Do you believe in the great work at home mum swindle?
Work at home mums (WAHMs) have been swindled. And part of the con is that we blame ourselves for it. But I’ve got a secret weapon against the great WAHM swindle.
Before you write me a strongly worded comment about work at home dads having the same struggles, let me reassure you of something. You’re wrong. Jokes… I think. These are my opinions on what I’m living and what others I know are living. Any criticisms of my personal views will only be read if sent accompanied by a bottle of Pinot Gris to 39 Who Cares Street, Its My Turn to TalkTown. If it makes you feel better, replace the word ‘parent’ for every ‘mum’ used. You’re welcome.
What a week
I saw my oldest daughter run in her first cross country race (may have gotten a little teary), and then act as a wreath bearer in the school ANZAC Day ceremony (definitely teary). I volunteered in the classroom. I took my 5 and 2-year-old for milkshakes one afternoon after school, and spent hours drawing houses and flowers on concrete with coloured chalk (I have a limited artistic repertoire) and the piece de résistance… hopscotch.
And in between those moments, I ran a business that is more than a full time job and kept a household going. With children fed at least 3 times a day, clean clothes on their backs and everyone arriving where they needed to be on time (even if we scraped in by the skin of our teeth a few times).
I’m not in this alone
My husband is my hero, my supporter and my best friend. Some days I resent that he gets to leave and go to work. Other days I feel sorry for him that he has to leave and go to work. We’re both dealing with this life the best we can, and on any given day either or both us can feel like we’re getting the short straw.
Make a choice and then suffer in silence
“It’s my choice”, that’s what you hear from a lot of work at home mums (WAHMs). Yep, I gave up the corporate life while on maternity leave with the second (and last, before you ask). I’d started my own copywriter business and it went gangbusters. I quit my high-paid government job and have lived since in that soloist freelancer bubble of equal parts awesomeness, horror and coffee.
But does working from home being our choice mean we must carry on with a stiff upper lip, without complaint? It’s the ‘at home’ part where the trouble starts. If you’re in a home office/dining room/corner of the garage, you’re still at home. If there’s an errand to be run, it’s going to be you. Someone needs to take the canary to the vet, it’s you. Activity at school? You. Whether it’s mum or dad who’s working from home, these things fall on you because you have flexibility. Oh, the poison chalice of flexibility.
That god damned to-do list
A smart person told me recently to stop blaming the last thing on my to-do list. It’s a bit like the (classic) kid’s book by Pamela Allen, Who Sank The Boat? Spoiler alert: it’s the mouse, not the pig or the cow or the horse. If I feel frustrated that I’ve got to make time to read with my daughter, it’s not because I don’t want to do that, there’s nothing I want to do more. I just want to do it without feeling slightly sick about everything else I have to do. It’s the other 37 things on my list that have worn me down.
I’m trying my best to replace the ‘I have to’ with ‘I can’. I have to be at school for cross country? No, I can be at school for cross country. I know plenty of parents who simply can’t be there, and I know it hurts. I know that my husband would amputate a toe to be there for our girls. No one is doing any better than anyone else. I’m there to watch the cross country, but I’m up late that night working while the kids sleep, or replying to emails on my laptop while they watch Ben and Holly.
We can have it all, we just have to do it all as well. Photo: Amanda Vanelderen
Have it all? No, but we do it all
The great WAHM swindle? It’s the myth that we can have it all, whatever that even means. It’s actually that we have to do it all. Yep, we have it all alright. Responsibility for the house, for school and daycare drop offs and pickups, shopping, household stuff, washing, family admin. Oh, and that small matter of working all the hours we can on our own business that’s not a ‘hobby job’, it’s key to the family income.
Hush crazy lady, I hear some say, you made your choices. I sure did, but I have the microphone and it’s my turn to talk.
I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been swindled. Most of us give up a ‘real’ job to work in a more flexible way, but that’s not the only job we’ve got. We also sign up to be the primary carers, and we better do it perfectly. I’m not perfect. I know I look tired. It’s because of those 37 things I have to do before lunchtime, and dealing with anyone’s judgement doesn’t even come close to making the list.
Is it any wonder work at home mums can be a little frayed at the seams?
The egg farm of your dreams
In a recent moment of overwhelm, I told my 5 year old I was going to end up in the nut farm. I quickly pulled it back and realised what an awful term that is to use, but she’d got the concept so I switched it up say I might visit the egg farm. If mum’s under pressure, she now asks if I’m going to the egg farm, where is it, and why can’t she come too? She’d decided the egg farm must be in Sydney, as that’s where I go on my (rare) work trips. The intense curiosity about the egg farm lightens those moments immensely, so I’m sure that’ll stay in our family vernacular for years to come.
My secret weapon
But whatever you can throw at a WAHM, we’ve got a trump card up our sleeves. And so do the stay at home mums. And the working mums and part-time working mums. The simplest and most complex piece of this crazy jigsaw puzzle is what keeps me going.
Love for my husband, my kids, and my big crazy family. And love for my business and what I’ve built by living my dream.
Love is what keeps me going when I’m over it. It’s what will (sometimes) make me put the bins out when it’s my husband’s job, because he’s busy doing nothing with two little girls who love him.
So guess what universe? The joke just might be on you. Because I’m made of steel. I cannot be broken. I may bend like a willow in the wind when I need to, and creak when it’s going to rain (dodgy knee), but I will keep finding a way forward every day. I will whinge, I will wish for more hours in the day, I will question every choice I’ve ever made. But I’ll also run a thriving business, keep my kids happy and healthy and laugh every day with my husband.
Turns out, this isn’t a pity party, or even a cry for help. It’s just my truth. And I’m not going to wait for a perfect life to enjoy what I have now.
Just let me have a rant every now and again, OK? And come round and put my bins out.
Do you believe in the great work at home swindle?