Looking back on all of the struggles during my six years of parenting, I realize that most of them are fleeting. Babies eventually sleep. Babies eventually wean. Babies eventually crawl and then walk and then climb stairs and then walk up and down them unassisted, so your arms, at long last, get a break. Babies who only have eyes for you begin to realize that you’ll be back after absences and are secure in the fact that mama will return. Struggles come and go, in the form of tantrums and specific food preferences and overnight disturbances. But as I celebrated my daughter’s 6th (!) birthday, I look back and the overarching struggle that stands out the most has been balancing work and family. Being a working mom who’s also wanting to be the best mom she can be.
All moms have their pre-mom selves. The self who worked and had ambitions, was motivated and had the time to focus on those goals and dreams. When you have kids, that self is still there, but there are more pressing day-to-day issues to take care of and those big picture goals can get, if not cast aside, certainly put on the back burner to simmer indefinitely. Most moms wouldn’t trade their mom selves for their former selves, but I always use the example of a Zack-Morris-style time out: I’d sometimes like to hit time out on the demands for the next snack or meal or diaper change to take a break and focus on one of the big picture items that are on the back burner.
It’s a struggle every mom deals with: How do I balance being present for my kids with personal ambition and career? It doesn’t matter if you’re a full-time stay-at-home-mom, a working mom, or a part-timer. The stay-at-home mom knows she’s contributing in a substantial way taking care of the house and kids, but she might wonder how easy it’ll be to get back into the work force when she’s ready. She might also struggle with boredom, and while she appreciates being able to stay home (or has to out of pure necessity if childcare costs would be more than she earned), she might long for the day when she can return to work.
The working mom feels guilt dropping a child off every day, and then after putting in a full day of work, has a full night of dinner and baths and bedtime stories before passing out cold to do it all again the next day. The part-time working mom has her own struggles. She’s happy to be able to keep a piece of herself, but she’s torn about the childcare costs associated — is it really worth the stress and money to work? — and it’s not easy to find part-time care. She may feel like she’s trying to do it all — and not doing any of it very well.
I know that’s how I feel. When I’m working, I think about what my kids are doing currently downstairs with the babysitter. When I’m with the kids, I’m responding to messages from my fellow FBGs, seeing emails pile up in my inbox that I can’t respond to (I’m going to hit the 2,000 mark people), and thinking about how I’ll have to write a post after the kids go to bed. I never have enough hours in the day to keep the house clean, the laundry done and my work complete; I feel like I’m settling for good enough when that was never been my style before 2010.
None of us are alone though, which is illustrated perfectly in the radio series from WNYC, Note to Self. In this Taking the Lead series, two moms talk about the challenges of being working moms. It turns into a story about much more than that when two women take what moms need — help — and turn it into an app to help moms. It’s like Uber for the working parent: Need/Done. Its goal is to connect parents to people in their network they can trust — whether it’s a last-minute sitter or someone to grab cookies for the bake sale. I haven’t gotten through the whole series yet, but I highly recommend it to any mom who’s struggling with figuring it all out and balance everything. There is a sense of calm that comes from knowing others are forgetting to send pretzels to school, too. Of course, I’ll be checking out the app, too.
What’s your biggest struggle as a parent? —Erin