So, is it easier to be at work or at home with the kids?

“Work is a break for me” and “Heading home now to the real job” are some of the comments I used to hear from work colleagues who were parents – this was before I had children myself, and really, I didn’t believe them. Surely they were just trying to make themselves sound busier, in a slightly patronising “You don’t know the half of it!” kind of way?

Six years later, I can see where they were coming from.

Discussions about whether it’s easier to be at work or at home regularly crop up in real life and online – many mothers who work outside the home freely admit that it’s easier to be in the office, while many others are envious of their friends who are at home full-time, and don’t have to deal with a day that’s book-ended by stressful, chaotic crèche runs, and punctuated by occasional feelings of doubt and guilt.

To scientifically* assess which is easier in my own life, I compared my four days in the office last week with my one day at  home (*not very scientific at all). 

Some highlights from my four days in the office last week:

A surprise cappuccino on my desk on Monday morning, lunch with my sister on Tuesday and lunch with my husband on Wednesday (in effect, a date!).

Many, many cups of tea, all of which were hot, all of which were consumed in peace at my desk, and none of which were interrupted by requests for bananas, colouring paper or a trip to the playground.

Two particularly satisfying meetings, from which I emerged feeling like something positive and productive had been achieved (which happens less frequently than I’d like).

My coffee at work doesn't actually look this fancy (image: OfficeMum)
My coffee at work doesn’t actually look this fancy

And some challenges from my Friday at home:

Getting up and out on time for the school drop-off after four hours sleep (not due to being out clubbing, but you knew that)

The kids would have been much more interested if the GP was Doc Mc Suffins (image:

A two-hour round trip to the GP and pharmacy; waiting, an out-of-stock medicine, more waiting, a fed-up two-year old  trying desperately to wriggle out of my arms to go back to playing with the automatic door, and a clock ticking ominously towards school collection time.

Spending an hour and a half waiting to be seen by an eye-doctor in the afternoon; a fed-up two-year old trying desperately to wriggle out of my arms to go back to playing with the water cooler, and two big sisters trying to be supportive but starting to visibly droop long before we were finally called.


Then again I could put it another way:


Some challenges from my four days in the office last week:

Leaving the house at 7am, when it’s cold and dark outside and the kids are not fully awake.

Feeling guilty arriving home on Monday evening to hear that Sam had been out of sorts and upset all day.

Hours and hours of meetings, including one that ran over on Tuesday evening, prompting a stressful commute home and a failed attempt to be on time for the childminder.

A particularly frustrating and confrontational meeting on Wednesday that culminated in cross words and a half-hearted agreement to disagree, leaving a black cloud hanging over me for the rest of the evening.

And some highlights from my Friday at home:

Breakfast with my smallies instead of rushing out before they’re awake, complete with an extra hug from Emmie, whispering “Mum I love Fridays because you don’t have to go to work”

Bringing Clara to school – my one day to do this. Notwithstanding the fear of being late (which far outweighs any concerns about being late for work), I get to reassure myself once a week that she’s happy and relaxed walking through the classroom door.

Going for coffee and scones with Emmie and Sam, with the added bonus of bumping into a friend and sharing a table. And Sam only biting open six sachets of sugar.

Collecting Clara from school – seeing the huge smile light up her face on realising that it’s me picking her up.

Discussing music with the kids on the way home from the eye appointment – important topics like agreeing that Katy Perry is more famous than One Direction. Then mass confusion ensuing when the kids asked “Who are the most famous band in Ireland mum?” and I answered “U2”. They heard “You two!“, so replied, “No mum, don’t joke, we’re not famous – who is it really?” And so it went on – I laughed for twenty minutes when I worked out what had happened (but that may have been down to four hours sleep and three hours at medical appointments)

Katy Perry deemed more famous than 1D (image credit Wikipedia)
Katy Perry deemed more famous than 1D (image credit Wikipedia)

For me, my comparison confirms what I already suspected; working outside the home at times makes my life more difficult and at times is exactly what I need. And being at home with my kids is at times very stressful and at times (most of the time) absolutely wonderful.

And I’d guess that that’s how it is for many mothers – neither one way nor the other is “harder”; it’s all hard at times, and it’s all wonderful at times.

To fine-tune that generalisation a little; I would suggest that working outside the home can make the overall juggle very challenging at a macro level, but that at any given moment during the day (and depending on the job), it’s probably easier.

I mean, sitting at my desk at work is easier than cleaning dried-in porridge off a high-chair, but then again, work doesn’t do hugs.


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24 thoughts on “So, is it easier to be at work or at home with the kids?”

  1. I LOVE reading your blogs!!!
    It’s like you write everything working mothers are going through!!
    I always take time to read them (at work, shhhh) with a hot cup of coffee in my hand, of which I know I’m going to get to drink all, while it’s still hot!!

    1. What a lovely comment to read this morning Nicola, thank you so much! I do love that we all talk about how hard we work but always manage to find a minute or two for a bit of reading or commenting while in the office, shhhh indeed 🙂 Enjoy the hot coffee!

    1. As a good friend of mine always says, they’re both hard but in different ways. There’s a mental challenge at work that’s very different to the one at home. I don’t know if work can ever bring the highs you get with kids but it has it’s own rewards too and definitely a sense of fulfilment when it’s going well. And I’m with you on the hugs. I don’t do work hugs 🙂

  2. Brilliant brilliant post Andrea, a gentle reminder to look at the situation from every perspective….
    I love the look on my my children’s faces when they realise its a ‘mummy day’, I also love skipping out the door to work when they are all like a bag of cats!!

    1. Emily, you make me laugh in such a lovely way, every time 🙂 You can come to my office for tea anytime (you will bring that homemade tea brack though right?)

  3. Another great post, most of the time around here it is Mummy collecting but it is only in the last few years since I started “going out” to work sometimes that I realise the nicest thing about going to work… is coming home! I always get the most wonderful reception when I return home from work…. which far out ways the reception I get on the SAHM days ;0)
    Naomi Lavelle recently posted…Bird on a wire!My Profile

    1. It’s so true! It’s like when you spend all day feeding and cleaning up after kids, and then dad arrives home to shrieks of joy – like he did something amazing to deserve it! I love the homecoming hugs, almost worth going out of the house just to get those 🙂

    1. I know what you mean Aidin (I need to find out how to do your fada!) – I think as well we sometimes underplay or undervalue the sense of fulfilment that comes when something in work goes well. If we’re going to work (out of choice or necessity) we may as well celebrate the great bits!

        1. thanks! I thought it was ALT and a series of three numbers but none of my combinations worked – I kept getting Umlauts 🙂

  4. A very balanced viewpoint! I do think sometimes that working mums seem to appreciate their kids and make more of an effort to engage with them than we stay-at-home mums do. Or maybe it’s that we SAHMS are “allowed” to complain about how awful our children are and how much we want to escape in a way that working mums can’t, because they’d feel guilty about making such a statement when they “choose” to be away so much of the week. (Obviously, it’s not a choice for many many mothers.) … more of the Facebook syndrome of presenting the life you want others to think you have, maybe…?
    Christine recently posted…Snow way snow howMy Profile

    1. Yep I think that’s definitely true – if you are only seeing your children at weekends (give or take), you do sometimes feel the weekends have to be AMAZING. When I’m with my friends (all of whom go out to work for a portion of the week) we moan about our kids a lot too though! In a kind of loving-moany way of course. But yeah, when you go into work Monday morning, and people are asking how the weekend was, it always feels better if there’s something great to regale. “We did housework while the kids complained” doesn’t sound great 🙂

  5. I think that both are exhausting and challenging, the difference is that when you’re at home you don’t have the extra guilt of not being home. I escape to work, I can fit in a walk at lunchtime, I can pee alone.
    The biggest challenge of working is the guilt, and the staying awake. I nodded off at a seminar once when I was about 8 weeks pregnant and had been up all night with a sick child. Luckily a colleague realised and gave me a dig in the ribs. The biggest challenge of being at home? Being at home! The lack of head space or quite time.
    The good stuff all speaks for itself.
    Great post, you’re keeping the conversation going 🙂
    Sinead – Bumbles of Rice recently posted…One Hundredth Post and a GiveawayMy Profile

  6. Once again you’re spot on…. I rarely read any articles on FB…yours is the only one that I always click on. Well-written, honest, balanced and funny. x

  7. Brilliant post. It is spot on and you put it together so well. As a mom who stayed at home for the majority of the last 22 years I absolutely believe that job sharing or at least one day extra at home it the way to go. A little bit of both worlds.
    I can assure you I was green with envy most days as childminder watching my friend drive away and knowing she had a lunch with others. She also had the luxury of staying at home when she was sick.
    tric recently posted…Happy Birthday to me.My Profile

    1. True about the sickness – no days off for sick leave when your a full-time stay at home mum.
      I agree with you – some kind of job-share or part-time set-up is a super balance.
      Thanks for the lovely comment!

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