5 Things I Learned from My Week as a Working Mom

5 Things I Learned from My Week as a Working Mom

my week as a working momMy life–like so many of today’s women–defies neat categories. I already am a working mom. I work about 30 hours most weeks: that’s full-time by the standards of most workplaces. I split my time between the law firm and writing, which I do from home (or from the coffee shop down the street, or the public library).

But every so often, I spend a week or more working full-time at the law firm, usually to fill in for a coworker who’s away. Sometimes I’m called in to cover on short notice, like when my coworker flipped her car and spent a few weeks at home recuperating. Sometimes I have months to plan, like last week, when I was covering for a honeymooning coworker.

Here’s what I learned from my week as a “traditional” working mom–a mom who puts in 40 hours a week at a physical office.

Being off routine is stressful.

Whether it’s for good reasons or bad ones, being off routine is hard. Last week, I was way off routine, and I felt it.

But everyone else’s routine was pretty close to normal, and that helped keep me sane. My kids’ daytime routine didn’t change much (although they did a lot less school than usual). I used our regular sitters, but for more hours. My husband went in late one morning, but his week was otherwise pretty normal.

Making childcare and work/life arrangements is draining.

My childcare arrangements were largely in place already, which was a huge help. This was by design: when I hired help earlier this year, we all discussed and planned for this week. We already had rhythm and structure.

(This was completely different from when my coworker flipped her car and I had to cobble together new childcare arrangements everyday. That was exhausting.)

Plans are worthless

I was slammed at the office, with lots of urgent but unanticipated matters popping up all week long. This always happens, but I hadn’t planned for it. I should have known Murphy’s Law would be in full force and effect. (Do you like that legal language, there? I can’t make myself stop.)

Additionally, my life was thrown completely off track by something I’d never thought to prepare for: sports. The NCAA championships and my son’s Little League games took up huge chunks of my evenings, kept me up too late, and made it difficult to get up for my early morning writing time–during a week when I desperately needed it.

Planning is everything

Things didn’t go as planned, but planning saved my sanity, especially when it came to meals. Because of food allergies, take out isn’t an option for us. (I wish I had a dollar for every time my husband said, “I’d order you a pizza if I could.”) We prepped a huge batch of our favorite chili on Monday, used our crockpot, and ate a lot of quick-cooking fish, salads, and frozen vegetables.

I knew I wouldn’t have much writing time this week, and then I ended up having even less than that! I was so thankful I had a few blog posts “in the bank.”

Some things get dropped

There wasn’t room for all our usual activities last week. Some were dropped on purpose: I did a lot less writing than normal, and I missed my day off. My kids did the bare minimum amount of school.

Some things just got squeezed out: I didn’t help my daughter with her new blog. I didn’t get on the rower once; I didn’t hit the pull-up bar.

I’ve done a pretty good job of structuring my normal life in a way that suits my personality.

This one is my favorite, and I’m going to tell you about it tomorrow. (Hint: it involves the telephone.)

Have you ever gotten all contemplative (like I am here) after doing a dramatic role-reversal for a little while? Tell us about it in comments. 

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27 comments

  1. I think having weeks like that also remind me how much I love my normal, day-to-day life. I’m sure you felt the same way. I’ve been a full-time working mom, a part-time working mom, and a part-time working from home mom, and I’m now a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom (with a side of blogging). I think having all of those experiences helps me appreciate the life I have now, but it also gives me a wide arc for empathy and understanding of those around me.

    • Anne says:

      Yep, I definitely feel the same way.

      And I love the way you put this: “I think having all of those experiences helps me appreciate the life I have now, but it also gives me a wide arc for empathy and understanding of those around me.”

  2. Alisa says:

    I enjoyed reading this a lot because you were speaking my life from a completely different perspective. I am a single mother who works 40+ hour weeks outside the home, and it was interesting hearing about my daily experiences from your perspective because I agreed with each point you made, but from the other side of the looking glass. Particularly the part about abandoning routines and how stressful it is. I’m a teacher, which means I get the summers off (thank God!!). I’m nervous, though, because during the school year when I’m at my busiest, my life runs like a well-oiled machine. I’m up and at the gym every morning by 5am. My meals are planned and healthy. I am organized. I’m a full-time grad student, so there is time for reading and homework and analysis. I make time to blog, to do my freelance writing, and to run my business. But in the summer? Oh my goodness. I don’t work out nearly as consistently. I struggle to make deadlines. I’m unorganized. I don’t plan meals. It’s a mess… and I have nothing BUT time! You’d think it would be the opposite, right? Not even close!!

    Anyway, I really appreciated this post. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I worked full time for 7 months in 2011, and childcare was the hugest stress. Babysitters canceling at the last minute, or coming late, arrangements falling through… I think if I were doing that long-term I’d get a nanny. It would cost more, but at least have a bit more stability than juggling the schedules of 4 different sitters! Then again, I also find childcare to be my biggest hurdle in working more flexibly from home too.

    The other challenge I had was my frustration with face time. After a couple of months I negotiated with my client to be 25 hours on-site and 15 hours working from home and it became more manageable, but at first when they wanted me there 8-5 (which means being paid for 8 hours but actually being away from home for 10) it was frustrating. Generally speaking I prefer to be paid by the product or project, and then I can get it done on-site or from home in a way that makes sense, and I don’t get penalized for working fast.

    • Anne says:

      Oh goodness, I relate so much to all of this! There’s a lot to be said for reliability and stability. And don’t even get me started on face time and the commute!

  4. Maggie B says:

    I work a regular 9-5 type job in finance & I don’t have children (unless a husband and a dog count?) but I often find that having a plan makes everything just work better. It doesn’t mean I stick with it all the time, but it helps to know it’s there. I keep about 3 calendars running at all times (office, iPad, home) so that I don’t miss appointments. With work, and meetings 2-3 nights a week, sometimes I’m just exhausted. I can’t imagine taking another bit of work – like a part time job of homeschooling kids. Though should we be blessed with children, homeschooling or private school will be the way that we go.

    I think food planning is the biggest thing that helps me. I plan out my meals and grocery lists on Fridays, do my shopping Saturday or Sunday afternoon and sometimes cook at least one of those meals on Sunday. I find that if I don’t plan a meal we run into trouble – too much take away. =(

    Smart of you to utilize the crock pot when extra busy. I frequently forget I have one, but I utilize my freezer for extra portions so I always have ’emergency rations’ if I need them. =)

    Really loving your blog – it’s an inspiration for me!

      • Maggie says:

        I just realized that my original comment said “a part time job of homeschooling children” when it should have said “a part time job OR homeschooling children”. I didn’t mean to sound diminishing of people who home school. 🙁 sorry!

  5. Kelly O says:

    I’m a full-time, work outside the home mom who puts in 40 hours a week all the time. I’m fortunate in that my commute is fairly short (15-20 minutes without traffic, but I live in Houston, so who am I kidding?) and daycare is on the way to work.

    I have one child, and it’s challenging. I often wonder how people do it with more than one. Planning is absolutely key. We’d be eating pb&j every night and pulling things out of the dryer still damp if it weren’t for that.

    • Anne says:

      Ha! Sorry about the Houston commute. 🙂

      I’m glad you’re making it work with one child. All I can say in response to the “how do people with more than one child do it?” question is that people do what they have to do. (Although I did drop out of the workforce for a year when my firstborn was one, because things were not working. Sigh.)

  6. Jaimie says:

    I’m a full-time college student right now (one semester to go!), so because of classes and work schedules, every day is a little different when it comes to routine. My habits of meal-planning, regular house-cleaning, and blogging the day BEFORE I want posts to publish all come and go. Sometimes I get behind. Sometimes I’m right on track. But I definitely find it easier to keep ON track during the summer when we’re not in school. This coming summer I’ll be working half-time, and working on a project with a couple blogging friends, so I’ll want to be a little better than I was last summer about structuring my days.

  7. Stacey says:

    I used to work as a teacher professional development trainer. In this role I would go weeks without working outside the home at all and then I have a week where I was gone the whole time. While I loved the actual work, I have to admit that I had a really hard time with the two completely different schedules. I admire the way you are making it work!

  8. Jennifer H says:

    I had something similar happen last week when I had to suddenly go from 18.5 hours per week in an office to 33.5 hours due to a co-worker qutting (she said “retiring”) with no notice. I spent the first three days panicking and on the verge of tears. Then I asked my bible study group to pray for me Thursday morning (via e-mail – didn’t have time to go), and I have not felt overwhelmed once since. This situation will probably last at least through May, which means I won’t be able to have my weekly lunch date (our version of date night) with my husband. And as time goes on, this will become my new routine.

    The point of my rambling story is “don’t underestimate the power of prayer”. 🙂

  9. Jillian Kay says:

    The childcare thing is draining. My oldest starts kindergarten next fall and all of the arrangements are threatening to take me out before I even get there!

    Plans are almost always worthless at my job, so I plan what I can — meals, drop offs etc. If I have structure in areas that are the most important to me I can deal with the rest.

  10. Mary says:

    I’ve found that I need to plan but then be ready to change the plan at a moment’s notice. It’s like I can be flexible if I have a plan in place but if I’m starting from scratch it’s hard.

  11. TracyE says:

    As a mom who regularly works outside the home 40 hours a week, I absolutely know what you are talking about. Planning is key, it takes me a few weeks to adjust our routines when new sports come into play and it is flat-out exhausting. However, in answering your question: I was a SAHM for 5 years when our kids were little and when I went back to work I was able to see both sides of the coin so clearly and I still do. I miss SAHM life but for now, this is my life, our life and I do the best I can with it and the knowledge of life on both sides.

  12. 'Becca says:

    I got a lot of insight when I was unemployed while my partner was working full-time, in the summer of 1998. Prior to that I’d been working full-time while he was a temp–so some days/weeks he was working and others not, and in theory when he wasn’t working he was writing a computer game. I was annoyed that his game never seemed to get anywhere and that he didn’t get much housework done and that he never gave any thought to what we’d have for dinner (let alone started cooking) before I got home. He got a six-month contract job just before I was suddenly fired. I thought the silver lining of having some time off was that I would do lots of work on the novel I was writing.

    What I learned was that I am really bad at getting much done when there’s nobody watching! Home alone in beautiful weather, I’d often decide to go outside with my library book (I’d found a bunch of good suspense novels that were hard to put down!) for “just a little while” instead of sitting in front of the computer. When I did try to write, I felt like I should be sending out resumes; when I was working on cover letters and such, I wished I was writing my novel; either type of work was easily interrupted by my noticing that something in the room needed to be dusted or that my pet rabbit was cute and should be played with. I did keep up with my usual chores, but I completed very few of the household projects I thought I’d do. Sometimes I had dinner ready when Daniel got home, but usually not.

    The other thing I learned was that this wasn’t necessarily horrible. Whereas I used to come home from work and complain that Daniel wasn’t being useful enough, he would accept whatever I had or hadn’t done and was puzzled when I went into a frenzy of guilty excuses. I remember especially a day when I was lying on a beanbag in the front yard, reading, and lost track of time until he was suddenly standing there smiling at me and said, “You look so happy and so pretty.” He felt that I deserved this relaxed time, after the ordeal I’d had at that job. Now, it’s true that he’d never had any ordeal like that to make him “deserve” his non-working days, but still, did the very fact that he wasn’t earning money on a particular day or week mean he was obligated to take care of me and the house or to put in 8 hours of programming? I realized I had been assuming a lot and resenting him for not living up to it. I still struggle with this kind of thing occasionally, but that season of role reversal helped a lot.

    Thanks for sharing your insights! It’s always reassuring to hear from other people who aren’t so good at working full-time. I went back to full-time when my son was 4; he’s 8 now, and we’ve gotten a lot of things under better control, but I still often feel like I don’t know how to manage! 40 hours plus commute is just a lot of time away from home.

    • Anne says:

      What a great story. It’s so interesting how both of you handled the shoe being on the other foot! I gotta admit, your unemployed lifestyle sounds pretty great: beautiful days and suspense novels? Yes please!

      “I realized I had been assuming a lot and resenting him for not living up to it. I still struggle with this kind of thing occasionally, but that season of role reversal helped a lot.”

      Amen to this.

      I’m glad things are in better control now, but I’m also happy for you two that that experience from all the way back in 1998 paved the way for good things ahead.

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