What’s the worst part of parenting? Is it the sleepless nights? Slime stains on the carpets? Having DanTDM constantly on the TV? Or is it the guilt?
Parenting guilt is horrible. I had so much of it during my daughters’ early years – every time I had a problem with their health, or their behaviour, or their sleep, I would worry that I was doing something terribly wrong that would ruin their lives and/or turn them into awful people. It eased up a lot as they got older and I realised that most things didn’t really matter all that much and as long as you could get them to the end of the day having fed them and kept their limbs attached you could call it a win. But this week I’ve had a bit of a specific subset of parenting guilt, and that’s working-parent guilt. And an even more specific sub-subset of parenting guilt, working-from-home-parent guilt.
One of the things I love about freelance life is the flexibility to be there for my kids when they need me. I get to go to school plays, look after them when they’re ill, and take them to visit their little cousin in London every half-term. But the summer holidays present a challenge. Six weeks is a long time to have them at home, and, more importantly, it’s a long time to be earning no money. So work I must. I was fortunate enough to have a busy spring, which meant I could afford to take on only a few projects in July and August, but it still means there are days, like today, when I have to get someone else to look after my children, and I feel guilty about it.
It’s very odd. I used to work outside the home, and while I sometimes felt sad that they were off having fun without me in the holidays, I never felt particularly guilty that I couldn’t be with them. I took as much time off as I could, but at the end of the day I still had a job and was still expected to show up for it. When you work at home, it feels more like a choice. You are the one who makes the decisions about whether and when you work, so even though the work is there and it needs doing or you won’t get paid, and so it’s not much of a choice at all, it can feel as though you are choosing work over your family, and that kind of sucks. But sometimes it has to be done. I can have the best intentions of working around my kids, but if that means starting work at 9 p.m., the quality of my work is likely to suffer, and there’s every chance I might not actually find enough of those evening hours to get the work done.
So today, I’ve packed my children off to my parents, who are going to take them to the cinema. I’m sure they’re having a wonderful time – the girls adore their grandma and granddad, especially because Grandma makes cakes with them and does craft projects and lets them do all those other activities that Mammy rarely has patience for. My own memories of being looked after by my grandparents in the school holidays are so precious to me, so I know that spending a day with my parents is probably of more value to them than spending yet another one with me. But still, I have this weird guilt that I’m letting them down in some way and, of course, the guilt of asking my wonderful parents for yet another favour.
I wonder if women find this harder than men. That’s a genuine wondering – I’ve never really talked to any freelance dads about it, whereas it’s a conversation I’ve had many times with fellow mums. I think most mothers feel the pressure of work-life balance very keenly because childcare responsibilities are usually ours, so when the demarcation between home and work gets fuzzy, perhaps we are more affected by it. Or perhaps not – perhaps it always hits the work-at-home parent more.
As work-at-home parents, maybe we need to be kinder to ourselves, and stricter about the way we think about our work. Our responsibilities to our clients are important, and just because our boss is us and our office is the spare room, that doesn’t mean it’s any less crucial to show up and put the hours in. And to all the other work-at-home parents out there wondering how they’re going to get through this constant juggle of childcare and work and bored kids and purse-draining days out – hey, we’re almost a third of the way through already. We’ve got this.