Moms Make it Work: Mara | Work at Home, Solo Parenting, Military Mom

Today on the Moms Make it Work series, we have Mara, who is a blog reader that contacted me offering up her story. Mara works remotely from home, has two little girls, and is a solo parent for this entire year as her husband is deployed with the Navy. An entire year, you guys. Reading Mara's post made me smile because she truly makes it work: she is organized, she is focused, and she seems like a lot of fun as a mom. What a fun combination! I really enjoyed Mara's post and am sure you will, too. Enjoy!


Hello Julia's readers! I am so excited about being included here. I blog at but life is so crazy that a picture and a short paragraph are all I usually have time for. It's nice to write a real post, though I will not tell you how many days it took to write this.

My name is Mara, and I have two lovely girls: Ellie (4) and Penny (1). Above is a recent staged picture, but this is probably closer to how we really look (I certainly feel this blurry in real life, but it might just be the wine).

I am a work-at-home mom, currently solo-parenting my two little ladies while my husband is on a fancy international business trip...just kidding, he's on a long deployment with the U.S. Navy.

Let me say from the outset that I certainly don't intend to represent the experience of all military spouses. I am the first to admit that many other people have it harder, do it longer, and do it better (with cleaner houses). If you are lucky enough to also know one of these people, please give them a hug and a high five, because they are awesome! (Single moms, you're also first-class in my book. You should have a permanent discount on chocolate and wine.)

On the other hand, I hear friends talk about how hard it is when their spouse is away for a week, and they say things like "I just can't do it for more than a week." You can, and you would if you had to do it.

What is your background story? 

When I was in high school, I started seeing this handsome guy that I'd met at my summer job at the grocery store. He mentioned he was headed off to the Naval Academy and I was planning to go not there so I thought the relationship would probably be short-lived. I was wrong. Like most teenagers, we broke up and got back together, but in 2007, he got down on one knee on a mountain top and asked me to marry him. I said yes, got on the Navy roller coaster and never looked back.

When we got engaged, I was working for a government agency in DC, and was very fortunate to transfer to an office close to my fiance in Washington state, 3000 miles away. I worked happily through our first year of marriage, even working an extra 20 hours a week for a non-profit during his first deployment.

When he returned, we decided to start a family and welcomed our first daughter in 2010. When she was 3 months old, we moved back across the country to Maryland and I luckily transferred my job again, joining the world of working mothers.

In 2013, we completed our family with the arrival of our second daughter. I initially went back to work again, but when our youngest was 5 months old, we moved to Virginia. I wasn't able ttransfer my job this time, but I was very very lucky to be hired by a contractor a few months later. (My current employer allows me to work remotely from my home which I surprisingly love.)

Of course, that's just the nutshell version. Since we got engaged, we've lived in five different homes, he's deployed, we've completed two Master's programs (mine and his), we've had two children, and we completely renovated a home.  It has been crazy, wonderful, lonely, and lovely, but I still would say "Yes!" if he asked me to marry him today.

I'm hesitant to say where he is, what he's doing, or how long he will be gone this time. (I take his security and our security very seriously.) But, to give you some context, in the time he has been gone so far, the baby has grown three inches and learned to walk, and our big girl has grown two inches and played her first season of soccer.

What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And where are you now?

I have a few degrees, and a cool-sounding job, but at its most basic level, I need an outlet for my analytic side, and it's even better when someone offers to pay me for it. (When I'm not working I tend to overwork things in our personal in pie charts in our household budget, and to-do lists a mile long.) More than anything else, having an outlet for this part of my personality boosts my self-confidence and that boosts my parenting confidence. This is why I have endeavored to work even though it can be extraordinarily difficult to work as a military spouse. (I always bring my military spouse status up in job interviews, because otherwise it looks like I'm just a flake who changes jobs every couple of years.)

The Navy lifestyle has allowed me to experience many different combinations of working and parenting. When Ellie was a baby and toddler, I worked in an office and she went to a daycare center. When we moved to Virginia, both girls were home with me for a few months, and when I started working from home, Ellie went to preschool, and Penny stayed home with me (and a nanny). Now, both girls go to daycare/preschool and I stay home alone to work.

I enjoy our current setup. I don't think I could work in an office and parent the girls alone without feeling really disorganized and unprepared at home. As it is, I get a nice break from parenting duty during the day, and I'm able to enjoy work, recharge, and prepare for the time I'm on parenting duty again.

What are the best parts of your situations? 

I love working at home. Because my commute is just to daycare and back, I feel that I have a lot more time with my kids than other working parents get.

Being at home enables me to complete a large number of chores that would otherwise take time away from my children. I often do laundry or dishes throughout the day, and I can usually mow the lawn, vacuum the house, empty the dishwasher, or clean the bathroom on my 30 minute lunch. (I usually knock out the loudest chores then, saving quiet tasks for after bedtime.) I also love the freedom to blast music, open the windows, and wear jeans and T-shirts. I don't have to take time off to wait for a repairman or delivery, and I take a lot less sick leave.

When I'm done for the day, I can also take a few minutes to prepare for the evening. Sometimes this involves throwing library books or swimsuits into the car, but I mostly use the time to prep dinner. These little steps make me feel more organized and relaxed when I return home with my girls.

As for the other part of my life, there are some fun things about being the only adult at home. I drink a lot of pink wine, watch a lot of girly TV and movies, and I don't have to compromise about the thermostat, the music in the car, or what we're having for dinner.

What are the challenges?
Well, when working from home, I miss small talk and I miss subtle body language that doesn't translate over the phone. But, most of my challenges relate to parenting on my own.

Without the ability to divide and conquer, the simplest tasks, like getting dinner on the table, suddenly become a marathon of shopping, cooking, entertaining, negotiating, food-shoveling, child-cleaning, and dish-cleaning. I do my best, but sometimes the recipe is a flop, someone refuses to eat, or I yell and scream like a crazy person, and its hard to pep-talk myself into doing it again the next day.

Its hard to admit that I am one person, there are only 24 hours in a day, and I simply can't do everything I want to do. Sometimes I have to do less (bringing something store bought even though I really wanted to make the fun recipe I saw on Pinterest) and sometimes I have to do more (singing one more lullaby because "Daddy would...," even though I just want to go downstairs and eat ice cream in front of the TV).

That brings me to the biggest challenge: I feel a lot of pressure to provide two parents worth of love and attention to two little girls, while also trying to document everything for my husband so that he's not out of the loop. I do separate bedtimes for the girls (the older one gets extra TV time while I put the little one to bed). Even though it would be so much easier to get them ready together, I know they both need and deserve a little bit of alone time with me each day.  I send pictures, videos, emails, and care packages to my man, but there's still no substitute for that moment when your child does something ridiculous and you get to smile and roll your eyes with him.

How do meals work in your family? 
When you're cooking for kids it is easy to pick meals that will get less resistance from them and neglect your own cravings and nutrition. I try to plan a week of meals at once, and balance meals for them (pizza, pasta) and meals for me (curry, zucchini). Sometimes I am informed that "Dinner is disgusting!" but that's fine. We also go grocery shopping on Friday night because the grocery store is empty and I like to start the weekend with a full refrigerator and a plan.

How do you keep your house clean?

My house is not clean, or not as clean as I wish it was. (You are pretty much always going to find dishes in the sink and socks on the floor if you surprise me.) In order to keep the house clean enough, I clean or do other chores every day at lunch and after bedtime I try to multitask as many tasks as I can. I clean the bathroom while the kids are in the tub. I sort laundry when I'm on hold. I fold laundry while I watch TV. For the others, I try to make them fun. I listen to podcasts while I clean the kitchen; I blast embarrassing 90's music while I mop the floor. A little fun definitely makes this Sisyphean task a little easier.

Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?
No. I always hated studying at home in high school and college. I never expected I would enjoy working from home. I also thought I would never have to change a flat tire, kill a spider, or mow the lawn after I got married and I do a healthy amount of all three of those things.

But I also thought I'd reach the old-married-lady stage of love and marriage by now, and I still feel the butterflies for him that I felt when I was 17. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Do you see yourself making a career change (whatever that means) in the next 5-10 years? Or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?

I couldn't tell you what lies ahead for us. Much to Ellie's consternation, I couldn't even tell you what state we'll live in when she goes to Kindergarten. Sometimes I fantasize about settling down in a house and a job and actually expecting to stay there. On the other hand, the Navy has brought many wonderful people into our lives and allowed me to experience many different places; I would be a little sad to return to a fully civilian lifestyle.

How do you handle mommy guilt?
Its hard to accept that I miss things, that they are growing and developing when they are away from me. I guess my strategy for handling the guilt is simply to make my time with them count! I try to put away the phone and the computer when we're together and really be present. We plan fun activities and I try to document their lives weekly on my blog and in our yearly photobooks. I want them to look back on their childhoods and remember not how often their parents were away, but how good it was when we were together.

Advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home? Or struggling to decide if staying at home is the right choice?
Gosh, this feels like offering marathon advice when I just completed a 5K, but I think you shouldn't worry too much about what other people think of your choices. Are you raising happy, kind, healthy kids? Are you happy and healthy? Then I'm sure you are making the right choice.

Thanks Julia!

{Thank you, Mara! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}



  1. Oops...not a year. It feels like forever but it won't quite be a year.

  2. Really loved this post! Such a positive attitude.

  3. It is really great o know and be inspired with people who stay strong, positive and loving. There is always a positive and good thing on every situation we just need to see it and you did choose to see the positive side of it and live with it. I so love it. Keep it up!.

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  4. I am a work at home mom of three. I really enjoyed reading your post and I have even gotten some pointers despite I have been doing this since 2011.

  5. Awesome post, one of my favorites of the series. You seem fun and upbeat and like a great mom. Your paragraph about providing the love and attention of two parents really struck me, as I can imagine how difficult that must be, and it is certainly easier and more fun to parent when you have someone at your side. But of course it's great to note the upsides, too, like the absence making the heart grow fonder, and the girly TV and ice cream time. ;)

    And your attitude at the end of the post is totally how I feel, too - I honestly don't worry too much about my kids looking back and focusing on the time we spent apart since their parents work. I want them to look back fondly on the all the great time we did spend together, and how loved they were, and I feel pretty confident that that's what they'll focus on and remember. And yes yes yes - are you raising happy, healthy kids? Are you happy? That's what matters in this life!

    Thanks for sharing and all the best to you! I'm about to have #3 and she'll be Eleanor, but we've already taken to calling her Ellie sometimes... great name. :)


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