Mom-guilt and working from home

My name is Kim. I’m a wife, and a mom of two beautiful kids. I’m an introvert and I work from home.

It would seem, from the outset, that this is the perfect set-up–not just for an introvert but for a mom of two kids below the age of 5. I get to stay home with my kids and see them grow, while I toil away at the comfort of my home. Plus, I have a full-time nanny! I get to have a career and be a full-time parent. If anything, the guilt should stem from being able to have my cake and eat it to. Best of both worlds, right?

Well, not exactly.

I have to concede that it is a great set-up. It allows me to be with my kids. It also saves me from Manila’s horrendous traffic–that’s a huge plus already. And yes, I get to play on weekdays. More importantly, working from home provides me with a lot of flexibility to tailor my day based on the most pressing need. And when you have kids–everything always seems urgent.

Plus, the bed is right there! Afternoon naps! Binge-watching!

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but my days are rarely spent in bed watching TV. In fact, I rarely watch TV. I rarely get to nap or stay in bed, unless I am putting the little bubs for an afternoon nap. After all, I still work. It’s just that I stay at home to work.

It’s not all cut out to be. Working from home does put a lot of stress on me, most especially because I’m an introvert. Here’s why:

  1. Introverts love solitude. Working from home means that I am surrounded with two little individuals constantly seeking my attention. Even with full-time help, there’s nothing the nanny can do when one wants to play only with me, or if the other wants to nurse. Or when I’m the only person they want to get chocolate for them–or eat lunch with. And particularly during bedtime, when I cherish quiet time before I go to sleep, it can be frustrating when none of them want to sleep and only want to play with  Nanay, but I so desperately just want to catch the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory.
  2. Introverts dislike over-stimulation. I crave for routines. Routines make things predictable–they keep me incredibly calm. My days are anything but. I’ve since let go of carefully structured days (I carefully choose my battles). Sure, kids need routines, and my husband and I try to establish them. But my regular days are filled with too many moving parts–orchestrating a perfectly planned day is next to impossible. Some days, I also feel touched-out. Touched out is that feeling most mothers of young kids feel when “you just want a few minutes to feel like your body is your own.” It’s when you just want to be left alone, even for just a little while, and not be used as a pillow or a milk bottle.
  3. Work from home moms (WAHMS) juggle many, different, often contradicting things. Oh, my toddler’s crying–he wants milk. Oh, but my daughter wants to play with me. Yikes, my client’s project hit a snag and needs to talk to me ASAP. Wait, there’s no more soup and bath soap?! The lack of firm schedules make chaos a very real thing in my daily life. Sometimes, it makes for exciting days, but many times, chaos bleeds me dry. The sheer mental work of keeping a household is simply draining. And my poor brain–no wonder I keep forgetting things.

And then, there’s the kids. My guilt comes from one sentence I utter almost daily, “I can’t right now. Nanay needs to work.” You know what’s worse than an absentee parent? One who is physically present but who is always somewhere else all the time.

In any given day, I think about a million of things.

I think about specific details of a project I am working on. I think about the tasks that need to be done immediately, plus the tasks that need to be accomplished in the medium and long term. I also try to track metrics–to ensure that each project is moving on schedule and in the right direction. I try to remember the client’s instructions–and keep in mind the little details that they mention every time we talk. Now multiply all of these things by 3–because that’s the number of projects I am currently handling. And I work alone, because I work with startups. I have no assistant, no goffer. Just me. I’m my clients’ Girl Friday.

Don’t forget about personal development and training! Being a freelancer means I don’t get company-funded training–so I need to think about that, too, and find ways to up my skills without disturbing my workflow.

Then there’s the household. I try to keep costs down, so I track what we buy in the groceries. I try to remember how much toiletries we consume on a monthly basis–and when the seasonal sales happen so I know when to stock up and how much of each item. I keep track of food–because I don’t want to waste, and only buy stuff that I am sure the kids will eat. Oh wait, we’re running low on cleaning supplies!

Then there’s the kids. When should they visit the doctor again? Oh wait, the toddler is sick, need to update my pedia and buy the meds. When there’s school, I need to remember important dates in the 4-year-old’s school calendar. Hey, I need to bring baked macaroni–must find a resto that delivers. When it’s summer, I keep track of summer activities and what those activities require.

Then, there’s my husband, whom I love with all my heart. I will always be the first to say that I am his staunchest advocate and supporter. And I will always support his endeavors.

All of these things wreck havoc in my mind. I can’t keep still, and I can’t find a quiet space, even inside my brain. It’s jarring for my introverted self. And after fighting one fire, I feel like I’m just waiting for the next one.

No wonder I feel exhausted all the time–I’m always in fight-or-flight mode, waiting for the next urgent issue. People come to me when they experience problems. People come to me for solutions. I’m great at it–in fact, I pride myself for that.

But chronic stress can take its toll on the body.

Recent studies say that to cope with stress, you need to find ways to recover. Recovery is not merely stopping work. Recovery is NOT about just resting or sleeping it off. It’s much more than that.

Recovery is finding ways to cope, to redirect the brain from thinking about work or anything that is exhausting you. There’s external recovery, that’s when you take vacations or enjoy weekend time off.

Then there’s internal recovery–those short but sweet moments when you pause, breathe, and NOT think about exhausting work. It can just be a short walk, or a short breather. Maybe a short phone call to a loved one or a friend. Basically anything that’ll keep you sane for a just few minutes.

And herein lies the introverted WAHM’s Catch 22.

When I was single, recovering from a long and exhausting work day meant enjoying my long late-night drive from home or just simply enjoying a quiet night inside my room. It could also mean spending the entire day reading a good book, or just taking a stroll in the mall, alone. It also means taking long, leisurely showers (I love long showers. Showers are where I develop the best ideas!). That was still possible when I got married, but became a struggle when I became a mother.

Gone where my quiet evenings. Gone where my long showers. Gone was my personal time.

You see, time is the most valuable resource. It’s finite and cannot be renewed. Once lost, it is lost forever. And I know that me-time means time away from work and family. Being a freelancer, I don’t get paid if I don’t work. So I need that. And the reason why I chose to work from home to begin with is to be with family, so I need to consider that, too.

So what do I do?

Well, my solutions have always been simple. If my plate is full but needs the space for more, it’s so much easier to take out the stuff that’s just for me. My vanity was the first to go to make room for my kids. Then time for books or personal hobbies. Then those long, leisurely showers.

I also know that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Self-care, especially for moms, is important. So I try my best to squeeze in time in the weekdays, just enough to recover. And then I wish that on weekends, I get enough time to enjoy the days with my family and hope that those days will be enough to carry me through the week. I’m lucky that I get to take vacations–and I’m particularly looking forward to them this summer.

But the point of my piece is that working from home gives me twice the guilt. Because I’m home and my kids see me–but they can’t play with me because I have to work. And I also need time to recover, the introvert in me screams for solitude every single day.

Is it selfish to ask for a moment–or two–for my self? Is it selfish to want to do things just for myself–when I want to, not when it’s convenient for everyone else? Is it selfish to say, “I’m tired, I can’t anymore?”

No one else can make me feel any guiltier about choosing to work and recover (sometimes) than myself. I know how much judgment mothers get–perhaps we should change our own perceptions of motherhood and how much of our children we can control (if at all). We are a village, and the village loves its children.

This is why I penned this piece. I wanted to crawl into that space in my mind where I usually find solace–the space where I can be alone in my thoughts and enjoy them because they are my own. I just wanted some semblance of my old self–because I really like her.

If I don’t advocate for myself, who else will? My choice to recover gives me great guilt–but I know that I need it. I rarely do things for myself these days. I do it not because I love my family any less, but because I need to tell myself, “I love you, too.


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