, and be there for every special intimate moment of your child’s life. By reducing your hours into specific work/parent chunks, you can be more efficient with the time you’re allowed and this can mean making more money per hour of work.
Cons: It is hard – see above cons for each. Work is shoved into nap times and nighttimes, weekends and date nights. Your child’s nap is so holy and necessary when they decide not to nap one day it can be very frustrating. Free time is work time, and work time is sacred. Phone calls have to be carefully scheduled because toddlers see phones as their cue to scream. The to do list never seems to end, there will always be things to accomplish and there will never be enough time.
There is no way to win. Period. Even if your girlfriend seems like she has it all figured out with daycare and her job, it’s still hard. Even if your neighbor stays at home with his kid all day and all they do is just go to the park, it’s still hard. Even if your sister works from home and takes care of her toddler and seems to have a schedule all worked out, it’s still effing hard. There is no negotiating your way out of how hard it is, parenting is simply hard no matter what.
Whichever path you choose for yourself and your family you will find a lot of the same challenges along the way. There’s no easy option, but as long as there are parents and jobs there will be ways to make it work.,. In spite of all of it, it’s worth it. No one on any of these paths will tell you it’s not. So join me in my favorite refrain – parent hard, work hard, love hard — and no matter which parent/work path you choose, with this mantra in mind you will find fulfillment and success. Promise.
C. L. Brenton is a Los Angeles based author who loves to write about families. She founded PumpYourBump.com in 2017 to help pregnant women navigate their nine month journey with healthy workouts, crave-worthy recipes and well-researched advice. Currently pursuing her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, C. L. is a fiction writer, freelance blogger, avid reader, and Mom to a fifteen month old ball of pure unadulterated energy. For everything C. L. Check out her website at www.clbrenton.com