The Secret No Mom Likes to Admit

By Sasha Brown Worsham | January 14, 2015

I quit my last full-time job in April of 2007 when my first child was three months old. I’ve always known that it was the best decision for my family, but since then, there’s rarely been a day when I haven’t questioned it.

As a director at a pharmaceutical company, my husband’s job pays significantly better than mine as a writer so it’s only practical that I cover the childcare. We now have two more children and two things have stayed consistent: I have always worked from home and I have always longed to be the breadwinner and for my husband to stay home with the kids. Rare, I know, but I find more tangible success through writing.

The grass is always greener, right?

I am not alone in thinking that way. It seems that many moms, regardless of their choices, wish they were doing something different. Forget the mommy wars — this is the real secret moms are keeping: Stay-at-home moms want to be working. And working moms want to be at home.

The problem, of course, is that either role is often not a choice. “The most important factors contributing to a mom’s happiness and life satisfaction aren’t really about whether they are at home or in an office,” Erin Olivo, PhD, author of Wise Mind Living, tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s about whether or not they have made a mindful choice.”

Paola Cruz, a working mom-of-two in Massachusetts is exhausted and overwhelmed and feels increasing guilt about her daughters’ long days. “They leave for school at 8:30 a.m., they’re in aftercare until 6:00 p.m. and sometimes, if I have to run an errand, we don’t get home until 7:00 pm,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.

Staying home was never an option for Cruz, who puts in long hours helping run her husband’s car business. She returned to work soon after her first daughter, now 8-years-old, was born. Cruz often wishes she could be a stay-at-home mom and to that end, is encouraging her husband to hire more help.

The life of a working mother can feel incredibly hectic and insane, says Katrina Alcorn, whose book Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink described her own working mom meltdown. One day, Alcorn found herself sobbing on the side of the road after realizing that she couldn’t do it all. “Most days it felt as though our lives were being held together by Band-Aids and Elmer’s glue,” she wrote. Alcorn eventually quit her job to briefly stay home with her kids before scaling back to a more manageable job.

Of course, working moms aren’t the only ones harboring secret desires for a different life. Jael Gorham a stay-at-home-mother of three who lives in Massachusetts, says her life is one she chose by default and she often fantasizes about returning to work.

Her SAHM life is very different from the one she envisioned when she quit her job after the birth of her third child. Gorham describes her existence as a series of tasks that go unfinished or get immediately undone after completing them. Wash the dishes, dirty them, wash, rinse repeat. “It’s less Zen and far more hamster wheel,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.

Choices are a good thing. But not when we feel confused about whether we’ve made the right ones. That’s why psychologists suggest we focus less on finding that unicorn called “balance” and more on finding peace.

“Right now I feel like I’m doing everything and none of it well,” Stephanie Branly, a working mother-of-two in Georgia, tells Yahoo Parenting. She says that family time interrupts her job and her job interrupts family time. “I am stressed about not being my best professional self and sacrificing time at home in order to be this mediocre employee,” she says.

Los Angeles based psychologist Katherine Schafler works with many working moms like Branly. She says the answer isn’t being 100 percent certain with all of your choices. It’s in finding your own “happiness ratio.”

Any big lifestyle decision comes with its share of concerns: Am I doing the right thing for my children? For my life? For my marriage? But the amount of questioning is what really needs to be examined. If your ratio is 75 percent doubt/25 percent happiness, it’s time to explore some changes. “Questioning doesn’t signal anything except that you made a big lifestyle decision,” Schafler tells Yahoo Parenting.

Sometimes it is not even our own questioning that confuses us — it’s that of others.

Amy Kelley is a stay-at-home mom-of-three living outside Cleveland, Ohio. She quit her hectic job in social work seven years ago after the birth of her twins. It made sense because, as a social worker, she didn’t earn enough to cover childcare.

“I miss making a difference in people’s lives (other than my kid’s). I miss having a life outside the home,” Kelley tells Yahoo Parenting. Also, she feels ashamed. “I feel like I’m judged by others for not having a job and for my reasons why I don’t.” Others often make offhand comments that her life “must be nice.” Kelley would love to work, but at this point, their family is accustomed to having one parent at home.

Schafler cautions against listening to other people. “Mantras can help,” she says. Things like: ‘There is no perfect’ or ‘I am doing enough.’ “You don’t eradicate the fears and insecurities,” she says. “You have to manage them. Say to yourself: ‘OK, this is part of that dynamic you are always going to encounter as a parent.’”

Gorham likens her SAHM struggle to the one she experienced while looking for a life partner and wondering whether she would ever have kids. “If someone could tell me with certainty that I will be able to go back to work, I could probably relax and enjoy the present a bit more,” she says. “But as it is, I end up thinking a lot about the things I should be doing differently.”

It comes down to managing emotions and perspective. That means calming the mind and body by using writing or relaxation techniques and focusing on what is positive in your life. Olivo recommends a gratitude journal to focus one’s thoughts. “The key is to remember that you have a choice about where you place your attention,” she said.

Exactly. As for me, I appreciate the flexibility that allows me to maximize both time with my children and writing, even though I sometimes worry. And when the doubts creep in, I will practice my mantra: “Choices are a blessing.”