The Biggest Mommy Lie: "You CAN have it all!"

I’m a working mom, always have been.  I was once an eager young professional, just out of college and anxious to prove how valuable I could be to my company.  I worked Saturdays!  I went to happy hours with my coworkers!  I was an up-and-comer! 

A couple years later, Baby #1 arrived on the scene and my husband and I decided that it would be best if I continued to work fulltime and he stayed home with the babe.  Rinse and repeat three more times in the next five years for a full-blown litter of kids.  Suddenly my job didn’t seem so important anymore.  Sure, I still worked hard while I was there, but I didn’t do a lot of “extras” to distinguish myself, so career progress slowed.

I was very involved with my kids’ activities while they were in grade school, and my career slowed even more.  I was fine with that, but once the youngsters advanced past fifth grade and the need for Mommy to race home from the city for Brownies or Battle of the Books diminished, my focus shifted back to my career.  Plus, I realized that a more “above and beyond” performance at work translated to more promotions (read: money) and better year-end bonuses, which benefitted my family in other ways. 

Now all four of my kids are teenagers, and it seems like it should be easy to really focus on work, but I’m finding that the transition hasn’t been as easy as it seems like it should be.  This past school year my husband was not only working fulltime but was doing so out of state, so part of my struggle has also been functioning somewhat as a single mom on a day-to-day basis for 10 of the last 11 months (hats off to single moms, btw). 

Teenagers are self-sufficient, right?  Sure, to a point, but they still require a tiny bit of parenting.  That type of parenting seems to frequently be at odds with my work schedule, though.  Some examples:

  • My boss referred to “Anne leaving early”…because I wasn’t staying at work past the requisite eight hours.
  • The eight hours I did manage to squeeze in were highly sporadic to accommodate driving for morning practices or after-school games. 
  • A subset of the last category was a number of unanticipated days off when someone was sick and I didn’t want them home by themselves.  Was I a dependable go-to?  Without a doubt between about 9 – 3 if no one was sick.  Otherwise, all bets were off.
  • I experienced perpetual guilt about the kids being on their own before and after school, often at risk of consuming unhealthy snacks and near lethal doses of crap t.v. when they didn’t have sports.
  • I received nearly unlimited calls and texts with inquiries about after school activities, carpool arrangements, orthodontist appointment times that I’d put on the calendar wrong (twice!) and, like clockwork every single day, questions about dinner plans. 

By the end of the school year I was high risk for daily meltdowns trying to attend to all of it.  The result?  I was kind of a half-assed parent and employee, which didn’t feel good at work or at home.  Fortunately, just shy of being declared clinically insane, my husband swept in for the summer.  After about a week of transition time, during which I continued to receive frequent calls from the kids (apparently forgetting that they had a parent in-house), things settled down at home.  I would emerge from long meetings at work to find no texts or missed calls from home, a novelty!

It has been nice for the past month or so to work a little extra and not feel the pull of home life while I’m at work.  But guess what?  Now I don’t know what the kids are up to and feel guilty about the lack of interaction.  I can’t win. 

I’ve concluded that you can’t have it all, at least not all at once, as they say.  I cannot stay involved at home during the day and also stay focused at work.  And I cannot be focused at work without feeling detached from what’s going on at home.  I’ve decided I either need one of those sweet sales jobs that doesn’t seem to require many hours of work a day (although that one will require a new personality) or find myself a sister wife like they have on t.v., which doesn’t seem like such a bad option right now. 

In the meantime, I’ll continue to feel guilty either at work or at home or both.  Isn’t that what being a mom is truly all about?

Filed under: Parenting

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  • I was a stay at home mom for 25 years and just recently went back to work part-time. I never had a problem with it but others did!

    I would get the wrinkled nose and the "sniff-sniff," comments. One woman literally looked down at me and said, "I have to use my mind!"

    My payoff came when my daughter recently told me that she and her brothers were glad that I was home for them.

    I knew I couldn't have it all from the get go, but maybe I did, and I just didn't know it. ;-)

  • In reply to siblingless:

    Getting back to work after being off for so long would be hard, too, though. I am proud of the relationships I have with each of my kids, but it has come with a cost. I know I made the right choice, but it remains a huge challenge for me, particularly since I DO want to do well at work.

  • In reply to siblingless:

    You did, you definitely did.

  • It's the meanest thing we tell young women. You cannot have it all. It's physically and mentally impossible to do it all well. The problem is we're asking women to take on two full times jobs without increasing the number of hours in a day. We dismiss those who put their children in child care so they can work and look down upon those who stay home to raise their children.

    I was reading an article in the UIUC alumn magazine about the first woman to head a big accounting firm. She comes right out and says she was able to achieve her success because she didn't have kids. I work full time and stay home with our girls, but my job is home-based. It was part of the deal. It means we eat a lot of dinners that look like heavy lunches (sandwiches, side, fruit) in the summer and soups or stews that can go into the crock pot in the winter.

    If you read the "about me" for blogger Design Mom, she addresses the "how do you do it all?" question. She says if the blog is good then her house is a mess. If the house is running smoothly then her blog is a lacking. She doesn't even try to pretend she does it all perfectly. More of us need to take her lead and admit we're only human.

  • In reply to Shari Schmidt:

    Shari, it sounds like you've worked hard to work out an arrangement that gets close to a compromise. I'm glad there are women (moms and not) who acknowledge the challenges. It's funny that we don't hear dads lamenting similarly when in theory they should have the same struggles. Maybe it's a mom thing.

  • You can't have it all and do it all well! We need to go into maternity ward in every hospital and inform the new mothers of this fact! I am a stay at home Mom and I will be re-entering the workplace soon. I know for a fact that I would be a different mother if I had worked while raising my children. My children are 12 and 14 and my parenting will change when I return to work. That's something we all will have to live with.

  • In reply to Tracy A. Stanciel:

    Traci, good luck with your transition. Your kids are old enough to handle it, and you being aware of the challenges will help immensely. I like your idea about the maternity wards- maybe if we had more realistic expectations from the outset it wouldn't feel so frustrating!

  • Hear, Hear ladies! I've been at both sides of the spectrum, now back at work part-time after a 5-year hiatus from the workforce raising kids. I certainly feel that constant pull from work and home...never feeling totally competent in both. I wrote a post just before returning to work on my Gladly Gluten Free blog (http://www.chicagonow.com/gladly-gluten-free/2011/10/from-baby-wipes-to-boardrooms-quick-reminders-when-re-launching-your-career/) drawing the conclusion that maybe you can have it all, but certainly not all at once. When I'm writing blog posts, my kids are turning their bedrooms upside down. When I'm working late to prepare a big deliverable, people are going to eat PB & J for dinner. And even though I need to stop and leave by 4 to get to my son's baseball game, work doesn't stop. I think the best we can do is take a deep breathe, support one another and enjoy what we are doing for ourselves and our families in that moment. By the way, I enjoy reading your posts!

  • In reply to Rachel Young:

    Rachel, thanks so much for reading! I've been at the working mom thing for almost 20 years now, and for a while it didn't bother me to let my career coast while I was channeling all my extra energy to the kids- I wanted it that way. I guess I thought that by the time they were all teenagers, I'd be able to shift some of that energy back to my career, which is also important to me. I've definitely found that even if they're old enough to get their own meals and don't need a babysitter, they still need parenting, and the teenagers years are NOT the time to take a step back!

  • I've heard legends - most likely myths, from another country, another time - about a time when the husband went out to work - either tossing hay on the farm or papers in the office - while the wife stayed home to raise the children (which was no easy task).

    It is said that the family thrived in such an environment (except in years where the weather was bad, or the company fell on hard times) and the children learned about life and culture from mother and father.

    This is either truly a myth, or the society it describes failed from this obvious misdirection, for is surely does not exist today.

  • In reply to ZZMike:

    ZZ, I wonder if it would be beneifical for each parent to be more dedicated to either one or the other rather than both trying to do both. Whichever way you slice it, it required sacrafice, so maybe the lesson is to accept that and not stress so much about what we don't have.

  • I work the night shift. And the wife has informed me that it's probably the best thing to stay on nights as long as possible. That way, we don't have to deal with daycare and we can have at least one parent at home most of the time with our upcoming little one.

    She has tried getting her job to let her work at home(even part of the time), but that doesn't look like it'll happen. And there is no way I can do my job at home.

  • In reply to ewokpelts:

    We also made sacrafices when the kids were little to have one of the parents at home (my husband). I don't regret that decision at all, but I also don't think it's been easy for either of us. Then again, it's unrealistic to think that things will be "easy" when you have kids, right?

  • I hate blogs like this. Of course women - and men - can have it all. You just have to redefine 'all'. I have it all - a great marriage, a nice little house, a thriving, fulfilling, challenging career and two dogs...and no kids. That's MY definition of having it all. If I had ever had children (thankfully, hubby and I agree on the child-free concept) then I would have drastically pulled back on the business and STILL had it all. The myth here is NOT that women can or can't have it all, the myth is that all actually has to be 100% of everything.
    Women do a HUGE disservice to themselves and their families by living by other people's definition of all.
    Perhaps the author actually does have it all...she just doesn't yet give herself credit for it.

  • In reply to ResuMAYDAY:

    ResuMAYDAY, I think you may be right. I'm hardly new at trying to balance both (I'm 19 years in), and maybe my frustration is that I thought it would be easier to balance both at some point. What I'm finding is that the higher I move in my job, the more demanding that becomes, which happens to be coinciding with a time when my kids need strong parental guidance at home. You're right, I shouldn't be trying to live up to someone else's definition of "having it all," and I'm not. The truth is I want to do well in my job, but I can't let it impact my family negatively to do so, so it's a continuous pull in both directions.

  • In reply to Anne Kiplinger:

    Congrats on moving up in your job! Use that leverage to bring work/life balance programs into your company. Work side-by-side with HR to survey the employees to see what ideas other employees have, and then create a plan that brings some balance without lowering productivity. Then, write up a fantastic media release and social media campaign that enables your employer to get some mileage from being a 'family friendly employer'. Win-win-win. (Employees, employer, families.) And, you get to add that to your resume. Bonus win.

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