When I started my business almost four years ago, the first place I went for advice was Facebook. In hindsight that sounds like a not-so-great idea, but as a new mom, I knew that Facebook groups facilitate conversations between women. I wanted to eavesdrop.
I spent a lot of time in one particular Facebook group that had tens of thousands of members. It was for moms who were running online businesses. After a while, I started to see the same question pop up over and over - almost on a daily basis.
The question went like this: “I have 1/2/3 children under 5 and I am their sole caregiver Monday-Friday, 9-5. I also run a business. How do I do both of these things successfully at the same time?”
My first reaction to this question was confusion about the question. How? What about why? As in,
“Why am I responsible for figuring out, on my own, how to do both of these things successfully at the same time? Why do I even think that that’s possible?”
I’d learned a lot of lessons in my first year of motherhood. But no lesson has scarred/stayed with me so deeply as this: caregiving IS WORK.
I had never taken care of a human who couldn’t do anything on his own. I found out it’s hard. It’s not something I could do while also trying to do another job.
Have you ever tried to dress another human being who flops around like it’s his job? Work.
Ever fed a person who cannot ask for what he wants to eat or drink? WORK.
Ever carried a person around for hours and strapped him into and out of seats with buckles and harnesses? W.O.R.K.
If you do these things on a good night’s sleep, they are hard. Add exhaustion from waking up multiple times a night, and they are… an accomplishment.
I also struggled with my own feelings of guilt. I had full-time childcare when I started my business. What if turned out there was a way to juggle caregiving and a business, and I was just too lazy to do it? So I wanted to hear other women in the Facebook group respond, “You don’t do these two things successfully at the same time. No one does.”
Instead, the answers were always the same. “Work during naps!” “Get up at 4 a.m.!” “Stay up til 2 a.m.!” “Train your kids to play on their own!” “Find a mythical high school student who has reliable transportation, loves children, is not a total flake, and is willing to take minimum wage!”
In her book Forget Having It All, Amy Westervelt writes, “We expect women to work as if they don't have children and raise children as if they don't work.” This is said of women who work full-time outside the home, but I see it applies to women who start their own businesses while staying home with their kids. Why are women still struggling so valiantly to do everything, when it’s just not sustainable?
Many times it’s the women themselves who claim that this works for them. “This is just my side hustle; I can still manage it all.” “I don’t want a babysitter. I WANT to be with my kids.” I meet women who are making more than their husbands but who have 10 hours or less of childcare a week. Does that sound like a dream to you? To me it sounds like a recipe for burnout.
Women should do what they want. I am not interested in telling women what to do and that’s why I’ve avoided writing about this topic for so long.
Here’s my issue: childcare is “real work.” It is a job. It’s not something that takes care of itself. When I’m with my kids and naptime comes around, the last thing I want to do is more work. I have been working. I am tired of watching women undervalue the labor they do taking care of their kids.
As moms, we talk a lot about “self-care.” Most of the time I roll my eyes at the idea. I have so much to do, and now I need to add “self-care” to the never-ending list?
But what if self-care has less to do with meditating or taking a walk or whatever? What if self-care has everything to do with calling bullshit on a system that allows moms to feel responsible for primary caregiving and finding time to assert their own identity and make money for their families all on their own? What if self-care is calling B.S. on a system that doesn’t even acknowledge that those moms are working two jobs?