Writer, with Kids: Stephanie Pearl-McPhee


Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, New York Times bestselling author of At Knit’s End, Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter, Free-Range Knitter, Things I Learned from Knitting, Casts Off, Knitting Rules, All Wound Up, and her blog: Yarn Harlot.

Age of Kids: 18, 20, 22

I began to support my family by writing books (although I’d always written, just without the pressure of any real success) about eight years ago when my daughters were ten, twelve, and fourteen. At the time, I remember people telling me that they thought that it was a great match, being a mum and a writer. After all, I worked from home, my workspace could be wherever my kids were, I worked the hours I wanted to, and I had great and tremendous flexibility, so I could always be there for them.

At the time, I believed everything people were saying to me. I could see how it was all true, and I kept trying to feel lucky, and like my life was easier than theirs, but for some reason I couldn’t quite puzzle out, every single time someone told me how great it was, I wanted to pluck their nose hairs out just to watch the tears well up. It has taken years for me to clarify my position, and Cari said I could write whatever I wanted for this blog post, so I’m using it to do what I hope is a little favour for writing parents everywhere. Read this next sentence carefully. It’s the important one.

Writer is not a synonym for stay-at-home parent.

I have a job. I know writing looks like it isn’t a job, I know it sounds super fun, and I know I get to do it from home, and I absolutely concede that it is pretty amazing to be able to go to work in my underpants, but I feel like after almost a decade of trying to balance my culture’s perception that I’m unemployed with the reality of having a full-time job, I’ve decided it’s a diaper of a different colour. Like most parents – or at least, like most good parents, I have always put what my kids need first. Absolutely first – so I did feel lucky that when one of my girls re-enacted the vomiting scene from The Exorcist I could put down the work and pick up the kid, but like all parents who work, it didn’t change the amount of work that had to be done. All of the allegedly amazing things about my job turned out to be big challenges. Enormous challenges, and as the years went by I became increasingly jealous of the parents I saw who had guaranteed and protected time to work every day. I had to work very hard to learn how to defend the time I needed to write, and how to explain to the people around me that while I wanted to be there for my kids 24/7, and how I knew that it looked like my job made it possible to do that….that I really was going to need some time to work that was protected the way that leaving the house and going to an office protected the productivity of other people with jobs. I needed to learn what I was going to say when people were surprised that I needed childcare now and then, and I needed to learn how to explain to my family, friends, and community, that writing wasn’t play time, or personal time, or fun time, or a hobby. It was the same as the work they did. That last part turned out to be harder than anything else.

One summer, a mum and I chatted about how she’d just managed to secure summer daycare for her kids – and I responded with envy. I think I said I had a ton of work to do, and was really worried about how I was going to manage once the kids were off school, and this mum expressed surprise that I would want or need childcare when I had the flexibility of being a writer. Didn’t I want to put that time with my kids first? Weren’t they my number one priority? At the time I was on a book deadline, and while writer isn’t a synonym for full-time parent, writer on a deadline is absolutely equivalent to lunatic – and it was all I could do not to smack her. I asked her why she needed or wanted childcare. Why wasn’t she putting her kids first? She owned her own business – there was no boss to stop her, I mean, why not just take that pack of hooligans to the office? What could possibly be the problem with that?

She laughed that way people do when they’re a little bit frightened of you, and said that she absolutely could not take the kids to work with her. She had work to do, and though she tries to put her kids first, if she had to take care of her kids nothing at work would get done. She’d have to let them watch too much TV or spend their whole summer photocopying parts of their various anatomies, which (while fun) was hardly good for them. She giggled with the ridiculousness of it. I stared – and in that moment I realized something. She didn’t just think that I had all that flexibility about when I worked, she thought I had flexibility about how much I worked at all. After all, I was a writer.

If a writer doesn’t work, they don’t make money, just like any other job. The other real truth is that there’s more than one way every parent needs to care for their family. Meeting their physical need for a loving parent is one thing, but what part of not buying them food is helpful? For most writers with kids, the gift of flexibility means that on those days when one of the tykes has barfed for nine hours, a writer can put absolutely put off their work. That gift then pays off as the writer starts typing after the kids are finally in bed, after they have put the disgusting sheets in the washer… and then they stay up half the night pretending that drinking a whole lot of coffee is good for you because of all the antioxidants in it, and silently pray that the dose will mean they live long enough to finish the book. For writers who need to write (and I don’t mean that in a spiritual, but financial sense) being a writer and a good parent means that you are sometimes going to have to choose between your kids and your work, just like if we had office jobs, and while we’ve accepted that – it would be a hell of a lot easier if we didn’t have to deal with a world around us that thinks that being a writer means that we’re the parent on the committee who has the time to bake those 98 cupcakes the school needs for the bake sale, because of all our fabulous work flexibility.

From the outside, I know that the perks of our jobs must seem pretty amazing to parents who don’t have them, and I bet that right now, some non-writing parent who’s searching for good daycare is scoffing the snot out of the idea that I’m envious of them, but I have been. The reality of the writer/parent is that the stuff about working full-time outside the home can look like heaven to us. Every writer/parent I know does a huge chunk of their writing after the kids have gone to bed, working into the wee quiet hours, and then staggers through their day with the kids. The ability to use what flexibility the job granted me was amazing – but the difficulty of having that work respected, and protecting the time to do it was almost impossible. I know I’m not the only writer fantasizing about a world where every day they went to a small room that their kids weren’t allowed in, and worked without interruption. Being a working writer who has a child or three, and who can’t afford or doesn’t choose childcare means that parent/writer is actually doing two jobs at once, with both being disrupted by the effort. Like someone working outside the home who has to leave their kids to get it done, the writing gets interrupted by the parenting, and the parenting gets interrupted by the writing and the writer struggles to find some kind of balance.

Over the years that I’ve been a mum, I’ve watched the phrase “working parent” disappear, and fairly so, it’s been replaced by the idea that all parents work, either inside or outside of the home. As the ideas around work and where it happens change, as more and more people telecommute or work from home, maybe the next step is to work on our creating a way of thinking about the dilemmas of working artists at home with their kids, cleaning up puke, baking cupcakes, trying to nail a word count, drinking way too much coffee, and thinking a whole lot about Virginia Woolf and how right she might have been about having a room of one’s own. All that flexibility has a price.

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Posted in parenting, Writer with kids
85 comments on “Writer, with Kids: Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
  1. Carrie says:

    Such a thoughtful post, Steph. Sometimes I feel like the grass is always greener when it comes to parenting – I get jealous of my sister, who gets to stay home with her son, while I drop C off at daycare and work in my office. But then I talk to her and find out that she is jealous of me! because I get a break and time to think and breathe and then am reunited with my happy toddler after work. Posts like this are awesome because they remind me to not assume that I know what anyone’s life is like. (Although I am jealous of going to work in your underwear. ha.)

  2. Rebecca says:

    Once again the Harlot nails it on the head. This. This is why we must honor everyone’s work and parenting. Both are important.

  3. Cindy says:

    So well articulated, Stephanie! As a book publisher who works with a lot of writers — most who write from home with young kids — I see that struggle often with being perceived as not having a “real” job. And I see people with kids go into freelancing thinking incorrectly that they’ll be able somehow to bend the space-time continuum and both work full days and bring in money AND have all the time to stare blissfully at their wonders of developing children. Thanks for the thoughtful piece.

  4. Dr. Steph says:

    Yep. As someone who chose to leave a very flexible job for a 9-5 office one, I can relate. I personally needed the rigidity of the office and childcare so I could be a better worker and a better parent.

    Must also say that no work environment is all that family friendly. No matter how you earn, if you have kids there is some trade off– either money or time to work if you’re self employed like a writer or some other marker of success/advancement/merit pay if you’re in the office and choose a sick child or a long summer break or less hours or no working after 5pm for your family

  5. Steph VW says:

    Reading this, as a parent who works outside the home, who peeks in on the webcam to see her kid at daycare, who sometimes takes a day off and (with much guilt) sends her kid to daycare so that I can get things done around the house or run errands, this Stephen Covey quote comes to mind: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

    So many of us make assumptions about the lives and work of others without really asking questions. I can’t imagine trying to work from home with my son running around (he’s almost 3). I would feel awful for neglecting him and I wouldn’t get anything done for my work.

    Thank you, Cari, for this series of helping people understand.

  6. Mary K. in Rockport says:

    Wow. As usual, the Harlot gets it exactly right.

  7. This is so, so, so important for not only other parents to realize but also spouses/significant others. That when you decide you need the daycare, your spouse supports hiring a babysitter or whatever it is that you need. We recently started doing this because I was working the two jobs (parenting and writing) and just couldn’t keep up anymore! My awesome husband agreed it was time to hire someone to help, and I’m so grateful we did it.

    Thanks for such a well written post, Steph! I hope other non-writer parents see it and understand a little of what we go through.

  8. Oh, yeah. I love that you hit on the bit where people think we get to do it in our free time. Being a writer means we HAVE no free time. I just got off a 52 hour shift, into which was built 8 hours of sleep — I’m going to take a three hour nap and then get up and write because I have a book due in 6 weeks and I just realized that OH SHIT I HAVE A BOOK DUE IN 6 WEEKS and it’s still in shitty first draft mode.

    Thanks for this, and thanks again, Cari. Great series.

  9. Jessica says:

    As someone who hears from misguided family and friends far too often the “Why can’t you do X for me? Look at all that free time you have!” I applaud this post. I’ve gone from people not valuing my time as a stay-at-home mom to people not valuing my time as a writer. I will often schedule little writing retreats away from the house while my children are at school during the day. If I’m home, even if the children are not, there are still expectations put on me.

  10. Kay says:

    This isn’t just regular true. This is fancy true. This is true with raisins.

    As a copywriter, I have daily deadlines, which I have to meet every single day without fail in order to keep my job. So sometimes, my son has to wait. Even if he wants to play or be held or needs a little more than just puke clean-up and a brief snuggle. Sometimes that breaks my heart. We are struggling every day to find our balance, and there are days when my husband comes home from work and finds us both a sobbing mess. I still wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

    Office job parent, work at home parent, stay at home parent – I think if we all listen to each other with openness and respect, we can learn a lot from each other.

  11. Barbara says:

    I’m a knitting designer, but the situation is very similar. I thought I could handle running my own business while raising 2 kids. Thankfully my husband was more realistic, and suggested part-time preschool when he saw I wasn’t managing both. I still have a small amount of income as a self-published designer, but it’s hard to even find time to answer my email. I’m also lucky in that my friends realize that I really do work, that it means a lot to me, but it doesn’t mean I love my kids any less.

  12. Presbytera says:

    Yes. This. But also for those husbands who have flexible schedules, because then people think HE isn’t working very hard if he has time to pick up one of the kids from school. They don’t see how many evenings he’s gone at meetings and missing bedtime. Paired with a freelance mom, we are apparently the Slacker Couple of the Year.

  13. Michelle says:

    As always, the Yarn Harlot gets it Oh. So. Right. In my case, replace “writer” with “Grad Student”– who takes classes online. Not only do some look down at me because I attend an online accredited University (it is NOT a degree mill), but they do not take my status as a student as being as worthy as working. All of my homework involves writing long, detailed, and researched writing projects, and it can be impossible to sound articulate when I am writing in between a mom to 3 kids in 3 different schools. Yes, family comes first, but I cannot graduate if I cannot keep up my grades, and that means my homework has deadlines that must be met. Some days I am quite jealous of my husband as well. Yep, I can sooo relate.

  14. Raymonde says:

    This is so true! I’ve been a translator/voice-over artist/actress for over 20 years and well, most people still don’t believe that I work!!! They feel that anything you do at home or that’s creative, isn’t really a job… I’ve stopped trying to convince those who don’t understand, I don’t have enough time or energy to waste. I just hang out with people who are in the same situation, it’s a whole lot easier! :-)

  15. Vicki says:

    This also applies if the children are grown. As a professional crafter trying to eke out enough money by selling my projects to fund a frugal lifestyle, I hear from many people (including those I live with) how wonderful it must be to have all that time at home, and oh, would you mind doing this for me since you’re home? Well, yes, I do mind doing this. And this. And especially that! While I might be crocheting, or knitting, or making soap, or papercrafting, or dyeing yarn, this is still my job, and I need to actually put in time making these things in order to be able to sell these things in order to be able to pay my bills and put gas in my car so that I can do “this” for you. And this. And occasionally that.

    Thanks, Stephanie, for a thought-provoking post. I only wish that the people who need to read this will find it. And then I hope the lightbulb over their head goes on and the bells ring and the whistles blow and they finally understand.

  16. pattyv says:

    a parent is a parent is a parent……Parents work 24/7 at home and/or work. I’m a working mom and my co-workers can hear me telling my kids to make sure homework-showers-and clean up is done before I get home or else! I get home at 6:00 pm and MOST days when I open the door, it looks like a tornado went thru it.
    Anyone who works at home with little ones still in it, I bow to you.

  17. Kisande says:

    Thanks Stephanie, I feel that I gained a more true perspective/respect for writers who write from home. Before reading this and really thinking about it I was probably one of “those” who thought “gee those writers have it made.”

  18. Sarah says:

    Goodness, you’re right. Reading your post, I realised that I have been subconsciously thinking (for a long time now) how nice your life looks, and how you make me laugh when you describe being busy in a chaotic way… but really, it’s all Wonderful, right? As soon as I realised I’d been thinking that… I stopped thinking it. I could imagine myself in your situation, and how hard I would find it to get a work life balance (I have a supposedly structured 9-5 job, as a doctor, and no children, and I still can’t get a work-life balance), and I could also imagine that there was a long period before you were able to articulate these things where you might have had very confused feelings about why you didn’t feel as blissful as everyone expected you to… Thanks.

  19. Margaret says:

    Well said Steph, the main thing people don’t “get” about writing is all the thought, corrections, rewrites, do overs etc. sometimes under stress, not to mention all the changes from the back and forth at the end to meet publisher or editor expectations.
    It would astound everyone to know how many weeks work, or more if you do intense research, it takes to produce the final page of printed text let alone the whole book.

  20. Julie says:

    The Grass is Always Greener – As a freelance technical writer, I have worked from home for the last 15 years. I can work through the kids screaming/arguments/appliance meltdowns. When I am working, they are billable hours.

    Two months ago, I started a tech writing job in an office. I loved buying new “work” clothes. But, was very surprised by how little work I actually got done. Everyone stopped by my cubicle to say hello and welcome. And every time, I had to stop working and make polite conversation. If I have a couple of questions for the architect or the engineer, I can lose 30 minutes while they talk to me. But, the biggest shock came when I lost an entire afternoon trying to help the marketing manager solve a graphic problem. I am trying to tell myself that I am working; it is just a different type of working.

    At home, I felt so productive. At the office, I feel like I need social skills more than I need writing skills.

  21. This post answers so many questions I had, and raises so many others, about the possibility of being a mum and a full-time writer – right now I am neither, but am mulling over the possibility of both. I have bookmarked it, properly tagged “career planning” (I am a librarian, after all – I tag). And I look forward to reading your wise words several times over. Thanks.

  22. Karen says:

    What an interesting post–and so relevant on so many other levels. I work a day job (which I love–I am not complaining) and don’t have any children. But I have a live in sweetie and, at the end of the day, when I come home, we both need attention from each other. Although I am not a professional writer, I do enjoy writing but have been sorely neglecting it since he moved in. My life became divided between my work time and my couple time and my self expression time and the opportunity to see if any of my other talents were solid enough to make a living at disappeared. I also knit and he LOVES it that I knit. But knitting is social. We can watch a movie together or talk or go out for a drink and I can knit. Writing–not so much. Funnily, the other night, I sat down to write on my blog for a few minutes and he asked what I was doing. When I said I was writing, he said “Oh. Cool. I’ll leave you alone.” That’s when I realized that abandoning some of our couple time to have Karen time was perfectly fine and the guilt I was feeling about it was totally self imposed.

  23. Katherine says:

    Though I don’t have kids, I can completely see how this kind of thing could irritate the heck out of a person. I work out of a business, but for all intents and purposes am self-employed. The number of times people act puzzled when I tell them I can’t drop everything and skip out of work on short notice or for an impromptu trip, it boggles my mind. If I don’t work I don’t get paid, I assumed this was a thing that everyone understood. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Phenomenal article! You really hit the nail on the head.

  24. Mandie says:

    Thank you so much for articulating what I’m always feeling, but not as good at expressing about being a work at home mom. I’m not a writer, but I think most everything you wrote applies to my business run out of my home as well.

  25. Karen says:

    P.S. Originally I was going to leave a comment that said “well then why don’t you go out and get a real job” but I didn’t know if everyone would get my sense of humor. It’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine when people say that to creative people. Especially since, so often, people are asking creative people (musicians, writers, photographers, etc.) to do free work for them.

  26. shadylady1216 says:

    Years and years ago, I had a chance to co-author a book. It wasn’t going to be a very important book or have a very wide audience, nor did it come with real money. It would, however, have given me a published book with my name on the cover and a chance to establish my credentials as a writer and historian. I had a toddler and an infant and a husband who worked two jobs. When the stipend attached to the contract ran out before the book was finished, there was no money to pay for the child care I needed and no financial, practical, or emotional support available from my husband. Eventually I was fired from the contract, and my co-writer never spoke to me again. It was the one time in my life I failed utterly to complete a project or meet an obligation. My husband would not treat it as a “real” job because it didn’t come with real money. There was no respect for the work because it was almost unpaid and absolutely no protection of the time needed to do it. I never tried again, and no longer regard myself as a writer, only as someone who can write. I’m still hurt about it. I wish I’d had these words all those years ago.

  27. Joanne Seiff says:

    Amen, Sister.
    I am struggling to find some childcare for my 10 month old twins so I can start writing again. Well, that and I would like to eat or go to the bathroom or sleep 4 hours in a row again. People act like freelancing is not a job or that taking care of children should be completely fulfilling. For me, it’s not. I miss my creative working life–heaven knows when I will find two day care spots and get some of my life back!!

    And yes, I love my family enough to know I must go back to work! (feeding them and sanity are at stake!)

  28. Kayla says:

    So true. I’m a transcriptionist, and I work from home and have done for the last six years. I love my job, and the flexibility it allows me, but when I am on a deadline, have some court case that NEEDS TO BE TRANSCRIBED, I cannot just set things aside. I have to type to make money, and as much as I love my kid, putting her in daycare kept us both sane.

    The thing I resent the most about my job is everybody thinking they can do it, that it wouldn’t be so hard. I worked HARD to get to where I am and the income I earn. While it’s not a boatload of money, and I can’t afford to travel the world any time soon, it keeps our family comfortable. And when people call me or email me or tell me through a friend of a friend of a friend that they would like to become a transcriptionist to afford to buy junior’s shoes and have a spa day every now and then, I scoff. My job is a job, and I’m bitterly protective of that.

    One thing I found invaluable is getting up at 5:00 a.m. Sounds ridiculous, especially when I think back to my teenage years, but it really, really works. I’m so productive in those early hours of the day, and my husband (bless him) handles the kiddo from 7:00 until 8:00, gets her dressed and fed and takes her to school, and then I get to finish up my work, shower, maybe even fit in an hour’s nap, do some housework, etc. It’s finding that balance, what works for you and your family that makes working from home so difficult, and it certainly doesn’t help when people are on the outside looking in and assuming that I don’t really work, that it’s just something I do to keep busy and hell, maybe they should do it because they have an hour here or there available. *sigh*

  29. Judy says:

    Stephanie’s comments are so accurate. This has been true and unrecognized for years. I did two things so it was possible to work from home when my children were here: insisted that the company offices be in the building plans when we moved out of the city and hired a teenager to take care of the children every afternoon. However, there is one thing you cannot evade when your offices are in the same place as your home: the work is always calling!

  30. Lori N says:

    I read this as my husband was outside working on the foundation for a writing shack we’re building this spring. We’re both writers, working from home with 2 kids, a dog, and the dream of a place we can be “away from it all” and work. We’re building our dream house — 64 square feet of distraction free/responsibility free space we can escape to when on deadline. Here’s hoping it works! :)

  31. Sharon says:

    Loved this post! As a teacher, and mom of 4, I can both sympathize and empathize. Everyone assumes that as a teacher, I have all the same time off as the offspring. They don’t consider the time spent after school hours in grading papers, and writing lesson plans. They also assume I am off for 3 months in the summer, when, in fact, I am required to fulfill continuing education requirements to retain my certification. Meanwhile, I am trying to manage a household, and provide my children with extra-curricular activities — and still be on call 24/7 for the parents who have questions about their child’s progress!

    I love what I do, but I sometimes wish the parents didn’t consider me to be their personal unpaid nanny.

  32. Joy says:

    How do you get started in a creative job that you want when you’re still working a 10 hr a day job that physically and emotionally wipes you out? I want to test my creative potential, but I’m really exhausted for at least 5 of 7 days a week and the other two are usually spent pretending I have some semblance of a social life or catching up on house work. (I’m on strike with the dishes.)

  33. Kelly says:

    I would love to spend time writing about how much I enjoyed the article and the thoughtful comments that follow, but my 17 month old son is trying to paint the brown leather sofa with his 12-year old sister’s navy blue nail polish.

  34. JodyO says:

    I commend you trying to find words that make sense to the non-working from home person to read about what it is like to work from home on a full time (plus) job. I teach online full time for our local community college and find that people assume that: 1) this is easy, since the students must just do this themselves like an independent and 2) I don’t have to put in as many hours since I don’t have to show up at the college every day and 3) I can drop everything to eat out, watch their kids, drive people around, and 4) I have it made.
    I have wanted to scream from time to time, thinking that it would be nice if someone would acknowledge that instead of having an hour of class where I listen to a group discussion, I have to read the written discussion of 35 people. Or that they would understand what it takes to create something educational, creative, interesting, and challenging for people who range in age from 16 to 57.
    So thank you for working so hard, in challenging circumstances, in order to create the blog and books that you create. They are well done, thoughtful, fun, and a gift to us all. And thank you for articulating the ongoing struggle of all people who work from home, and then get envied, or not taken as seriously as those who go to a “real job”. It takes incredible self discipline and strength to work at home and get it all done. Bravo.

  35. Teish says:

    My husband is self-employed and works from home quite a bit. People assume that if he’s home, he’s available. They don’t get that he’s been shut in the computer room on the phone with customers for the last six hours!

    I’m a home educating Mom of four and my writing, while not yet making me any real money has become the equivalent of a part-time job in the process. I could totally identify with this article!

    “Why yes, I do sit on the couch watching soaps and eating bon bons all day!” LOL! Someday I’ll have the nerve to say that to someone! 😉

  36. Kristi says:

    I work from home, telecommuting to an office. It amazes me how surprised people are to learn that I send my child to daycare, as though the only thing keeping them from bringing their child to work in an office building with them is that their boss wouldn’t allow it.

    Newflash: Guess a big reason why your boss wouldn’t allow it?

  37. My favorite comment that I received after someone asked what I did and I explained to that that I make knitting bags and dyed yarn was “Wow. I would have thought your house would be sparkling clean then.”

  38. As a fellow writer with a three year old (and who stayed up til 1am this morning to get my work done), I thank you for making me feel justified in attempting to protect my work time.

    It doesn’t work, and I get told I’m ungrateful when I point out that if I don’t earn enough to pay the mortgage, it won’t get paid but at least we know we’re right!

  39. Imra Nazeer says:

    You hit the nail right on the head. Honestly, I feel grateful for the days I work in lab instead of home. Whenever I chose to work from home to get any writing done I am amazed at how unproductive I am with any writing when my 5 year old is around. Almost all the writing then gets done in the wee hours with gallons coffee. I will try to remember this post when I feel bad about my unproductive work days when I expect myself to write and be a mom at the same time.

  40. Kristi says:

    Thank you so much for validating all the conflicting feelings I have lately! I’m not a writer, but I have my own rapidly growing business and a toddler and teenagers. I love them both beyond measure but trying to balance them is seeming more and more like a herculean task. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.

  41. Lori says:

    Stephanie, love your post.
    When my son was young I “only” worked part-time, which somehow made my work less important and this made me contemplate violence as well.
    I know moms who work from home and they get the same crap you do from others!

  42. Hattie says:

    So well put. A few years ago when I was living with my ex husband and his parents I had a similar issue. I wanted to stay home with the kids, we didn’t pay rent so we really didn’t need me to have income. My ex and his mother would NOT leave me alone. I started an online course, a full time course for a bachelor degree. One where I was expected to put in like 10 hours of work per day for ONE class and I had 3 (also the program was all year, no breaks, and 10 weeks per term so it was really intense). I started that with my son about a year old. That wasn’t enough so I also got a part time job. I got pregnant with my daughter and maintained a 4.0 even logging in at the hospital after giving birth to turn in assignments. STILL not enough. No one considered that I had school work and the whole family was just at me all the time like I had all this leisure time. I ended up having to drop out 2 years in because I couldn’t get the time to do my school work any longer! Just because you’re home with your kids, even moms who aren’t in school or working, just being a MOM is a job and people need to keep that in mind!

  43. Marcia says:

    Something I heard recently that I keep needing to remind myself of: Whenever you compare your life to someone else’s, you need to remember that the part of their life that you see is their “highlight reel” – of course that’s going to seem better than your own behind-the-scenes daily grind. You don’t usually know all the sacrifices or downside of whatever it is you’re wishing you had.

  44. rachel says:

    I’ll be finishing up my bachelor’s degree in studio art in December. Thank you for this.

    Most of the time, I feel like I’m caught between my professors and other students who take me seriously as an artist or a student, but maybe less so as a parent, or people who take me seriously as a parent, but not so much as a student. I still haven’t decided which one seems harder to bear, but I feel like I can’t ever begin to describe the relief I feel when I meet someone who does understand and takes both roles just as seriously as I do.

  45. annie says:

    So well said. Aside from the talent and knowledge necessary, it takes such discipline to work independently from home. I so admire those of you who do in spite of nearly overwhelming odds.

    I have almost always worked in offices. I can tell you that when writing is required, doors are closed, calls are held, and no interruptions are allowed. Even for a few pages. Don’t let anyone say it isn’t so!

  46. Judy Chun says:

    I can so relate- at lest a bit. When I was still commutingfor work, my boss allowed me to work from home a day a week and sometimes more. My family now expected that I could do the laundry, run errands, make dinner, pick them up from wherever- you get it- do all the things they would never dream of it I was 30 miles away in my cubicle. Friends and neighbors were not a whole lot better. You have to learn to say I am working and mean it. It was hard. Other peoples’ perceptions should not drive us but the reality is they do at times.
    You do great work, are an incredible mother and one of the most creative people around. It has been hard but you have done it and done it well.

  47. amanda says:

    I am a stay at home mom. I have been for 31/2 years I was let go during my first pregnancy and knowing that my husband was a long haul trucker sometimes gone for weeks at a time WE decided that I would stay home with the girls so that they didn’t have to grow up without anyparents. Everyday I feel jealous of all those moms who get a break and therefore like their time spent with their kids and everyday I feel guilty for wanting that break from them. Thank you again for letting me know I’m normal yarn harlot I’m so glad you have the ability to put into words so much of what I am thinking

  48. Kate says:

    YES! YES!!
    As a mom who has both worked from home and worked in a downtown office … YES! You’ve nailed it perfectly.
    The running joke around here is that the REAL reason I wanted an outside job was so I could, at least once a day, go to the bathroom by myself.
    Actually, I wanted it so I could finally be doing something that the rest of my world considered to be “real” work. As opposed to whatever it was I did from my home office that, you know, just paid bills and stuff.

  49. Judy B says:

    Well said, thought provokingl.

  50. cecelia says:

    Well put. I played violin professionally for years. Remarks ranged from “what do you really do?” to ‘my what a free-spirit you must be’, sometimes accompanied by the raised eyebrow. Some in my family even said it was not a real job. My world was practicing, rehearsing and performing, giving lessons, going to lessons, keeping audition pieces in shape and keeping the job that put food on the table and rent paid. Since most of where we played was someone else’s celebration, treat or night out , it was an odd meeting of the worlds. Awesome essay. Thank you.

  51. Anna says:

    Thank you, Stephanie, I needed to read this today! I’m a stay-at-home mum with a one year old and a three year old. I’m also a self-employed knitting designer and it’s stressing me out at the moment because I have no time to actually do any work, except for the in the evenings and odd bits at weekends. And yes, everyone thinks working from home must be perfect! Because you can be there with your children! But still working! And it really doesn’t work like that.

  52. Amanda says:

    I am also a classical musician, and work from home. I completely empathize with how difficult it is to protect work time when working from home. I too often find myself justifying how I spend my time, and explaining how if I take time during the day to run and errand for my husband, etc, I then must make up that time at the end of the day. There is a set amount of work that absolutely must be finished, and if it isn’t, there will be no food on the table. There are no such thing as paid time off or sick days. Although I am happy to work from home, it can be extremely frustrating to face attitudes that align “self-employed” with “unemployed”, and therefore don’t give my hard work the respect it deserves. Very well put, Stephanie.

  53. Jo says:

    Thank you Stephanie for this. You are expressing a lot of the frustration I feel every time anybody tells me how lucky I am to work from home! I am lucky and it is my choice (well, given that I can’t do much else and childcare in London is ridiculously expensive) but, as you are saying, somehow people don’t seem to consider it as real work that requires concentration and alone-time. It absolutely cannot be done while cooking dinner with one arm and helping children with homework with another. It cannot be done while doing emergency babysitting for other parents who have to go to work, or while entertaining my mother who has turned up two hours earlier than the allotted time of her visit, or while helping out on a school trip… Or while reading blogs, for that matter!

  54. MelD says:

    As a SAHM and translator – yes, absolutely. I see the same thing with my husband. People hear he is “home” on Monday or Friday or we have gone out for coffee mid-afternoon – but they don’t see him in the home or work office or working on a presentation or any of the things that keep him at the computer/work for 16 hours/day many days. When he is “home” he is nearly always on the phone with never a word in edgeways…

    Then there’s the single mom I knew who would complain to me about how hard it was in her situation – working 80% in an office, with one child (I had 3 and was self-employed) – and then swanned off every other weekend to retreats, spas and on fancy dates etc. etc. while the kid was at his dad’s… I wish!! (Much as I love my DH!)

  55. Brandi says:

    I get alot of the same flack from people. Just because I can work from home doesn’t mean that it isn’t work. In fact a regular job would have less hours. I run a fiber animal rescue and I hand process everything from it. Between marketing, blogging, care of the animals, and processing I work 12-14 hour days. A regular job is 8 with over time getting extra. Do I get envious ….yes!(but not enough to quit I love my job)

  56. Teresa says:

    Absolutely! I have lived on both sides of the fence. I found out early on, I need that time of day to just be me. I need a reason to shower, dress, and use my first name. I have often told my four boys; ” I love you guys, just not all day”

  57. Kirra says:

    What a wonderful and thought-provoking post. As a writer why is planning to have children in a few years and *ahem* hoping to eventually make some money from my writing (but for now is just so so grateful to have a husband who actually enjoys his steady engineering job and is supportive of my wanting to write), this is an issue I hadn’t thought about much until recently. Being a writer and a SAHM seem so compatible, but then of course when I think about it, I remember that being a writer means actually getting work done on a regular basis, and that would of course be much more difficult when there is a child (or 2 or 3 or 4…) needing frequent if not constant attention. Not that that will stop me from having children. But I think I have to keep in mind that I WILL be a working parent, even if I do my work at home, and that I will probably have to admit sometimes that I’ll need help or need to get away from the house from time to time.

    In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the wonderful freedom I have for now and go write my butt off for the rest of the day!

    Best of luck to you!

  58. Adrienne says:

    Honestly, I think it’s crazy that so many people fail to understand this. I don’t have kids, but I’ve *met* kids, and it seems fairly obvious that getting work done while they’re around is not really happening. I have to think that people think that writers (and other people who work at home) don’t *have* real jobs that they actually have to put time into.

  59. BJ says:

    I’m a full-time carer. IE the wife of a person who through no fault of his own is now profoundly disabled. I don’t know whether I’m more stunned that some people wonder why I don’t work as well, or that some people are shocked that I leave him to have coffees or go for walks. I am not paid, have no protective union to fight for decent working conditions and OHS guidelines. All the (mostly wonderful) people who help us are dedicated and supportive. But the perception of what I ‘do’ and the advice about how I ‘should’ do it drives me mad. Walk in my shoes, youse. Walk in my shoes…

  60. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you, and as Vicki said, I hope the people who need to see this will. Years ago, pre-internet, my sons were little and I took on a tech writing contract of some size. It was only a few weeks before I realized that I could not write well enough, nor get enough done, if I could not get uninterrupted blocks of work time. So I engaged a sitter two afternoons a week, which was enough to let me ‘catch up’. Today (sons are grown!) I find that working from home is still difficult. (I am at home two days and in the office three.) There are phone and email interruptions that in the office would be a 30-second conversation. I am close to retirement and am looking at work-from-home writing again. But work-from-home is still perceived as part-time and not important, or (worse yet) as a temp job.

  61. kristieinbc says:

    Awesome post Stephanie! I think it also applies to being a “writer with friends.” It has taken a long time for me to establish boundaries that say I am not available for chunks of time because I am writing.

  62. Miranda says:

    I have telecommuted for eleven years, since my boys were 5 and 3. The flexibility is great, and the commute incomparable, but I too have always had to fight to protect my work time, and to defend my work as “real” work. I have a PhD, for crying out loud, and I chose to use it in a nontraditional way rather than spend my life in the lab. Even with the disrespect, I have absolutely no regrets about my choice, and have been so happy to have been there to raise my boys and lately to be the sole support for our family. I am about to make a lateral/upward career move that will require a rather nasty commute for a while, but I am looking forward to having colleagues, an office, and a chance for advancement. Alas, there are still those feelings of guilt about leaving my two high school guys, and of being undeserving of doing this for myself.
    Thanks, Steph, for speaking out about how so many of us feel.

  63. Cynthia says:


  64. Chandi says:

    I totally agree. I don’t have kids, but I have a dog and she sits and whines at me all day while I try to get work done. I throw her toy a whole bunch. She wants more. I feed her. She needs out. I pet her, she wants more petting.

    But I wouldn’t trade the experience. I simply appreciate the quiet times more and revel in the fact that she adores my attention so much.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  65. Carol says:

    I completely agree!!! I too work from home. While I am not a writer of books or essays, my job requires that I write reports for a living and I am always on deadlines. I am also the mother of two kids, now 28 and 19, and my 19 year old ( now away at college) is a special needs kid. The majority of Mom’s in my kids classes throughout school, did not work other than at being a good Mom. They really did not understand what it was like to live my life….working til all hours of the night, getting up at 4 am to finish a report etc…having to reschedule work appointments etc… because of a childs illness, the Halloween parade or whatever! They didn’t “get it” that I could not volunteer for class activities because I was working (since I work from home).Most people think I have it easy, after all I have flexibility. But what I’ve learned over the years is that flexibility means you can work 24/7, and my work weeks are often between 70 and 80 hours .
    My husband, however, has always been wonderful about driving kids, taking them to appointments etc..and doing housework (yes he does ALL the laundry), and thats been my saving grace. Its allowed me to spend quality if not always quantity time with my kids, and still get my work done.

  66. Brenda says:

    Great post! I am not a writer, but I have been working from home in our family business while homeschooling 4 children for many years. I can completely relate to everything you said. I often remind myself that I have to take my work time seriously if others are going to take it seriously. It’s a very hard thing to balance.

  67. Heather Campbell says:

    Absolutely–and not just writers, as several people have suggested. I’m a university professor, so come the summer there’s The Conversation that goes: “Oh, so you’re off for the summer?” “Well no, not really. Summer is when we get on with our research and writing.” “Oh, really? But you’re at home, right? Must be nice to be off for the whole summer.” [Repeat until … well, to the point of madness, really.]
    Thank you for this post, Stephanie!

  68. RachelG says:

    Having worked on both sides of that coin, I know exactly what you are talking about. I especially loved this: “Like someone working outside the home who has to leave their kids to get it done, the writing gets interrupted by the parenting, and the parenting gets interrupted by the writing and the writer struggles to find some kind of balance. ” Thanks! Once again, you said it exactly right.

  69. Carol U. says:

    Thank you so much! I am sharing this with my friends and family. You’ve just described my life’s dilemma as a stay-at-home parent who also works as a freelance writer and editor. I have a 7 and 3 year old and just this year got used to the idea of hiring someone to watch my kids for a few hours a week, or hiring someone to clean my house so I could work — more, that is, on top of the weekend and evening hours. Thanks for representing!

  70. Julia says:


    I love that you articulated so well the issues around “what is work”. While I realize this forum is geared to parents, the parallel conversation (or addition to your post that you briefly touched on) occurs in our society between single and not-single, or with-children and without-children.

    Without going too far down the road in this brief comment, I can’t tell you how many times I experience the “While You Were Sleeping”* pehnomenon (people telling me single folks with no children have it so easy). Right. If I lose my job, nobody else’s paycheck to rely on for bridge to next position. Who used up the last of the milk and didn’t put it on the shopping list? Who went to the store and forgot to buy the milk on the shopping list. Nobody to bring me more tissues or aspirin or even make tea when I couldn’t even drive myself to the doctor I am so sick.

    My brother recently divorced his wife. Almost the whole term of his marriage, he would make comments like “how lucky” I was that I could do what I want when I wanted. He never saw that it was only after making arrangements to take care of all the things I have to do to keep my life on rails (who is going to feed the alpacas and the cats?), and setting aside money from other daily life needs to try to save for that special opportunity.

    We all could do with a little more “walking a mile in anothers’ shoes”.

    *movie with Sandra Bullock, where, because she is single without family, she gets asked to cover for colleagues taking off all the holidays for family gatherings

  71. The Situationist says:

    Thank you, Stephanie. It’s really helpful (as others have said) to hear from others who work at home with or without children. After I lost my hearing and with it my well paid, interesting work in an office, my husband and I started a business from home. It doesn’t pay very well but just enough to make ends meet. However, I do suffer greatly when friends and family assume that my time is less valuable than their paid office work and that at the drop of a hat, I can leave it and do something for them. Because we spend so much time at home, there is a general perception that we have “retired”and can donate our time to anyone who asks.

    For me, the most important thread to emerge from this discussion is that we all need to listen to each other and respect that each of us gets 24 hours a day to fit in all our responsibilities, whatever they may be and to make time to spend with those we love.

  72. Gina says:

    THANK YOU Stephanie! This, more than anything, explains WHY I am sitting at my computer right now (4 AM). Trying to get some work done while kids are asleep. And to think I thought this self-employed thing would be easier than the cubicle life. Ha! Live and learn, but thanks for your great explanation. I am sending a link to my husband right now…..

  73. Liz says:

    You are absolutely right. When my kids were small, I did data entry work at home. As you said, I wound up working into the wee hours when I didn’t get it done during the day with the demands on my time. My husband has worked nights for 33 years and, unfortunately, the general puplic seems to think that means he has all day to get things done. I can’t count the number of times family and friends have asked him to do favors for them during the daylight hours because he’s “home”. When do they think he sleeps?

  74. Amy Jeanroy says:

    High five of the sleep deprived. Other than the short and hideous few months that I worked during my first pregnancy, I have spent my entire career working at home.
    17 years, and 5 kids later, it doesn’t get any easier. I simply became used to it.
    Because I also homeschool them, my schedule is regimented. If someone wants me to *just run down to the store* for something, my day is ruined. Seriously.
    Having said all that, I would never give up my life. This is just exactly the way I wanted to turn out: slightly loony, creative, mommy of many, who dreams of sleep. Perfect.

  75. Silverspinner says:

    I am not a writer but an RN who worked nights. I had three young kids who went to day care so mama could sleep during the day so mama could work at night.
    Most everyone I talked to would refer to my day sleeping as naps which used to frost me. No my day sleep was not a nap, it was the same as sleeping at night done at different hours.
    Then there was the chairperson of the cupcake committee who thought I could whip out 6 dozen cupcakes since I was home all day.

  76. Krista says:

    I loved the comment left about needing a reason to use my first name. As a teacher, a mom, and someone married to a man who only ever calls me honey, sometimes I forget what my first name is.

    This post resonated so much with me. I do get to leave home everyday for work, but my own children come with me, and unfortunenately as someone pointed out before, a teacher’s day does not end at 3:30 when the students leave. My own kids are sometimes at school with me till late in the evening while mom grades, copies, plans, calls her students parents, attends staff development, and so on. Summer “vacation” isn’t much better. Being a teacher’s kid, especially in the school where mom teaches, is no walk in the park. Mom rarely gets to be just mom. All of this to say that my new motto in life has become, every family has to do what is right for their family and they should all be respected for that.

  77. Samjm says:

    Great post! While I’m not a writer, I do work 30 hrs a week from home. I set my own hours, so that means I work from 9pm – 3am every night. And then I get up the next morning, load up on caffeine and homeschool my 2 kids. There are enormous benefits to my work situation, but it is not easy. Some days I’d love to run away to an office so I can get my work done AND get a somewhat decent night’s sleep!

  78. Heather Ordover says:

    Amen, sister.

  79. Colleen says:

    Very true. I hear the same sort of thing about teachers and college professors, who “have shorter workdays” or “only work 10 hours per week” or “get summers off.” Just because a job doesn’t require you to work in a space outside your home on set hours doesn’t mean you don’t work.

  80. Kate Hopper says:

    Amen, Stephanie! And I clearly need to get your books. And hang out with you, if that was possible.

  81. Pamela says:

    It is such a true post. Even those who work outside the home have those pressures. I hate the weekends when my DH says ‘what are you doing this weekend’ as though I have nothing in the world to do but whatever project he deems necessary. I usually have several things I want to complete with precious little time to do so.

    I need to work outside the home, because otherwise nothing would get done. Although my children are older, I have given up vacations, time with friends, etc., just to be there when they needed me. I’ve taken days off work to feed athletic teams, to work on school projects, and all the fun things that I can. I’ve told other parents who apologize for not being there that I understand and will be glad to help them any way I can because I have a little more flexibility.

    As women and parents we need to work together more to make the world better for our children. Squabbling among ourselves isn’t going to accomplish this task.

  82. Heather says:

    OH, thank you. A million times, thank you. Now I just need to know how you got inside my head.

  83. Alyssa says:

    I feel like this is so true for me, even though I don’t work from home and am not a mom. People need to step back and respect each other’s experiences. I’m a student and a waitress, so at school I get to battle the idea from teachers that all students do nothing in their off time and at work I battle the idea that I must have made a poor decision to have ended up working as a waitress. When I come home, I have to study, period. I’m not as fun as I was before I was in college and get some gruff about spending more time with my friends, to which I try to explain that I have to study. “But you’re smart! You get good grades!” and how do you think I get them? So a thousand times: thank you.

  84. Such a powerful and spot-on essay. I have only been a stay-at-home dad for about a year and a half, but I went into the journey thinking that I’d be able to write and parent well. Eeek. Ouch. Nope. I am very much in the process of trying to learn a balance–and I learned a lot from your piece. It’s a tough road to find time to write and be an involved parent–and that’s only with one. I can’t imagine with three! But I hope I’m somewhere on the learning curve (hope, hope, hope…)

  85. Carrie says:

    Beautifully articulated! I work from home as a technical writer 26 hours a week. And I homeschool. And I keep my 5yo niece. Like you said, the hardest part is figuring out how to play defense about what time you need and when you need it. It’s….well….a bit nuts. It’s May and I’m already shooting down requests for my volunteerism NEXT school year for various things. No! No! NO! NOOOOOO! I will hold strong, and I will portion out my schedule as best I can to avoid dropping all of these balls. (Apologies for typos; dealing with a child-footprint-shaped LED break in my netbook screen….)

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