I once watched a TV show where the host was moderating a heated discussion between “stay-at-home moms” and “working moms.” I put these terms in quotes because I find them to be heavily weighted with too much baggage (but that’s fodder for another post). During the climactic moment of said talk show, as the shout decibel was reaching its peak regarding who worked harder, who had it easier, who loved their kids more, etc., the host waved her verbal white flag. Desperate to give the audience calm and clarity before the break, she spoke firmly and with certitude.
“You CAN have it all. Just not all at once.”
Her statement was met with exhausted nods from the panel and “well, okay” shrugs from the obedient audience. And that was that. The preacher, choir, elders and deacons were all in agreement. You can be a great mom. You can have a great career. Just not at the same time.
While the choir felt relief, an unsettling feeling washed over me. Doom.
No matter what brand of mama you are, feelings of guilt are the main driver for this kind of depression. Can I be a good mom if I’m not there 24/7 and focused on my career? If I don’t work outside the home, am I short-changing myself or worse, setting a bad example for my daughter that career aspirations have a shelf life? Seeking that elusive life balance, moms can quickly feel like failures when each area of her life feels chaotic and overwhelmed and she’s incessantly questioning her societal role.
Recent studies suggest that women who have a career outside the home have less stress and are less likely to face depression. That said though, aren’t you better off at home if that’s really where you want to be, and better off working if that’s where you really want to be? But since we all don’t have money coming out of our asses and the economy looks bleak, most of us have to work. And even if you don’t have to or don’t want a career outside the home, there’s a looming question that’s driving us all mad. What the heck is “IT ALL” and why are we obsessed with its pursuit?
On those stressful mornings that start at 5am, with screaming kids, sore muscles and piles of clutter, I admit to questioning if this is all life is cracked up to be. Must I really battle for an hour with a screaming 3 year old over my choice to break her graham cracker in two and give her two halves rather than the whole piece? Was this the kind of daily debating my life would be measured by now? Is this my brain on Silly Putty? What happened to two-hour creative brainstorms about how to monetize an ad package for a big client? Grass. Greener. Oh yeah.
But something occurred to me on a recent 5am hellish morning that I should be using a trick of the trade from my previous work life. That standby cardinal work rule that we use in dealing with higher-ups, clients, anybody-whose-shit-is-bigger-than-yours, etc. :
Manage expectations! Your own, Silly (Putty)!
Perhaps it’s time to live and let go. What if I just accepted the fact that some mornings are going to feel overwhelming no matter how much preparation I put into them. It’s freeing to know that even the most mundane of parenting tasks is not just an opportunity for a preschooler’s life lesson, but for my own acceptance (see graham cracker negotiation). Looking at the bigger picture of am I or am I not striking a healthy work/life balance, I just need to admit that this so-called balancing act can be really hard. If I’m pulling my hair out when my To Do list hasn’t had a check off in days, or if you’re trying to juggle carpool and morning meetings and impressively manage to be late for both, just BREATHE. We’re not perfect, we’re parents and that’s just fine. Maybe once we accept that sticky situations and rough days will happen, we can manage our own psyche first and then manage up (i.e. kids, co-workers, teachers, etc.). Isn’t the beauty of life that the journey is an unsolved adventure that we navigate and explore along the way? If we know all the answers by the time we’re 40, aren’t we asking for a one-way ticket to Dullsville?
Parenthood is not nor will it ever be a one-size-fits-all slice of life that can be wrapped up in a box with a big red bow on it, let alone something you get to open up at your convenience. Unless you’re a deadbeat, it’s there, daily, in your face, ready to be molded, shaped, dropped, destroyed, reinvented and blossomed into something so intoxicating you don’t know how you’d live without it. It’s the greatest gift you’ll ever open no matter what your business card reads (if you have one at all).
Our choices and challenges are our own. Living the dream and having “it all” is the whole-hearted embrace of that.