A few weeks ago, my mom friend Nancy asked me why I’m a work at home mom (which in this case, means a mom who works from home, and is also the primary caregiver for get child). She was asking because she is a working mom who is struggling with trying to decide if she wants to (a) continue being a full-time working mom (her daughter is in daycare), (b) switch over to being a stay at home mom and taking some time away from work (here’s a post by my friend Cherie who did exactly that), or (c) become a “work at home mom” (and look for work she could do from home while simultaneously being her daughter’s main care provider, and not hiring additional childcare). She wanted to me to help her think through that third option, since it’s what I do. I had to stop and actually think through why I’m a work at home mom (I’d never really stopped to think about it before), so I decided to write up this post and explain, in case it’s helpful to any other moms toying with the idea. But first, I should explain what I mean when I say “I’m a work at home mom.”
What do I mean when I say I’m a work at home mom?
I do all of my work from home. I run an outreach organization called ISAASE, I’m an advisor for the Johns Hopkins University School of Education Doctor of Education program, and I’m also writing a book (coming out next year! – read more about that here). However, I do not employ a caregiver for my child — during the day, I am my child’s primary caregiver (although we occasionally have grandparents watch him). So, I work whenever I can, and during ‘regular job hours,’ and when my son is awake, I embrace being more of a traditional “stay at home mom” (more on why I embrace this title here). As a disclaimer before I go any further, I should also say that right now, being a work at home mom works for me because I just have ONE kid. I realize I may very well change my tune once baby #2 comes along in a few months…
Why don’t we hire childcare?
The simple answer is: we don’t want to. While my partner is at work (he works full-time from outside of the home), I am the default full-time parent, and I enjoy it. Whenever I can during the day, I work. When my husband is home, we share parenting responsibilities and household responsibilities. My husband is extremely involved in both of these things, so when he is home, I am able to work a great deal more. I (usually) get everything I want to get done, done. I enjoy being with my son. My husband also likes how we have set up our lifestyle. So there’s no need to hire childcare (though again, that’s just how I feel now, with one child). (I’ll also admit I’ve definitely felt like there is some cultural pressure to hire childcare.)
So, how do I make being a work at home mom work when I don’t hire childcare?
- I do most of my work from home (albeit often during non-traditional hours).
- I work whenever I can: during my son’s naps, in the evening hours, on weekends, when I should be sleeping.
- I schedule meetings and calls during nap times, or when I know my husband will be home.
- I don’t use time as a metric to measure work/progress, but instead focus on project-based metrics.
- Sometimes, I’m able to have my mom watch my son if I need to leave to work on something specific (like to tackle a specific writing project, or meet with someone).
- I remember there’s only one of me, and I don’t say yes anymore to every enticing opportunity. Even if there’s a project I may feel drawn to, if I know I realistically can’t make work with my existing work and personal commitments and responsibilities, I don’t accept or pursue it. (This was a hard habit / urge to overcome. More on how this has actually been a good thing for my career in another post!)
- I don’t spend my free time doing other stuff besides working. (For example: I don’t do the majority of the cooking in our family; I don’t do a lot of recreational activities, unless you count maintaining this blog; I don’t have as much “free” time; I don’t get as much sleep!)
- I only have one kid right now! (Obviously, I may feel differently about how feasible everything is after we have a second baby!)
So I guess I can now answer the original question Nancy asked: Why I’m a work at home mom. In case any other mom out there is contemplating becoming a work at home mom, and wants to better understand my reasons, read on!
Why I’m a Work at Home Mom
The simplest answer for why I’m a work at home mom is that I want to be, and I can be.
First, I want to be a work at home mom because I want to be home with my son during the day, and because both my husband and I love the idea that our son is being cared for by myself and/or him the majority of the time. I like being home with my son, and I am genuinely thankful that I get to do this. I don’t want to pay someone else to watch him, and since I don’t have to do that, I don’t.
Second, I can be a work at home mom because it works for my career. Because I am able to work at home and pursue my career related goals and dreams, so there’s no reason for me not to work at home. I’m able to get my work done during non-traditional hours, so I feel no need to hire other help. Some days it is not ideal, but in the grand scheme of things, it works for me right now.
And third, I can be a work at home mom because we planned around my being a “stay at home mom” logistically and financially. I’ll discuss those three reasons ahead.
Reason #1 for why I’m a work at home mom – because I enjoy it.
This is probably the biggest factor in why I’m a work at home mom: I want to be a work at home mom. I’ve always wanted to stay home with my child(ren). I’m home now with my son, and plan to be home with our next baby, and I love it.
Long before having kids was even in the foreseeable future, I had always imagined being a stay at home mom (even though I I didn’t necessarily imagine or think about working from home). I knew I didn’t want to hire childcare after becoming a mom, and therefore, I knew I didn’t want to work at a fixed-hours, outside-the-home, traditional full-time job. My partner felt the same way about my staying home. (By the time I was a real grown-up and was immersed in my career path, I was able to make it work to work from home, so I ended up doing that. I didn’t necessarily plan to be a work at home mom, but I knew I didn’t want to outsource childcare).
Being a work at home mom probably isn’t for everyone.
It might seem like any mom who’s interested in continuing to work, but also has a desire to stay at home with her kid(s) should automatically choose to (or at least try to) be a work at home mom, right? But the reality is that most people do pretty much understand that being a work at home mom isn’t exactly… easy.
Being a work at home mom (whether or not you hire help for childcare) means you shoulder the burden of being a working parent, and the burdens of being a full-time caregiver. As a working parent, you have the normal demands and stresses of working. And if you’re working from home and not hiring childcare, you’re also your child’s primary caregiver — which essentially means that you’re also a stay at home mom! (By the way, here’s a post by my sister-in-law Kelli about the challenges that come along with being a stay at home mom).
…Which means you’re usually stretched very, very thin (I personally do love being a work at home mom, but not gonna lie, some days I feel like I’m running on fumes and am going to lose my freaking mind). Being a work at home mom sometimes can basically feel like it has double the challenges, and is probably not something every mom would enjoy. In fact, some people feel that being a work at home mom is actually the worst of both worlds:
“It may not be worse than the single mom who has to hold down two or three jobs and never gets to be at home with her children, but it’s worse than going to an office 9 to 5 and it’s worse than staying home with the kids all day long. I’ve done all three, and that is my conclusion.”
But while many may feel that being a work-at-home mom is the worst of both worlds, for me, I still feel like I get the best of both worlds; at the end of the day, I love being at home with my son, and that’s my biggest reason for being a stay at home AND work from home mom — it makes any challenges that come along with being a work at home mom worth it.
Reason #2 for why I’m a work at home mom – because I’m still able to pursue my real professional goals.
My experience is unique because not only am I able to maintain my career as a work at home mom, but I’ve actually been able to pursue my dream career while at home. I know that there are other moms out there who may want to work from home, but feel that it doesn’t work with their particular career.
For those women, it might be an option to think of themselves as “stay at home moms” but to continue maintaining their careers (even if not financially) in some capacity. Here’s a great article by career (and life) advice expert Jen Dziura, about things you can do to maintain your career and qualifications, and stay competitive and relevant, even if you take a few years off of actually working. In the post, Jen offers tips on how stay at home parents can keep their careers going:
- She recommends stay at home parents use the time to do “deep intellectual work”
- She recommends that as a stay at home parent, you continue educating yourself
- She advises stay at home parents to network
- In that vein, she also recommends communicating your plans to return to work to people within your network and maintaining relationships (and maybe even meeting with people a couple times a year)
- She recommends attending conferences when possible
- She advises stay at home parents to take on small work projects when possible
- She also proposes sharing childcare with your partner if that’s an option
Jen’s point is this: Imagine being able to go into an interview after taking a few years “off” and being able to explain the gap in your resume like this:
“Yes, I took a five-year family leave, which I was able to turn into a mini master’s degree for myself. Here is a list of courses I completed. I’ll send you the link to the online portfolio of my coursework.”
Here are some more resources:
- Here’s a post (from Parents.com) about maintaining a “competitive edge” while taking time off.
- Here’s another post about staying connected to the job market while at home.
- And again, here’s Jen’s article with ideas for maintaining your career when you take time off.
Even if you don’t want to be a “work at home mom,” working at home in some capacity — like in the ways Jen Dziura recommends above, or in any of the ways recommended in the other two articles — is a good idea anyway if you plan to return to working eventually. Taking time 100% off of work completely can be hard (for your sanity), and in some career paths, it can even be a downright bad idea. And for some people, it might even let you find what you truly want to do. For me, being a “work at home mom” has actually enabled to me to pursue my dream career.
How being a work at home mom has allowed me to pursue my dream career:
My full-time job before I stopped working was being a classroom teacher. I loved it, and a part of me will always miss being in the classroom and engaging with students about how the world works. (And I’m going to sound cliché here, but even though being a teacher isn’t all rosy — there were some seriously hard days, more work than I could have dreamed, physical threats!, and so. many. emotionally draining days — it is so worth it, because there’s nothing like seeing a student’s face light up when they suddenly thought about something in a new way. BUT, now I get to have that experience with my own son!)
However, I always knew I would eventually leave my teaching role because there were other things I wanted to do in my life professionally.
I knew I’d want to pursue my dreams, because that is what my parents worked so hard for.
My parents are the epitome of the American Dream immigrant story. My family came to America with nothing. As a kid (a small brown girl with a long braid and a thick accent), I watched my parents work their butts off — I mean beyond full-time, sometimes working multiple jobs at a time while they tried to get their business off the ground (a lot of my childhood memories include being carted around in our family’s one vehicle and doing my homework in the back of my parents’ store while watching my little brother) — until they reached a place in which they felt comfortable financially (after which, my mom decided to and was able to stay home with us full time). Everything they did has made it possible for my brother and I to pursue our own dreams. For me, I knew that meant I couldn’t always be employed by someone else (even if that meant I couldn’t continue being a classroom teacher forever) in order to fulfill some of my career goals:
- I knew I wanted to find new ways to improve student experiences (even if that meant from outside the classroom).
- I knew I wanted to do work around equity and multicultural education.
- I knew I also wanted to engage in work around helping South Asian American kids.
- A part of me also wanted to support students on the university or doctoral level.
- I also always knew I wanted to write a book.
…I didn’t have to put those dreams on hold when I decided to be a stay at home mom. Instead, I’ve actually been able to do ALL of those things while being at home (and thank goodness it all worked out logistically):
- I have been able to launch and run ISAASE, an outreach organization that is aimed at improving student experiences, and is based in equity and multicultural education concepts, and helps South Asian American students, while working at home.
- I’m able to be an advisor with Hopkins (and I’m able to telecommute, so that also works with being a work at home mom).
- I’m write my first book, which is about the South Asian American student experience (and obviously, I can write a book while being a work at home mom).
Basically, being a work at home mom allows me to have my cake and eat it too. I get to be a “stay at home mom,” and I get to not only continue my career, but actually my fulfill career dreams. (I’m also lucky because I was able to finish my doctorate while taking care of my older son when he was a newborn — by the way, here’s a post on pregnancy & the online doctorate, and here’s a post on how to decide if you should get pregnant while working on your doctorate). Separately, I’m also able to be a “work at home mom” because we’re able to make it work financially for our family.
Reason #3 for why I’m a work at home mom – because we were able to make it work financially.
I know that the way my family handles my being a work at home mom is different from how other families with work at home moms budget; most families in which the mom works from home likely function as two-income households. But in our family, we budget as though I’m not a working mom; we budget like I’m a stay at home mom.
By planning around a single income, we are able to continue to prioritize my being our child’s primary caregiver. I’m able to take on any projects I feel passionately about and which work with my existing work commitments + my desire to continue to be my son’s primary care provider, while having the freedom to turn down any projects that don’t fit those constraints. This is to say, I don’t ever feel pressured to take on a project solely because it might be lucrative. As an example, when our new baby arrives (here’s a pregnancy post!) and I take on fewer projects, it won’t impact our lifestyle, because we don’t factor my financial contributions into our planning to begin with. By always budgeting as though I’m a traditional stay at home mom, I’m able to be a work at home mom without the expectation that the number of projects I’m currently engaged in are critical to our financial security.
I should make it clear that I’m genuinely grateful to be in this position. But I know that many moms may feel like they can’t do that — or even feel like they can’t be “stay at home moms” in the traditional sense, because of financial factors.
However, I do think most couples, including those who feel they need two incomes, can make a single income work for them (at least for a fixed amount of time), if they are willing (and able) to make changes to their spending. (Again, I know that we are very fortunate to be “able” to rely only on one income. But I will share that as an example, if we needed to further adjust our family’s spending or any other component of our lifestyle to facilitate my being home with son, we would do so, because having me home as his primary caregiver is a priority for us.)
For example, my friend Jessie, who is a stay at home mom to the sweetest toddler boy, says that while her partner “makes a good living, we don’t have the biggest or nicest house. And we make really smart financial decisions, so I can stay home.” That’s key:
“…we make really smart financial decisions so I can stay home.”
(From my friend Jessie, sharing how they make her being a stay at home parent work for their family.)
In any variety of financial situations, if a family’s priority is having a parent home full time, most financial advisors would likely say that there are concessions and adjustments to family spending that can be made to accommodate that. All of this is to say, if you wanted to be a stay at home mom (or dad), but finances were the only thing standing in the way, it’s probably worth a second look at your budget. If that’s you, below are some links that might be useful…
- This is a great “Stay At Home” calculator (from Parents.com) that helps you determine how to make staying at home work financially for your family (it’s also worth pointing out that for some parents, having a parent stay at home full time can actually be the better financial option — especially if you live in an area with astronomical childcare costs).
- Here’s a great post by blogger Jessie Fearon about how to prepare in advance financially to have a parent stay at home full time (and has a good list of things to consider ahead of time).
- These are tips on budgeting to accommodate being a stay at home parent (from The PennyHoarder).
- A post on “How to Afford Being a Stay At Home Mom” (by Sharon Clark of “Affording Motherhood”)
- A post on going from being a Working Mom to being a Stay at Home Mom (by Becky Mansfield of “Your Modern Family”) – a financial “how-to” post from a mom who went from being a teacher to a SAHM)
- A post about staying at home with your kids even if you can barely afford it (by Erin Odom of “The Humbled Homemaker”) – a useful post for families that really don’t think they can make it work financially
- Some general tips for making being a SAHM work financially (by Brittany, for the Love and Marriage Blog), and more tips here (by Jessie from The Jessie K blog)
- A post on how one mom can afford to be a SAHM (by Caroline for The Modest Mom Blog)
So… if you’re still wondering why I’m a work at home mom?
I’m a work at home mom because I want to be, and because I can be. Even when it’s tough to be a work at home mom, it is WORTH it to me, because I get to be my child’s primary caregiver, I’m doing what I want to do, it works with my career goals, and we are able to make it work in our family. And really, getting to cuddle my son whenever I want is my favorite thing.
If you want to be a work at home mom, or even a stay at home mom, you can probably can find a way to make it work financially (even if it’s hard, or requires making a lot of lifestyle changes, or even picking up some kind of side hustle). And if you want to be a work at home mom, or even take time off to be a stay at home mom and not technically work, you can very likely find a way to maintain your career from home. In the end, the biggest question any mom who is contemplating becoming a work at home mom needs to ask herself is what you and your partner actually, really want. Because if you want to be a work at home mom, you can — not that it will necessarily be easy — make it work.
Thanks for reading my post about why I’m a work at home mom! If you found my post on why I’m a work at home mom helpful, please pass it along to another mom in a similar situation, consider pinning it (below is a pinnable image if you’d like to share this post or save it for later), or just bookmark it for later. Thanks again for reading this post on why I’m a work at home mom!
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P.S. – Here are some things never to say to a work at home mom (lol). Also, if you like Jen Dziura’s stuff, you can read more of her “aggressive lady advice” on her blog. And you can also get her full guide to preparing your career for maternity leave if you’re not becoming a SAHM here.