The time I worked from home with my toddler and questioned everything I’ve ever done.
There have been one million articles about the effect of the pandemic on working mothers. This is another one.
I have read every one of these articles, saddened and empathetic to the plight of women put in impossible situations, many choosing to drop out of the workforce to care for children or not choosing at all and losing their job to the pandemic.
I’ve been lucky in that I have a pretty strong support network with my mom who can help with childcare and a daycare with enough procedures in place to make me feel comfortable during a pandemic.
Today, though. Today was a day in the life of a woman working from home with a toddler. If I believed in the end of days, today was that day.
I can’t afford to put my son in daycare all five days of the week and my mom helps with the two days that he doesn’t go to daycare. Except she is recuperating from surgery. When I transitioned back to working from home (the COVID cases are exploding in my area), I decided to keep my toddler home with me twice a week. We can do it. It was my decision. It was going to be tough, but we can do it.
I had no high expectations for the amount or even quality of work that would get done. I knew to keep my expectations low. However, I wasn’t expecting to be in tears three times by nine o’clock. At one point I was on the phone with a coworker, Cocomelon was blaring in the background and my son was screaming because I wouldn’t let him play with thumbtacks. I sat at the card table-made-desk, head in my hands, wanting so badly to join my kid in the hysterics. I did, a little less theatrically than my son, before having to talk myself into asking for help.
I pulled up the family group text, which includes my parents and my two sisters, and sent, “What is anyone doing today? Dying from motherhood. If anyone wants to take Otto. Forever. Please do.”
Now, I wasn’t dying, nor did I want anyone to take him forever. And full disclosure I can be the Chandler in my family, relying on humor instead of just being real. See the text message above as an example. But I was still asking for help. Even just an “are you okay” or “what’s the grandkid doing now?” sort of check-in would have made me feel better.
Crickets from my parents. My one sister responded that I can’t die of motherhood and that she and our mother have yet to perish. I would beg to differ — if I develop some sort of weird autoimmune disease in the future I will look back on this day and say right here is the moment my body started swelling from inflammation.
I responded to my sister that she and our mother were better equipped to handle motherhood, but neither has ever worked from home with their kids. Of course, a lot can fall between the cracks in text messages. Tone. Emotion. Screaming. I wanted help, at most, and at least, to vent. That this situation was just shitty. My sister launched into a discussion about how she can’t work from home (she’s an OB nurse) and how funny it would be to assist in childbirth via zoom.
As the group message continued dinging, I realized how much mothers are supposed to handle with little or no help. Especially mothers working from home. That maybe it was presumed my job was easier because I could do it from home. And yet I found myself typing “I’m dying from motherhood.” A joke, but not. I limped through the rest of the day, my head pounding from the tears that kept angrily flooding my eyes.
It’s only recently I went back to working from home — COVID cases are surging in my area — and since the announcement, my coworkers who cannot work from home (they provide essential services) have dropped comment after passive-aggressive comment to me and my team about how nice it is to work from home. In some ways, it is. I don’t have to commute to work. I can roll out of bed and within minutes be working — no pencil skirt and heels required. In other ways, it isn’t. I work for an entity with a tight budget that doesn’t have the money to set us up with the proper equipment to work from home. I am working on a ten-year-old laptop and using a lot of my personal stuff to get my work done. It is not as efficient and can make my job more frustrating. And then the comments from those who can’t work from home: “do you have your feet up, drinking wine, and watching the View?” The comments always come as jokes, but after a while, they stick under my skin. I work more, longer, to prove that I am, indeed, working. See, I want to say, tapping bulging files with my finger, see how productive I am at home?
So here I am today, tired, burned out, frustrated with a kid who has hit the terrible twos and really really wants to play with thumbtacks. I don’t even know where he found them.
As a young mother, I was told to ask for help when I needed it because the time will come when both you and the kid are crying and neither can stop. Asking for help is hard. Most of the time I suck it up and cry to my husband later who always tells me I can call anyone for help when he can’t help. My mom, my sisters, my grandmother, my aunts, his mom (heaven forbid, no, not his mom. Please. Never let it get to that). When my kid was a baby I remember asking for help a couple of times. I usually got it.
This time, the response was frustratingly inadequate. I know I could have been more direct. I could have called. I know I wasn’t ignored on purpose. I think people are too wrapped up in their lives to notice another’s pain. I think many of us are dragging ourselves through life, head down, shoulders up around one’s ears, especially this year, fighting through the storm of life and missing those walking right next to us. What have I missed in the storm of my life? Looking at my sister’s response “lol, omg, you can’t die of motherhood,” I want to ask her have I missed your pain and frustration? Have I responded like this in the past to your semi-facetious request for help or did you suck it up and never ask to begin with?
I know today was just a hard day. I know I’m lucky I have nearby help (even if they don’t always answer). I know that my kid needs empathy as much as I do. I can’t parent in a vacuum. No one can. This year shows that and just how much of the burden falls on women and how lonely it can be. When you start regretting motherhood, shame shuts you up and you mother harder.
I’ve never questioned myself, my career, my choices more than on the hard days, because I start asking myself what do I have to give up to survive? My writing? My reading? My workouts? My job? This spreadsheet I’m working on starts to look less and less important when my kid looks at me with tears in his eyes and his lower lip quivering. Even if it is because I won’t let him play with thumbtacks.
I know, too, as I question my mothering and all the things that make me me, my husband never questions anything about his parenting. He never wonders if he works too much or if he spends too much time on fantasy football. The idea of what a mother should be (self-sacrificing) is deeply embedded in my brain. I can’t tell fact from fiction.
And before you come down on my husband, we are pretty 50/50 on the parenting front (not so much the cleaning). I decided to keep my kid home today. After weeks of paying for five days a week at daycare, Christmas expenses, unexpectedly having to buy a new car, and, oh yeah, the pandemic that’s making my employer consider work share, I want to save money where I can. I knew it would be hard and we’ve done it before, but today, today lead me to question everything. My parenting. My career choices. My relationship with my family. If I should spend time writing this.
I’m not even sure why I’m writing this. I’m not going to add the stats of how many women have lost their jobs or willingly stepped out of the workplace to care for children. There are numerous articles out there reporting on the trend. I’m not going to talk about the wage gap and how this pandemic may just add to it. I’m not going to talk about universal childcare, because we need it. We just do. I’m not going to talk about better safety nets for families. Because we need that, too. Or how the pandemic has hit minorities even harder. Google it and read the articles that just about any publication worth anything has put out. I think I’m writing this to say I’m not okay. I don’t think I am the only one. Maybe someone needs to hear this like I needed to hear it earlier today.
Dying from motherhood is a feeling and it’s okay to feel. Having moments of regretting motherhood happens and that’s okay, too. If you are working from home, your job isn’t any easier or harder than someone else’s. I’m going to try as hard as I can to pick my head up out of this storm and see those around me struggling and try to reach a hand out. Message me and I will listen.