When I tell people that I work from home, they usually congratulate me on my good fortune. I agree with them; since my employer made me a 100% telecommuter nearly two years ago, I’ve had nothing but positive things to say about the experience.
I fulfill all the stereotypes poking fun at people who work from home: I frequently work in my pajamas, Afro smushed in the back from a rough night’s toddler-interrupted sleep, eat breakfast and drop crumbs around my keyboard, without a single care about being judged for my appearance. Friends laugh when I describe my desk. This, they expect, because it’s what they’d do.
But when they tell me, “It must be nice having the baby home with you!” I have to backtrack. “She’s actually in daycare all day, ” I tell them. They nod and say okay as if they get it, but the puzzlement on their faces indicates otherwise.
In truth, it’s seemingly the perfect setup. Work from your guest room and save money on the commute, wear and tear on your car, save all that travel time (an hour and a half for me), and potentially save money on daycare. All the win in the world!
And yet I pay for a childcare provider to watch my 2 year-old daughter full-time. Why?
The complicated truth about being a work-from-home mother is that I still have to work, which means that, even if my child is physically in the room with me, I am mentally elsewhere. I believe my daughter deserves to have a fully present parent. It would feel selfish for me to keep her penned in the office with me when she wants to run.
I find it difficult to concentrate on spreadsheets and take care of an active 2 year-old. My daughter treats the world as her jungle gym, climbing, exploring, and crashing into her environment when she is not sleeping. If I kept her home with me, she would (rightfully) demand more of my attention than my employer would allow me to give her.
I learned this firsthand during her infancy. When she was five months old, I kept her three days a week because I was still breastfeeding. She was easy to please back then and spent most of her day playing with her toys on the bed next to my desk. But once she started crawling, she rolled dangerously to the edge of the bed. I realized I could not keep her safe as she grew more active.
In this current toddler stage of her life, I would rather my daughter (an only child) be in a social environment with other children. I want her to go outside and practice “playing nice.” At daycare, she is also learning fundamental concepts from her teacher. My job forces me to be stationary at a desktop computer, which means that I could not do much besides push toys and television at her, hoping she could entertain herself.
I love spending time with my daughter and would generally rather be with her than at home by myself. But my last reason for sending my child to daycare is a bit less pretty: I still covet that break from motherhood. Sometimes the silence in my home during the day is nice. Our time away allows me to re-charge and get ready to be fully attentive. When we reunite in the evening, we collide into each other in a blur of hugs and kisses.
I find myself explaining my reasons for daycare because the common perception is that families only send children to a provider because they have to. This is not true for my family: I choose childcare because it fits our situation. Our daycare provider is five minutes from my home and my employer graciously allows me the opportunity to clock out for family emergencies. In the event that the facility is closed unexpectedly, I am also able to keep my daughter without taking a day off work, even if it makes working more difficult.
If I could find a way to be a full-time mother and a full-time worker simultaneously without shortchanging either endeavor, I would shout it from the hills. But this arrangement is my compromise and I have made my peace with it. This is my motherhood.
Dara Mathis is a freelance writer, editor, and poet who lives in Georgia with her husband and daughter. Her writing interrogates the politics of respectability for women, concepts of femininity, motherhood, and the intersection of race and gender. You can catch her tweeting reckless acts of punctuation on Twitter @dtafakari and at daratmathis.wordpress.com.