Can Working Moms Have It All?
My four-year old niece recently said to me during one of our family get togethers “I want to be a mommy ballerina.” While my mom instincts instantly kicked in and I smiled sweetly on the outside, acknowledging her statement with an appropriate “you can be anything you want to be, sweetie”, her innocent comment started a much larger conversation in my head. When I was around her age I didn’t play with dolls. Dress up really wasn’t my thing. I played with markers and pencils, doodling and drawing on reams of graph paper. Instead of being a mommy ballerina, or ballerina of any kind for that matter, I wanted to design magazine covers. Those childhood preferences continued with me into adulthood and I grew up and became very career oriented. I figured motherhood would squeeze itself in somewhere, and at some point.
When I first learned I was pregnant, after an initial moment of panic, I used that same single mindedness that had served me so well in my career and began to meticulously plan how I would fit this new “addition” into my life with as little disruption as possible to my daily routine. I figured that with a well thought out strategy, I could do it all. After all, babies sleep all day, right?
I continued working my normal grueling schedule up until the moment labor kicked in and the delivery nurse told me I was ready to push. As I was tying up some loose ends before my short maternity leave, my husband pried my fingers from the cell phone. I thought, this was not going to be a big deal. I will push out our baby, recover quickly, and head back to my old life. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Then my son arrived and I threw all of my careful planning out the window. In an instant, it all changed. I just wanted to love and protect him. Instead of cell phone constantly in hand, I had a new obsession with hand sanitizer. I hated when visitors would ask to hold my new bundle of joy, much less people I didn’t know. If I had this hard time allowing the hospital nurse to hold him, I thought at the time, how would I hand him over to a babysitter while I worked according to my well thought out plan?
I increasingly found my professional aspirations had flown out the window. It was a shocking discovery for someone that had believed their life revolved around their career and work. Shocking…disappointing…and scary. In typical form I attempted to rationalize this newfound state of mind. I blamed it on the hormones, and shortly went back to work as promised.
Despite my best laid plans, I was tired to the bone. I never really knew that your bones could actually hurt when you are that fatigued. I always thought it was a metaphor. The distractions and interruptions were endless. Irregular feedings. Cell phone dings. Dirty diapers. Missed meetings.
I eventually got the baby and myself on a routine and I was managing this dual role as well as I could. Managing to put my hair in a ponytail and managing to shower occasionally. “Me time” was now the time I was able to sleep six hours at a stretch, or go to the bathroom alone.
Time passed seemingly in an instant and my baby was now a toddler. I started to see a glimpse of the old me; that career minded woman who could balance it all and still manage to work in paint and wine nights with friends. And, then it happened again. I was pregnant for the second time. Nature has a funny way of turning the first year of motherhood into a blur, and when you finally feel good… the cycle repeats itself.
This time it would be different, I thought. I knew what to expect. I would put my baby and my toddler on the same routine. If TLC’s Kate Gosselin could do it with eight, I could certainly do it with two. Baby number two arrived and out went that overly-optimistic idea and my (once again) well made plans. When the new baby slept, the older one would want to play. When the older one was occupied with a TV show, the baby would need to eat. They were completely incompatible. I needed flexibility and help.
Eventually, they were both in school and I was able to take on more responsibilities. I’ve always derived satisfaction from being able to provide financially for my family. However, with two kids my pride now coexists with guilt. Guilt over sending a nanny to take them to soccer practice. Guilt over buying fast food on days I’m too tired to cook. Guilt over… you name it.
I promise there is an upside to this tale of frustration. I’m real life proof of the saying “everything will be right in the end; if it isn’t yet all right, it isn’t yet the end.” When you are in the middle of juggling career and family, living it day to day, it can seem impossible to foresee the end. As you grow in working motherhood, you come to a few realizations. My boys are now tweens, and I long for the days when I was concerned about tummy time. As a mom, I know I will never have a worry-free day. I’ve learned that I can’t do it all, and that’s okay! Something’s gotta give. If you try to burn the candle at both ends, being the absolute best mother and a great example of a modern career woman, you run the risk of doing neither well. That doesn’t mean you stop trying though. Daily, I work at achieving the impossible balancing act of doing it all (“try” being the operative word). This daily attempt it what makes me proud more so than the actual end result. When they are old enough to understand, my boys will be proud too and that makes the struggle more than worth it in the end.