I know that if you’re reading this, you are probably exhausted. Your feet may ache from the countless hours you’ve spent chasing your toddler or walking around the office in high, unforgiving shoes. Your eyes may burn from a lack of nutrition or sleep or the glow of your computer screen. After all, the best time to answer emails is before the kids wake or after they go to bed.
And your shoulders may be sore. Carrying the weight of your family is no joke.
Another thing I know is that you feel guilty: for leaving the house, staying in the house, or not doing enough.
Why? Because parental guilt is real. Because “mommy shaming” is real; because parents, particularly mothers, face a lot of pressure.
I’ve been shamed for breastfeeding and not breastfeeding. My decision to put my oldest in daycare was met with applause — and a few scathing remarks. And I’ve been criticized for coddling my children too much and for not holding them enough. (Yes, really.)
But the greatest mommy shaming occurs between working parents and stay-at-home parents.
There is friction. Contention. “You’re so lucky” is a phrase I’ve heard time and time again. But as someone who has been a working parent and a stay-at-home parent, let me tell you this: you are not wrong or bad. You are not a failure or crazy. And you are not alone.
We are both facing the same struggles.
Our obstacles may be different, but our experiences are shared
You see, when I worked out of the home, I was exhausted. I felt like a hamster on a wheel. A candle burning at both ends.
I left my house at 7:00 am in the hopes of arriving at work by 9. I spent 2 hours commuting to work. I churned out stories quickly and furiously. I was a news writer, and there were deadlines to meet, quotas to fill, and this had to be done between bathroom breaks and pump breaks.
I ate my lunch while a small, battery-powered machine pulled my son’s dinner from my breast.
I arrived home at 6:30 and immediately whipped up a quick meal: for myself, my husband, and my 6-year-old daughter, and we did homework through dinner. I answered emails while I changed and held my son.
To say I was stressed would be an understatement.
I felt anxious and worried. I spent my days longing for my family, and my evenings worrying about work. I worried about my failings and shortcomings and all the mistakes I had made. And then I woke up and did it again.
My life was like Groundhog Day. It was rinse and repeat.
But that’s not all. When I worked out of the home, I was sad. I cried for the moments I was missing. For the snuggles that should be had.
I felt like a bad mom
I was paying someone else to raise my children. To rear my children. And it was affecting their lives — and mine. My daughter fell behind in school. My son became so attached to others, he struggled to sleep for (and with) me.
And when I worked out of the home, I resented those who didn’t. I was jealous of the mothers who had the “good life” — the “easy” life. The stay-at-home mom life. But when I finally quit my job and took on the role (and title) for myself, I learned that I was wrong.
While my circumstances had changed, my feelings did not.
I was still sad and anxious, and my heart was overwhelmed. My days of feedings and diaper changes were overloaded and overfull.
Make no mistake: Being at home with my children made some things easier. I no longer had to pump, for example, or sit in traffic on the Staten Island Expressway or outside the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, and for that I was grateful. I considered myself (and still do) #blessed. But new stressors and pressures popped up.
My attention was always divided between my school-aged daughter and helpless infant son.
My exhaustion was amplified
I never woke my husband for night terrors or feedings because his alarm was set. He had a job to go to. And envy reared its ugly head. Working parents had freedom — flexibility. I was stuck inside and alone.
I also hated myself for hating my role.
I was a “terrible” mom. A “bad” mom. I saw my shortcomings as a failure for months until my therapist told me I was an excellent mother.
“If you were a bad parent,” she said, “you wouldn’t be worried about it. Your anxiety proves your dedication and love.”
And she was right. (She is always right.)
So know this: Whether you work outside your home or are a stay-at-home parent, your thoughts matter. Your feelings matter. You matter, and you are good enough.
You are smart enough. You are strong enough. You are kind enough. You are loving enough and you are doing enough.
Because while your attention may be divided, working outside the home shows your children you’re smart and powerful. You’re independent.
Working inside the home shows your children you are a superwoman. No one multitasks like a stay-at-home parent, and regardless of where you work or when, snuggles are the same.
The words “I love you” are not minimized by your role or place of employment.
So be kind to yourself, sweet mom, because all moms face the same pressures. This is not a contest. This is not a competition; hard is hard.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few. When her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.