“I can do hard things.” That phrase has become my mantra as a working mother. Even when I establish a sound routine, I often feel like I am failing as an employee and even more treacherous; as a mother. Though both of these failures are difficult to cope with, the latter can be paralyzing.
“I’m missing out on all of the important stuff”
I went back to work the exact day my daughter turned 8 weeks old. I cried big, ugly tears the entire commute to work after dropping her off at the sitter’s and then on and off-again throughout the rest of the day. My daughter had already changed and developed so much in that short eight week life-span and I knew she would continue to do so but from now on, without me. That realization was nothing short of depressing. The guilt I experienced, that I still experience is stronger than I could’ve ever imagined. Every time I pumped, I felt guilty. Every time someone asked me about her, I felt guilty. I couldn’t escape it and there seemed to be no end in sight. Fortunately, I was reminded we live in a world where milestones can be captured on camera and shared digitally by the press of a button. In other words, I could still witness my daughter growing up even when she wasn’t with me. Though I still feel guilty at times, I consider myself immensely blessed to own technology that allows me to catch up on what I feel like I miss.
Additionally, I am so grateful for babysitters that have watched my daughter and grown to love her like I do. Though there will never be an exact replacement for a mother’s love and care, I feel so blessed to have people in my daughter’s life that would do anything for her. I can’t tell you how many times I was indebted to our sitter after waking up from a restless night’s sleep due to a sleep regression, and being able to place my daughter in the care of someone who had a great night’s sleep and who was physically more capable to give her everything she needed that day.
So instead of viewing it as “I’m missing out on all the important stuff” I try to see it as “I’m sharing all the important stuff”. I cherish all of the moments I get to witness firsthand, but I am so thankful that I get to share my amazing girl with others who can witness her important milestones firsthand and share them with me second hand. She has blessed my life so much and now she has blessed so many others as well.
“I am judged for my choice to work”
I selected the heading of this section very carefully. “My choice to work” is something I roll over in my mind often. I choose to work even though most days it doesn’t feel like a choice. If you want to get super technical, I could quit my job even though I’m the breadwinner while my husband finishes school and we could live a subsidized-income life. Though I am our only means of medical and dental benefits, if I didn’t work we would probably qualify for Medicaid benefits. I hear these comments or observe these attitudes regularly. All surmising to the overall statement of“if she really wanted to stay home, she would find a way.” Not only are these comments/attitudes incredibly hurtful, they are incorrect. Unless you live in someone else’s shoes, you can’t even begin to understand what they deal with on a daily basis. For me, the reality is that I don’t have a choice. I have to work. My family relies on my income and my benefits to live a sustainable life. Fortunately however, I love my job. I love having a part of me that isn’t tied to someone else. I love having an identity that isn’t solely a wife and a mother. Not every woman needs that, and I think that’s wonderful. We all fill our cups differently and for the time being, I fill mine by being a wife, a mother, and a scientist. Someday my situation might change where I don’t feel the necessity to work, but even then I would consider staying part time because of all the benefits I witness for my child and myself as a working mom. I do still notice a judging eye from others given my situation every now and then.
To the judging folks: get over yourself. Motherhood in any shape or form (i.e., stay at home moms or working moms) is tough work. Regardless of your walk of life, as a mother you have expectations up the wazoo. Instead of throwing shade at someone that is living life and raising tiny humans differently than you would; learn from them. Because here’s a little secret; we are all doing the best we can and different doesn’t equate to wrong.
To the working mothers: Though harsh critics exist, I promise you that the harshest critic you’ll ever face for your situation as a working mother is yourself. Even though you might not see yourself this way, you are setting an example for your children as a nurturer and as a provider. You are demonstrating a passion for making a difference in your home as well as in your career. You are sacrificing time with your children, at your job and alone time with yourself to do what you think is right. You are incredible! Don’t give up on yourself. I promise there are so many people who are cheering you on and who want to see you succeed. Don’t let judging eyes or ignorant comments make you second guess yourself.
Instead of thinking “I’m judged for my choice to work” I try to see it as “I’m respected for doing what I think is best”. Sure there are people who will always think they know better and will look down their noses at your lifestyle, but there are so many others who admire the heck out of you for loving your children the best way you know how. Listen to them and ignore the others. Same goes for you when you feel guilty or less than, listen to the parts of you that are proud to set an example of a career minded nurturer.
“I can’t do it all”
If you’re a working mom like me, you are not only the bread winner of your family, you’re also the person responsible for the majority of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping and everything else that comes with raising a family. My husband helps out where he can but works full time and goes to school so his hours are even more limited than mine. This means that I only have nights and weekends to catch up on home chores since I am away from home all day.
As a result, we have two realities at our house. The first is that we dine out frequently and my house is a disaster but I get to spend as much quality time as possible with my daughter from the moment I pick her up. The second is that my house is neat and tidy and I cook wholesome tasty meals but I am forced to split my attention between my daughter and my chores. This option is worse in my opinion since my time with my daughter is already limited and is therefore so special to me. Some weeks fall somewhere in between these realities, but the point is I can’t give 100 percent to everything. It’s literally impossible but that’s okay. I have to remind myself often that it’s okay that my house isn’t spotless or that we ate out every night this week. At least our tummies are full and our hearts are happy. There’s a compelling lie out there that mothers need to sacrifice all of their time and energy at the expense of their children. The lie disguises itself as a notable sacrifice but leaves out the harsh truth that we can only give so much. So yes, sacrifice for your children but not to the point where your cup is so empty, others can’t even begin to try and fill it. Look at it this way, the average of a steady 80% effort is 80% whereas the average of a 100% effort combined with a 0% effort is 50%. You are helping your children by helping yourself! So don’t be afraid to take care of you too momma! Whether this means taking time out of your week to get a pedicure or requesting your husband makes dinner more often, take care of yourself so you can take care of those kids.
Instead of thinking “I can’t do it all” realize “I’m giving my all”. You are giving all that you can. It might not be in one particular area, but that’s where the other people in our lives come into play. I rely on my husband, family, in-laws, friends, co-workers and neighbors to help me. I do my absolute best, but where I fall short, I have a solid support system that makes up the difference. There are so many people that I rely on for physical, emotional, and spiritual support in my life and my daughter is no different. I am not the only person (nor should I be) to fill her cup.
“You are a warrior”
If nothing else remember this, you are an amazing mother and you are an amazing employee. Both your family and your job are better because of you. Sometimes your family might require more of your time/energy and sometimes your job might, but that doesn’t mean you’re failing at either. You’re doing your best, even when you feel at your worst. Keep working hard in your home and at your job and remember to ask for help when you need it. To all working moms; thank you for sharing your children’s special moments with caretakers. I know that you’re giving your all and I admire you for doing what you think is best. There’s no way to be a perfect mother but there are millions of ways to be an excellent one. Thank you for being your own unique flavor of excellent and for being the queens of doing hard things. You are a special kind of warrior that’s in short supply.
Rachael is wife, mother, scientist, working-mom enthusiast and stay-at-home-mom enthusiast. Her favorite pastimes include time-management, sleeping and on the rare occasion; camping with her family. She is also obsessed with all things Christmas and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Her life mission is to leave people better then when she found them and thinks that kindness is the highest form of intelligence. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org