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Me. Cake. Want. Eat.

Every mother I know eventually finds herself asking the same question –
What now?
I don’t mean it in the “I’ve conquered Mt. Everest and cured cancer, so what now?” kind of way.  I mean it in the, “How can I be the best mommy possible and yet not allow who I was before mommyhood to die?” sort of way.
Because we all want to be a good mother, and often feel guilty even thinking that it may not be enough for us – that we do not feel whole or content to be simply “mom”.  At the same time, we can’t imagine how we’ll do anything other than stare at our baby’s face, mesmerized, for hours at a time.

I do believe that every woman looks at her newborn baby and truly wants to be the best mother possible for that child.  I know that most women see their babies as blank slates and feel heavily the responsibility we have to write on them – in permanent marker.  But what does being a good mother look like?  There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.  I can’t think of a single girlfriend who is 100% content with the way her life looks right now, with the balance she’s struck between staying home with the baby, keeping her “outside” skills sharp, working on her relationship with her husband, and bringing income to the family’s budget.  I think every single woman wishes her family was independently wealthy, that neither she nor her husband had to work and both could stay with the kids as much as they wanted.  Having that life, though, I bet most every mom would still long for some sort of life outside the home, some additional way of defining herself, if only for a few hours a week.
I read emails and posts from women torn up about leaving their kids with sitters, but having no choice if they’re going to make their mortgage payments.  I hear other stories of women who are full-time stay-at-home moms panicking as they think, “Is this it?  Is this the shape of my life for the foreseeable future?  Fingerpaints and sippy cups?”  I see queries from women who know their families need additional income to stay afloat, but who are reluctant to head back to the work force – “Does anyone know any ways to work from home and make some cash?”  I myself feel that pull constantly; I enjoy teaching a couple nights a week, and we certainly need the income that teaching provides, but as the hour of my departure from home approaches each workday, I find myself growing sluggish and depressed at the thought of disengaging from my family life, if even for a few hours.
Women from the generation before mine fought so hard for the right to be working moms – for the right to return to full-time employment post-partum, the right to pump milk at the office, for adequate daycares in big corporations, that I see an epidemic of women my age feeling guilty for wanting to stay home, almost as if we’re betraying the women on whose shoulders we stand.  There’s this urban myth going around that a woman can have it all: can be a great, PTA-attending, bake-sale contributing, car-pool sharing mom while still pulling down six figures as a high-powered executive who never misses a deadline.  Books have been written about this:  I Don’t Know How She Does It is the funny, fictional side of the dilemma, while The Mommy Myth and The Price of Motherhood look at the sobering realities of having society send you such conflicting messages as, “You can do it all!  Don’t let having a baby ‘ruin’ your life!” while also saying, “What?  You don’t make a twelve-layer torte every day for dinner while ironing your baby’s homemade diapers?”  And does this sound familiar?  At a party, a stranger asks you, “What do you do?”  You reply, “I’m a full-time mom.”  “Oh,” the person responds, uneasily.  A pregnant pause while he tries to figure out how to relate to you.  “Well, what did you do before?”

Then there are the women who feel guilty for not feeling guilty about going back to work: those women who had jobs they loved before getting pregnant, who worked really hard to develop the skills to do those jobs and feel fulfilled and useful at work.  Or who return to work with an eye on keeping healthcare for their family, or building up maternity leave to have another child.  See?  It gets complicated.
All of my friends have come up with solutions as best they can, and none of them, as I said before, are 100% happy.  One friend works part-time and anguishes over the amount of time her son spends in day-care.  One friend took her daughter’s first year off to stay home full-time, and has now returned to her medical residency while her husband stays home and, as much as she loves her work, she’s confessed that she’s been “happy” that her one day off in two weeks coincided with her daughter’s illness so she was able to stay up holding her and comforting her all night long, only to return to work sleepless the next day.  Another girlfriend juggles two or three jobs from her home so she can be around her son full-time and bring in extra cash.  Work-at-home moms (WAHMs) don’t usually have a burning desire in their heart to sell candles over the internet.  They have a burning desire to raise their children themselves, and are trying to figure out a way to swing it financially.
Since starting this website, I’ve been meeting up with other WAHMs on the internet.  There are a lot of great resources out there for women trying to stay home and still bring in money.  mompack is a free organization (I’m happily a member!) of WAHMs helping other WAHMs – offering internet tips and encouragement, bartering services, you name it.  With a membership count in the thousands, they are a powerful united force that’ll help you figure out everything from how to dropship something to Spain, to how to find that perfect color red for your website graphic.  A few other websites include wahmplanet, wahmteam, and mothers work at home.  Many sites can act as a clearing house to help you find advertising services, marketing help, wholesale distributors, and so forth. 
I’m not saying working at home is the answer for everyone – that’s my point.  There is no answer to this thing, and it's fraught with problems because it involves not just what's best for your children but financial issues and personal fulfillment.  In a perfect world, we’d all have 100% of our time to devote to our children, and yet magically have enough money to cover bills and still feel fulfilled as an independent person.  I’m not pointing fingers at any mother’s decision, whether it’s to work full-time or personally home school all her children or stay at home until they’re five or . . .the choices are endless.  It’s just that none of them are perfect, or without sacrifice.
And as for me?  I’m the worst of any of us.  I’m basically a stay-at-home mom, but I do this website too so I’m a work-at-home mom in addition to working outside of the home twice a week.  See?  Cake.  Me.  Trying to eat.
Or at least I would be trying to eat it, if I had the time.


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