I started a new job in February. Correction: I started TWO new jobs in February. The first one was a foot in the door. It didn’t pay enough to cover my bills, so I took the second job to supplement. Anyone can tell you that two jobs are more than enough for a single human to handle. I also run Elle Jay at Home, a blog about comfort food for moms.
But my hours shifted to 7 am to 4 pm and 7 pm to 10 pm with three hours in the middle to drive home, feed my family, and do my daughter’s bedtime routine. After I got her back to sleep after the 4 am wake up, I had to immediately start getting ready and fast. Any work I needed to do to advance my blog had to be done on my lunch hour or after Job #2 wrapped up.
A week into my new jobs, my baby got the flu and strep simultaneously (did you know that can happen? I didn’t). I was home with her because her dad couldn’t take the time off of work. The next week, a tornado took out the neighborhood around the office, and I couldn’t work then either. Two weeks later, we were ordered to stay at home, and my daughter was encouraged not to come into daycare.
Having been employed for all of six weeks, I had spent 13 days in the office. Now, I was juggling learning these new jobs with an unstoppable toddler in tow. It was undeniably a rocky start.
The New Normal
I’m sure you’re in the same boat as me. Maybe your situation isn’t quite as dramatic, but you can’t remember the last shower you took and you’ve been surviving on cold coffee and toddler leftovers.
You handle Zoom meetings with a toddler climbing all over you (or on the one occasion you were in charge of running the meeting, climbing the kitchen island behind you, falling off, and busting her lip much to you and your coworkers’ horror). As you watch your colleagues seemingly gracefully manage their new at-home lives, you begin to resent everyone.
But they’re not the problem.
Identifying the Issues
The real problem is social media. The posts about self-care and fun things to do on quarantine made me borderline manic. All the advice was to wake up a little early and journal, meditate, or do yoga. Enjoy a cup of coffee before everyone else wakes up.
Then the parenting advice… oh my gosh. Make chalk stained glass patterns in the driveway and play with homemade Play-Doh. Enjoy your time with your kids being creative. WHAT TIME?!
And then there’s the ever-nagging Don’t let your kid watch too much TV. Like, hi. I’m already dying over here. There’s so much on my plate. That TV is staying on forever. So, what is a hard working mom supposed to do?
The Real Self-Care Guide for #WFHWK
Here’s what you’re here for, and I get it if you have scrolled through to this point because no working mom has time to read anymore. This is the down-and-dirty, “How do I survive SAH working and mothering?” guide. What can you do to care for yourself, and what is it okay to let go of?
First off, yes, you do have to take care of yourself. Help is not on the way, and you are not getting reinforcements any time soon. I’m sorry. That’s the truth.
Four things you do have to do are:
- Be strict on sleep schedules for everyone. You have a bedtime now. Your kids have a nap time and a bedtime. It doesn’t matter if there’s crying or if your nearly two-year-old listens to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” on a loop until she passes out. Bedtime is officially sacred.
- You DO deserve to work out and shower every day. No one is allowed to take this from you. As soon as I put my daughter down for her nap, I close the door and I do a 20-minute YouTube workout video and take a shower. I don’t care if I come back to 12 emails from Janet asking where her orders are. I need 35 minutes to myself, and that is not asking too much.
- Tell your partner what they are responsible for. We are not superhumans capable of maintaining a clean house, staying employed, and keeping small humans alive without smudging our lipstick. Our partners need to step up and do their part because they live in this house, too. My husband is officially responsible for our daughter for two hours every Tuesday while I do meetings. He is also the king of dishes, bills, and all things yard-related. We worked together to set boundaries and responsibilities.
- Being there for your kids. Work needs to wait sometimes. Your kids may not understand what’s going on, so it just seems like you’re blowing them off. That’s breaking their tiny little hearts, and they don’t deserve that. Take a minute to give them hugs and kisses. Talk to them while you’re working, or wear a tiara and sip pretend tea when you find a stopping point.
And here are three things that I officially give you permission to stop caring about:
- Can we all agree to give up on screen time for now? TV on = doing my job = food on the table = the survival of my child. I know the experts say this is going to destroy my child’s chances of getting into Harvard, but so will starving, so…
- Fresh, home-cooked meals. While we do “make” all our own food at home (we can’t afford delivery or take-out, right now), a god-awful portion of our diet now consists of frozen meals. Moms, let’s just agree this is okay for now. My kid had a microwaved potato, microwaved frozen meatballs, and half an avocado for dinner last night, and that’s the healthiest meal she’s had this week. But I didn’t fight her to eat, and she didn’t go to bed hungry. Those are two big wins, okay?
- Answering every email. Most of this advice has been very one-sided on how to keep your job, but you also have to set work boundaries. As soon as my end time hits on Job 1, I close my email and put on the lock screen. My time with my daughter is limited and precious, and I am terrified about how much therapy she’s going to need when she’s older.
Your Job Has to Realize Momming is More Important
Traditionally, we’ve been told to keep our work selves separate from our home selves. If you have kids, don’t talk about them. You should be focused on work because that’s why you’re paid. Well, my home life is my work life now. My kid is more important, and frankly, she’s a heck of a lot more work. If I don’t have childcare, I can’t wholly be an employee. That is the state of things right now, and the employers have to understand that.
The other day, my kid wanted my attention so badly, she piled all her toys next to my desk. She must have thought she hadn’t picked the right game to get me interested. What kind of mom would I be to ignore her to get back to work? I couldn’t live with it, so I picked her up and we went and made cookies.
We live in a new world order where we need to stand up for ourselves and set our home boundaries. We, the employees, have to set the precedent that our families are our reason for living, and work is the means to support them.
The last thing is this: You’re doing a great job. No matter how badly you think you’re failing, trust me, all the rest of us working moms think the same thing. We’re in this together, and you’re doing awesome.