My son has heard the phrase “Mommy’s busy” so many times that he has adopted it as one of his sayings, even when I’m not busy. I do a large portion of my work from my phone, but he knows I really mean business If I’m pulling out the laptop.
I feel genuinely awful when I have to do the “Mommy’s busy” because I’m on deadline or something. He didn’t ask to be born into my chaos, but he is also the reason that I have worked so hard to be able to work from home (or the park, or the library, or wherever). Being present to raise him has always been my number one priority.
I am a single mom, so it’s complex, but I knew that I had options. I started out as a babysitter, which I still do. I brought my son to work with me, so while I didn’t literally work from home, I considered myself a work-from-home mom. My reasoning was twofold: I wanted to be around to raise my son myself, but also childcare is ridiculously expensive.
The cost of childcare is initially what led me to explore working from home as a serious option. When my son was born, his father and I were still together, but he worked long hours. I knew that financially I needed to work, but upon doing the math I realized that I would basically be working just to pay someone else to take care of my son. That was a waste of money.
So I looked into work-from-home jobs. I was surprised when I began seeing writing jobs online. I knew that it was an option, but I had always figured that it wasn’t a real option for me. Learning about being a freelance writer, essentially a work-from-home writer, opened up a whole new world for me.
As a babysitter, I had to maintain a certain amount of hours to make ends meet, so we were on a really strict schedule that didn’t leave a lot of time for spontaneity or much room for us to do the things that were fun for my son, like going to the playground or the children’s museum. Now I could be more present for him, and it would make our schedule less hectic as well. That’s where my smartphone came in handy. I could jot down notes and ideas or even write full pieces while we were hanging out doing things we liked to do together. It was liberating for both of us.
But sometimes I need to focus, like really focus, and that’s when things get difficult. When I have a tight turnaround for an article, or something that requires a lot of research, then I have to get creative. I am not ashamed to admit that I will give him a tablet or put on a television show to distract him for a while.
He does spend a good amount of the day playing on his own, and I try to sneak off and write, but he always seems to find me and demand my attention to play trains or sing songs or something else that will put my focus directly on him. As is the case with toddlers, attention is his lifeblood. Sometimes he understands that Mommy is working (hence his “Mommy’s busy” mantra), but most of the time he simply doesn’t care and will do whatever it takes to get my attention.
The biggest challenge for me as a work-at-home mom is time. The work/life balance is enough of a challenge for those of us parents who work, but working from home really does add another layer to the whole thing that can feel impossible to navigate. It feels like there are never enough hours in the day. Occasionally, I have no choice but to put my work before his needs, because we have to have money to live and pay bills, and sometimes I just can’t fulfill my duties from the playground.
Once, when it was a particularly nice day, my mother told me that I should take my son to the park. Of course I wanted to, but I was in the middle of working on something with a strict deadline.
“Well, can’t you just write later?” my mother asked.
“My editor doesn’t really care if it’s a sunny day here,” I had to explain.
I spend nap times tapping away and work late at night when he goes to sleep (or when I can get him to calm down and relax) while drinking copious amounts of Cherry Coke and eating junk food to keep my eyes open.
It definitely isn’t easy, and it’s not for everyone, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. I treasure the days with my son, and the memories we make, and the laughs we share. In a few years when he’s older and in school or otherwise occupied with his pals, I will bask in the glow of the memories of his childhood where it was the two of us taking on the world. I won’t ever regret typing away into the wee hours of the morning, or having to lock myself in my bedroom for a few minutes because “Mommy’s busy.” The tradeoff is worth it.
This post first appeared on Scary Mommy