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Two Years In: Thoughts From a Working Mom

March 20, 2014

A few days ago, I rushed to campus to teach my morning classes, then rushed to the gym to fit a workout in, then rushed home and started making dinner for that night (a dinner I would leave at home for Ryan and Lila, as I teach on Monday nights).  I like to listen to podcasts when I cook, so as I threw together the ingredients for the cucumber salad and meatball muffins (yum, right?), I listened to Terry Gross interview author Bridget Schulte on Fresh Air.  Schulte, who worked at the Washington Post while raising her kids, is the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, a book that focuses largely on working moms, and our tendency to try to do everything and do it well…and what happens when we inevitably fail.  

She writes that the balance is particularly hard for working moms because you’re working within multiple spheres.  For instance, if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you have one sphere: the home. If you’re a working dad, you typically have one sphere: work.  Working moms, on the other hand, are expected to somehow master both.  I think that pressure often comes most strongly from the mother herself, but there are external forces at work as well.

I can say without a doubt that this has been one of the biggest struggles for me.  I definitely feel all of the pressures that go along with my job—papers to grade, classes to prep for, meetings with students and my superiors, etc.  And, for me at least, I would say that the pressure to be a very present mother is also still there—on days when I’m not teaching, I fill my hours (and Lila’s) with playdates, toddler gymnastics, and crafts.  My to-do list for work is as long as my pinterest “crafts to make with Lila” board—and neither is ever really tackled entirely.  Especially the crafting board, ha.

I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say that, almost two years into it, balancing the work and motherhood thing is hard.  When I’m teaching my classes, I feel like I’m missing out on key moments and milestones with Lila.   When I’m with Lila, my mind is running 100 mph, mentally going through everything I still need to get done for work.  These days, I find it incredibly difficult to just be…present.

Interestingly, the stay-at-home moms that I tend to hang out with are incredibly open about the struggles that they’ve had with motherhood.  And believe me, I know that being a stay-at-home mom is not without its own unique difficulties.  The moms I work with, however?  Not so much.  I think the pressure is there, and is very real, for the working mom to at least appear to have it all figured out and to appear very “together”—complaining about the work/life balance might be seen, after all, as a sign of weakness, or a sign that you can’t handle the work at hand.  I work in a very friendly, supportive department—but in a way, I still worry that if I were to start complaining about my workload, or my inability to balance work and motherhood, that it might…I don’t know, come back to be used against me, somehow.

The irony that I was listening to a podcast about working mothers trying (and failing) to do everything as I frantically attempted to make dinner before leaving the house to go back to work…well, it doesn’t escape me.  And I ended the podcast feeling…not depressed, exactly, but like I still didn’t  have a concrete answer for how to strike that “balance” that self-help authors love to talk about.  And I don’t have one—an answer, that is.  There are days when I love my job.  There are days when I wish I could stay home with Lila. And that probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.

I will say that I think I’m getting better about learning when to just let certain things go.  Our house isn’t the cleanest, and there are usually dishes piling up in the sink, and the other day I realized that Lila was wearing her pants on inside-out.  It happens.  I let it go. Schulte also talked about the “mommy martyr” figure—you know, that mom/wife who complains about having to do everything around the house…but then when the husband does the laundry, she complains about how horrible he is at folding clothes and finally just insists on re-folding all of the clothes herself?

Not that I would know anyone like that. Ahem.

But in all seriousness, I’m getting better at it.  Ryan might fold laundry differently than me, but hey—clean underwear is clean underwear, am I right?

Yesterday, I found myself feeling guilty about my busy schedule as of late.  So when Ryan went up to campus, Lila and I spent the afternoon baking cookies…and watching The Little Mermaid…and eating dinner on the couch.  I just wanted an afternoon where I felt like a good mom.  And you know what? I did.

Easy Oatmeal Spelt Cookies

1 stick butter

1 egg

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3.5 cups oats

1 cup spelt flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup raisins (optional)

In a standing mixing bowl, beat together butter, egg, and sugars until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, and cinnamon.  Add to mixing bowl and beat slowly until combine.  Gently fold in raisins, stirring until incorporated.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.  Careful not to overbake!

Eat while watching Ariel sing about gadgets and gizmos a’plenty.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2014 1:38 pm

    Yes, yes, yes. I think the pressure mostly comes from within…but obviously, these days, most of us HAVE to work to maintain the household. I definitely always feel like I’m in at least 2 places mentally. And how guilty do you feel when you actually get some alone time (even though you know you need it). Crazy balancing it all, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything ;)

    • March 21, 2014 12:39 am

      Yes!! Whenever we have our “nanny” time and I spend it doing something other than work, I feel so guilty about it– even though I KNOW “me” time is important for sanity, haha.

  2. March 20, 2014 4:52 pm

    Ah, the ever-elusive balance. I’ve been working just part-time this year (6 hrs/day), but man, it has been so hard! Almost harder than when I taught full time with no child. It’s definitely very mentally taxing. How many more days until Spring Break? ;) Let’s take these girls to the BG sometime soon. And maybe I’ll finally get you that long lost scoby!

    • March 21, 2014 12:38 am

      Yes, friend!! I miss you! We need to get our girls together, stat!

  3. March 20, 2014 5:40 pm

    I become a working mom in 2 and a half weeks. I don’t know how I feel about it yet.

    • March 21, 2014 12:39 am

      You’ll do great, Lee. It’s tough– but then so many things seem to be after having a kid, right?? ;-)

  4. Angie permalink
    March 24, 2014 12:10 am

    This post is so relevant right now. I have a 1.5 year old and I had to resign from teaching 6th grade in December when my husband got promoted and we moved cross country. I love teaching but it was tough leaving my son at the sitter. Now I’m home with him, until next school year, and that definitely has it’s own challenges. I do appreciate the time I get with him now but I hate telling the moms I meet that I have to go back to work. I get some odd looks and remarks. Balance is tough but it’s best to focus on whatever you’re doing, working or having family time.

  5. sarenashasteen permalink
    April 1, 2014 3:54 pm

    I have done both the working mom and the say at home mom thing. Neither are easy for their own reasons. I went back to work when Jay was 6 weeks old. Luckily, he was home with Tony, but it was still hard. Tony was freelancing and I was driving an hour to and from work. We later switched places, Tony worked outside of the house and I stayed home. It was not always easy, but honestly, I feel like it was way easier than working outside of the house. The mental part (loneliness) was probably the hardest part, but I felt like my life was more together then. Now that I’m working more (some from home and some not), even though my kids are older, I am struggling with need to be more involved in my kids’ lives than before. I feel like dealing with homework and other scheduling things is a second job when the kids get home from school. It’s all about balance and making the best of the situation you are in. You two are such amazing parents!

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