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The stay-at-home secret: I stay at home, and I earn an income, too

These days, small talk when I’m out with my young child typically quickly turns to the question of whether I work or am a stay-at-home mom. The answer is actually Option C: I work from home.

That option wasn’t offered in a 2014 Pew Research Center poll of mothers. What the survey did find, however, was the number of women who identified as “stay-at-home mothers” was on the rise for the first time in years. I suspect that if “work-at-home” was a choice, it would have accounted for the shift — because, yes, if I was forced to choose, I would have to say I look more like the traditional version of a stay-at-home mom. I am the sole caregiver for my son during the day, which is broken up with errands or playdates. But as soon as he goes down for a nap or my husband returns from work, my second shift begins.

In this, I find I’m not alone.

One friend wakes up early to complete an HR shift for a company in another state. One was able to convince her company to let her work from home after her first was born. Many more I know are like me, freelancing for a variety of places. And that’s not to mention the moms who send you Facebook invitations to like their Mary Kay or Etsy business pages.

At least for me, working from home is out of double necessity. The “work” part is essential because, even though my husband makes six figures, a mortgage, hefty student loans and other immovable living expenses mean we wouldn’t have much left over for savings without my contribution. The “from home” part is all but mandatory because childcare costs would take too big of a chunk from any part-time income I could earn.

As it is, I make better profits from squeezing in four hours of work per day without childcare than I likely would from working eight a few days per week with my son in daycare.

Although I didn’t do an exhaustive search, the one part-time nanny service I considered charged $17 per hour, while my reliable gigs range from $15 to $50 per hour. When averaged out, the profit margin didn’t make sense to me, especially when I considered what I would be sacrificing with that time away from my son.

I am very aware that in past years, I wouldn’t be able to be a hybrid worker.

My mom was also in the news business, but without a computer in our house until I was approaching Kindergarten or anything that resembles the online opportunities I have, she had to pick between the newsroom and home. After settling on home, she continued to write a newspaper column, although even that required weekly trips to the paper to file her next story and pick up a check.

Fast-forward 20 years and, pre-baby, I was able to work full-time for a website for two years before ever meeting my bosses. Better yet, as a new mom, I continued to make a handful of phone interviews while nursing a baby without missing a beat.

I am so thankful that I came into motherhood now.

I don’t know what I would have done if I had to commit fully to option A or option B. The rise of remote work and contract gigs enables me to contribute to my family, and also to avoid any resume gap and maintain an identity outside of Mom.

Still, as every parent is sure to understand, there are days when I wish I wasn’t pulled in so many different directions. It would be nice to take a few moments to breathe when my son goes down for a nap instead of rushing to do as much work as possible. There are also times I envy my husband’s ability to go focus entirely on work without anticipating the baby’s waking cry over the monitor.

I am appreciative of the work-life balance my relatively flexible job affords me.

But, in other ways, the line was blurred from the very beginning—when my son arrived two weeks early, I had to finish up stories that were on deadline during his first week of life. Even now, without clear boundaries between work and home, both seem to spill over. As my son gets older, naptime gets shorter and bedtime gets later. I imagine this will only make my efforts to fit in some work more challenging.

From the outside looking in, it may appear I’m mostly finding a way to have it all. When people tell me I’m lucky to work and stay at home, I generally agree. But even my way of making money comes at a price.

This article was originally published on The Billfold.


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