Moms Make it Work: Amy | Stay at Home Mom to a Child with Food Allergies

Today on the Moms Make it Work series we have Amy, a reader who emailed me offering her story as a SAHM (who works a bit from home as well), and a mom to a daughter with severe food allergies. Amy blogs at Milwaukee Allergy Mom and I found her post very interesting, especially related to her feelings on being at home with little kids versus older kids. I always wonder how my feelings will evolve as my kids grow up and eventually attend school all day. I cannot even imagine! Nate thinks I will work full time when our kids are older but I really don't see myself having *that* much free time with homework, after-school activities, and weekend tournaments/sports. We will see. Loved Amy's post on how she makes it work and how things change over time. Enjoy!

What is your background story?
  • What was your career/schooling before you became a mom?
  • Where are you now?
I've always been a student, very academically inclined. A book lover. Seriously, my idea of fun is sitting down to research a subject, analyze it to death, and then write a report on it.

So my career pre-children was perfect for me. I was a researcher at a non-profit, good-government watchdog organization. Basically, I researched and analyzed how local government was spending its money, whether through its various programs, it was being a good steward of the taxpayers' investment.
I loved the different projects I got to work on, I loved the engagement I got to experience with different members of the community, I loved the long hours spent reading and writing.
But there was something else I loved more, and that was my husband and our plans for starting a family. My husband Jonathan and I met when we were seniors in high school. In some ways, ours was a whirlwind romance – we fell in love quickly, we knew we were each other's soul mates and best friends. We decided when we were barely 18 that we wanted to get married.
That was where the whirlwind ended. Because although we were (and still are) madly in love, we are also both extremely practical and responsible. We agreed that marriage should wait until we finished college and had jobs. So that's what we did. We were engaged all through college, and got married a month after graduation, with both of us in secure jobs, Jonathan as a software engineer and me going from my part-time research internship to a full-time research position.
Well, being our practical, responsible selves, we both knew what we wanted in terms of a family. Our mothers had stayed home with us when we were pre-school aged, and we wanted the same thing for our children.

So, when I got pregnant two years into our marriage with our daughter Alex, I told my boss that when she was born, I would be resigning to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. Although he offered me the option to have a more flexible schedule or to go part-time, I was confident that I wanted to be home full-time with Alex. So, in July of 2004, Alex was born, and I became a stay-at-home mom.
Although the overwhelming majority of my time over the past ten years has been spent with my kids, I have also maintained a presence in my career as well. But it's always been on my terms – with the caveat that I am first and foremost a stay-at-home mom and would only work from home during naptimes, or when Jonathan was home with the kids, so that I wasn't taking time away from them. I've done multiple projects for the organization as well as for another organization. That's a huge benefit of the kind of work I do, and I feel grateful for living in the time I live in technologically – it's easy to do this work from home.

Apart from keeping my skills sharp and staying on my colleagues' radar, the continued work has also given me something that I know I would go crazy without – intellectual stimulation. I can always tell when I haven't worked on a project in awhile from my reading choices. I'm always reading something – that's a given. But when I'm working on a project that keeps me intellectually engaged, my reading choices are novels and chick lit. When I haven't had a project for awhile, the post-its and highlighters come out, and I read and take notes on a stack of non-fiction books on whatever subject I'm most interested in learning about at that point. Which is fun – but there's also something less than satisfying about researching and writing when you're not getting any financial compensation for it.
I started really feeling the pressure to do something financially lucrative last year when my younger daughter Wendy started school. As long as I had a child at home with me all day, I felt completely confident in my role as a stay-at-home mom.
However, with both children in school during the day and needing less intensive care when they are home, I feel more and more as if my role has morphed from stay-at-home mom to housewife.
And that's not something I'm comfortable with. I love planning and doing activities with my kids, and even the cooking for my family and errand running with my girls. The cleaning and obsessing over minute housekeeping details while I'm the only one in my home? Not so much.

So, over the past year, I've been working on building my brand as an allergy advocate and writer, getting published here and there, and slowly but surely getting myself back into the job market – albeit a job market that's flexible enough to allow me to maintain my primary role as a stay-at-home mom.

What are the best parts of your situation?  What are the challenges?
Hands down, the best part of being a stay-at-home mom who works from home a bit on the side is all the time I get to spend with my family.

I love spending lazy summer days with my girls, planning activities with them, taking them places, and being able to share their experiences with them as they grow.
I also love that I have the time to get chores and errands done during the day while the kids are at school and Jonathan is at work.  This allows the girls and me to enjoy our time together after school before the dinner and homework rush, for the four of us to spend restful time together as a family before the bedtime rush, and to not have a rush at all on the weekends when the four of us can have fun together.
I also think that, when stay-at-home moms talk about not wanting to go back to work because they wouldn't be able to get everything done, this is what a lot of them are talking about.

I read a book recently, Leslie Bennetts' "The Feminine Mistake", in which the author posits that a stay-at-home mom's choice to become financially dependent on her husband is a huge mistake. In her book, Bennetts dismisses as ridiculous the notion that it is insurmountably difficult for working mothers to provide domestic necessities to their families such as home-cooked meals and fully-stocked pantries:  "While the job of feeding a family requires some elementary organizational skills and a willingness to plan a few days ahead, it is hardly impossible, as any number of working women can attest.  But stay-at-home mothers typically describe their domestic contributions as if there were no conceivable way a woman could manage to work and also put nutritious food on the table at night." (28)

When I read this, I felt like I had to defend my fellow stay-at-home moms a bit.  I don't for one second think I'm indispensable.  I know that if I got a full-time job, Jonathan and I would still manage to feed our kids nutritious meals, get the errands done, and accomplish all the homework and extracurriculars (although I am not promising the house would stay clean -- I have a feeling that would be my sacrifice!)

The thing is that I feel like a huge benefit of me being a stay-at-home mom is that all that necessary stuff gets accomplished without us having to rush around.  We don't have to sacrifice the leisurely pace that helps us all to recharge and enjoy each other's company.
One more advantage of my situation is that I have the opportunity to be a part of my kids' community -- I'm at their school all the time, I'm friends with their friends' parents, and I am friendly with their teachers and school administrators. This is something that's important to me because I loved my own mom being a part of my school community when I was a kid.  I feel like my presence at school helps my kids to feel confident and secure in their place there.  I love that I get to see them everyday when I volunteer at lunchtime and get the rundown of what happened in the morning -- before they forget it all by the time I pick them up at the end of the day.  They love that they get free reign of the school even during non-school hours because they're there with me setting up for a breakfast or closing up the book fair.
I also love being part of the girls' school community for a very practical reason -- Alex's food allergies.  When she started going to school full-day in first grade, I didn't feel comfortable that she would be able to keep herself safe at the lunch table surrounded by peanut butter sandwiches and carrots with ranch dip (She has severe allergies to both peanuts and eggs.).  So I took advantage of the school's accommodating volunteer policy to be at lunch everyday.  In exchange for cleaning tables in between lunch periods, I got to keep an eye on Alex when she was eating lunch to educate her as she learned how to stay away from her allergens. The fact that I'm at the school everyday also makes me very approachable.  Alex's teachers know I'll be there at lunch and often seek me out to ask me questions about buying safe treats for a classroom ice cream party or the principal will ask for my input in EpiPen storage or the advisability of a peanut-free lunch table. Being a stay-at-home mom allows me to gain experience and credibility in something that has become a key part of my identity over the last few years, both as a mother and as a career focus -- a food allergy advocate.
Now, onto the challenges of being a stay-at-home, slightly work-from-home mom. I've already touched on what I feel to be my number one challenge -- my identity is tied too much to my housewifely duties.  Just because I'm transitioning from being a hands-on stay-at-home mom of little kids into a mom with more time on her hands during the day while her kids are at school, I sometimes find myself focusing too much on things that don't contribute to being a parent per se, but more to being a housewife -- obsessing over what foods I have in the pantry that need to be eaten, making sure to rid the house of clutter every morning and to make all the beds.  And because the nature of cleaning dictates that there's always more to do, I find myself getting so involved in the chores that I don't give myself enough time to write. At base, my challenge is that I feel like I need to be doing something all the time to compensate for the fact that I don't have a paying job and that I don't have kids at home to care for.  So I make myself busy cleaning and obsessing over house details because I worry that sitting down and writing would be a waste of time because I'm not getting paid for it. A related challenge that I find from being a stay-at-home mom with kids in school is that being alone in the house leads to me becoming too inward-focused and introspective.  As a result, I think about how I'm stuck at home cleaning while my family is out having more interesting adventures.  I get resentful because I feel like I'm sacrificing my intellectual pursuits to make a nice house for my family, and I'm just not appreciated enough for it. Of course, I won't deny that there is some truth to my being underappreciated -- I actually think this is an occupational hazard of being a parent -- any type of parent.  However, being in the house alone makes me dwell on my role too much, and I have a tendency to forget that even though Jonathan does get to go downtown to work everyday, he is also shouldering the burden of providing financially for us, which isn't easy, and the kids are spending the day at school doing their job as well.  None of my family's lives is all roses and butterflies, so sometimes I just need to get over myself.
One more challenge is the flip side to my happiness about being able to be so involved in my kids' lives.  Even though both my kids and I love the fact that I'm in their school so much, I also am concerned that they're too dependent on me being there.  I want them to grow to be more independent, but just the fact that I'm there all the time means that I naturally do a lot for them, and therefore, they don't have to learn to do some things for themselves.

Is this how you expected your life to be pre-kids?
In terms of the roles that Jonathan and I play in our family ( me as a stay-at-home mom, him as a working dad), this is pretty much exactly the way I expected my life to be pre-kids.  And I've really enjoyed it.  I've loved being home with the kids for ten years, and I know how lucky we are that Jonathan's salary is plenty for us to live on.
As far as expectations go, I have been surprised by how my feelings have changed as my kids have gotten older. Both before I had kids and while I was in the midst of raising pre-school age kids, I was always very gung-ho in my belief that being a stay-at-home mom was the best choice -- for me.  I never had illusions that being a stay-at-home mom was the best choice for every woman, and I wasn't judgmental about other women's choices.  But I was always very confident that my being a stay-at-home mom was the best choice for me. As a result of my certainty in those beliefs, I've been kind of blindsided by how much my feelings have changed as my kids have gotten older.  I always knew they would grow up and become less dependent on me, but I think that knowledge was always a kind of amorphous, sometime-in-the future kind of understanding.  Now that my children's independence is becoming more concrete and in-my-face, I'm surprised by how important having my own career is becoming to me.  I'm surprised by the vehemence of my feelings that being a stay-at-home mom isn't enough for me anymore, that I need something outside of my family to define myself. Something that has really been hammered home for me, especially in the last few months, is that it's okay to feel extremely confident that the choice you're making is exactly right for you and your family at the point of life you're in, and then a few years later to feel that a different choice is absolutely right for you and your family.  Just because I was confident that my choice to be a stay-at-home mom was right for me when I had two young children doesn't mean that it's wrong to want to be a working mom with older kids.
Is this your ideal situation?  If not, what is?
Being a stay-at-home mom while keeping a toe in my career from home was absolutely my ideal situation for a long time. Now I'm at a point where I think the ideal situation for both myself and my family would be for me to have more of a real job, but a job with enough flexibility to be there to take the kids to and from school and still maintain a strong volunteer presence at school -- basically changing my focus while the girls are at school from doing chores and errands with just a dab of work to doing intellectually stimulating work with a little bit of house maintenance thrown in. A pipe dream?  Could be, but I'm working on it.

Do you see yourself making a career change in the next five to ten years?  Or is this current setup for the long haul?
I hope it doesn't take five or ten years for me to achieve the transition I'm looking for!  I hope to find a more comfortable role for myself and my family in the next year.
What are your tips for how you make your situation work for you?  How do you handle mommy guilt?  What advice do you have for new moms struggling with returning to work outside the home, or struggling to decide if staying home is the right choice?

As my thoughts and feelings about being a stay-at-home mom have changed over the past year, my most profound moments of mommy guilt have been as a result of worrying that I'm planning on moving the goal posts on my girls. My life has revolved around them for their whole lives, and I've been fine with it.  Now, all of a sudden, I feel like I need something more, and I worry that such a change isn't fair to them. As a result of this guilt, for several months, I didn't even entertain the idea of taking on a more traditional job; instead, I've been focused on trying to build up my own brand and doing more from-home things that would just work around my main focus of being a stay-at-home mom. But, recently I had a serious discussion with both girls about what the most important things in their lives are for me to a part of.  Both of them were very mature and told me that their bottom line is that they want me to be there to volunteer at their lunch periods, they want me to run the book fair, and they want me to be there at bedtime.  They're both okay with occasional deviations from the norm -- I can miss a lunch period here and there if I have a meeting, for example. Jonathan has also stepped up to the plate.  It's important to him for me to be happy, and he has shown in words and actions that he's willing to take on more of the home responsibilities in order to accommodate me working more. These discussions with my family have made me feel so much better.  They understand that writing is important to me, and they want to accommodate me because they love me.
So, my bottom line when confronting mommy guilt is that it isn't something you should confront alone.  Don't just sit around dwelling on how what you do will affect your kids.  You aren't the only one who makes choices that affect your whole family.  If you wouldn't begrudge your talented child from taking on a sport that takes up huge chunks of family time, or your husband from taking a few graduate classes to better his career prospects, don't begrudge yourself opportunities that come along for your own improvement. Your family will adjust, you will adjust.  You all love each other, so work together to figure it out.

How do meals work in your family? One may not think that there are benefits to your child being diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies, but there are.  One huge benefit is that Jonathan and I have become foodies; we've had to learn to read labels, become creative when cooking (Peanuts aren't hard to leave out of recipes, but try baking and frying without eggs!), and really pay attention to different ingredients and recipes.  As a result, we love to cook now.
During the week, I typically cook two dinners, which we then eat on those nights and for leftovers throughout the rest of the work week.  Then on a weekend day, when Jonathan has more time, he will cook one of his specialties. Some of the meals that are crowd pleasers for our whole family: 1.  Tacos -- We either have regular tacos or a nacho bar; both are big hits with the girls.  We usually do chicken tacos since we all love them, but sometimes we make ground beef tacos too, when Jonathan or I get a craving for them. 2.  Chicken Pot Pie -- This recipe is seriously addictive; we all drool over it.  I make two of them, and the four of us polish them off in two meals.  Since the crust is made with buttermilk, I will usually also make buttermilk chicken the same week, as well as a batch of waffles and pancakes.  We either eat the pancakes and waffles with bacon, fruit, and muffins as a breakfast for dinner meal, or I let the girls have them for breakfasts for a few days and then freeze the rest to thaw out for special breakfasts for the kids. 3.  Pizza -- Jonathan makes wonderful grilled pizza, which he customizes for everyone.  He and Wendy like cheese pizza, I like either margherita or feta and spinach, and Alex (She's a little strange in her tastes) likes no sauce, no cheese, just bacon or chicken, broccoli, and she has been known to have french fries on her pizza as well.
Check out my website for more allergy-friendly recipes; Jonathan and I have perfected quite a few!

How do you keep your house clean?
  I don't.  Just kidding!  (sort of). I am not a fan of house cleaning, but I am a fan of having a clean house.  Basically, I make sure have a reasonably clean house every morning (beds made, toys and random clutter put away where it belongs, clean kitchen, and swept floors).  After breakfast in the summers, the girls and I will go through the house doing those chores, and after I drop off the girls at school during the year, I will do these chores.  Then I have a reasonably clean house to live in throughout the day. The more deep cleaning stuff, we do when we can see it needs to be done.  Alex and I do the laundry three times a week. Check out some of my day-in-the-life posts if you're interested in more of the day-to-day details of my cleaning schedule. Thanks to Julia for this series and for showing interest in how I "make it work"; I hope I've been insightful!

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


  1. I loved this Amy! Thanks for sharing. I think you hit the nail on the head with a few comments regarding staying home. I do work full-time as does my husband, but we have some days during the week that one of us is home b/c we work odd days. I can't believe how much more relaxing those days are because we have "extra" time to get some of the mundane tasks done. Certainly, we could get them done if we both worked M-F 8-5 or more, but it's nice to have the luxury of taking our time with things. I also like how you said now that the girls are in school, you've transitioned into helping out at school. I think one of the *mistakes* stay-at-home-mom's make is thinking once the kids are in school that they NEED to transition back to work to feel like they're helping out the family or for whatever other reason. I don't think so at all, your role merely changes, it's not obsolete! I love having my Fridays off because I am able to help out in school, I wouldn't change that for the world! Really good post, thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks so much for the encouraging words, Jodi! So many people have advised me not to jump back into the work world too soon after the kids go to school full-time, and I think that's very wise advice. I just feel a little anxious sometimes -- it feels awesome to be encouraged in my role!

  2. I have never commented here before but wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post by Amy. The series as a whole has been really good but this one stuck out to me. I also have an older, school aged child (and one 3 year old) and in the past year went through the opposite analysis/decision. I've worked full time as an attorney since before my oldest was born, and when he started kindergarten last year I started to think through whether we could make it work with me at home. I feel more of a pull to be home now that my kids are older and in school than when they were little. To me it felt like they need/will need me - their mom - around more vs when they are little and were happy at daycare/preschool. Anyway, all this to say I enjoyed reading your perspective. It shows that no matter what decisions and different feelings we all have on this topic, we all do a lot of soul-searching and put a lot of thought into our different decisions. We all just want to do our best for ourselves and our families. :) another great thing it shows is that we can change what we are doing when it doesn't feel right anymore. I think so many women - especially of young kids - get wrapped up in choosing whether we work or stay home and thinking that is a permanent choice. But it can change! Our career years are long and they can always take new paths. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love this and I can totally relate! Severe food allergy (FPIES) mom myself, it's a different world. I have been blessed to find a very flexible, very part time job doing exactly what I love, but I'm still mostly home. It's the best of both worlds and I'm able to manage my daughter's food trials and any appointments she may need.

    1. It does seem like we need less than a traditional full time job sometimes to manage food allergies!


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