Why The Heck Am I Working?

Work or family symbol representing the important life choice of raising a family and spending time at home or working at a business to make money with crossroad traffic signs on green grass and sky.

Econ-Mom: Sometimes I’ll be having a conversation with a fellow mom, and I’ll complain about how hard it is to juggle all of the various things that come up with kids (sickness, school events, etc.) and maintain a full-time job. For example, Peanut got pneumonia a few months ago, and he actually had a fever for EIGHT DAYS! By the end of the week, I was beginning to panic because I only get a set amount of sick days per year. Anyway, at this point in the conversation, if the mom is a “not in the labor force mom,” she’ll often say something like, “Yeah, this is exactly why I quit work. It was just too hard.”

When someone says this, there are two trains of thought that go through my head. One is, “Wow, I’m proud of myself for sticking it out in the workforce,” and the other one is, “You’re a freaking idiot; why are you doing this to yourself?” (Of course, I realize that many moms have to work to make ends meet, so they don’t have the luxury of asking themselves why they’re doing it.) In my case, when that “why are you doing this to yourself” voice is in my head, I try to think of it this way – if everyone who was uncomfortable in a situation decided to drop out of that situation, nothing would ever change. Then again, I don’t want my kids to have suffered, because I was trying to do my minuscule part to nudge the culture of academia – and now corporate America – to be more family friendly. Especially given that both of my boys are on the autism spectrum and have higher needs than the average kid! As they get older, I worry less, but it’s still easy to let that nagging doubt creep in. 

Anyway, I just want to be clear that I am NOT AT ALL trying to say that the moms who have told me it was “too hard” are quitters. It IS freaking hard, and the moms who have decided to pause/stop their careers to focus on their littles have made the best choice for themselves and their families. Of course, many moms are very happy in that role, and I think sometimes when people say juggling work and kids was “too hard,” what they really mean is “I would rather spend almost all of my time with my growing children,” and that is completely fine. I do, however, think it freaking sucks that many moms do exit the labor force because it is so hard, and not because they truly want to. 

Law-Mom: Here, here, to all of this! Since starting this parenting gig 11.5 years ago, I have worked part-time at home, part-time away from home, full-time away from home, and full-time at home. I have worked as little as 10 hours in one month and as much as 80 hours per week. I’d like to say that I have truly “experienced it all” in terms of “The Juggle.” And I can also say that: IT IS ALL HARD.

As someone who has worked as a litigator working 60+ hours per week, and as someone who has been at home with my kids on a full-time basis, I can assure you that working at home 24-7 is harder. Being with children on a 24-7 basis is absolutely the most draining job on Earth. Yes, “it’s the most rewarding job you’ll ever have, blah, blah, blah.” But it is freaking exhausting. I went back to work full-time when my oldest started Kindergarten and my youngest was 3. And you know what? I absolutely adored my time at the office. I was probably the only attorney there who didn’t want to go home on Friday night. And I can assure you that it wasn’t because I do not love my husband and children. But it was because it felt like I had a piece of my identity back. And it was quiet.

Anyway, Econ-Mom: I feel your pain. It’s an enormously hard juggle. I’ve been working 60-70 hour weeks for the past few months juggling two jobs (on top of my job as homemaker and mother), and the only reason I can swing it is because I am not commuting and because my kids are older. Yay for older kids!

Kudos for you for sticking it out in the workforce. I, for one, am proud of you.

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