To the Working Moms Who Struggle: I Feel You
Inside: A mom’s thoughts about work-life balance for moms.
Hey there, working moms. I’m thinking about you.
Why? Because I’ve been thinking about problems moms face with work-life balance. The struggles. The frustrations. The guilt.
Simply put, we need more mom-friendly jobs.
My daughter is ten and I still haven’t “cracked the code” of balance between work and home.
Maybe I’m not wired for it. You see, I’m not a “together” mom. I’m a “messy” mom. So maybe it’s just me.
Or maybe work-life balance is the equivalent a fluffy purple unicorn.
Work-life balance challenged me even before I had my daughter. But I managed to keep a decent handle on the two.
Then in my eight years as a working mom, things started slipping. My focus. My household. My health.
Some moms rock the roles of both successful career woman and mom. They seem to keep it all together.
I’m not one of those moms.
I struggled with the juggle. Big time.
I gave up my gig nearly two years ago when we moved to a different town. Sometimes I think I should work again. After all, I have over 20 years of valuable work experience.
Then I remember the stress and overwhelm.
I’m So Conflicted
I wish there were more mom-friendly jobs. I wish there were more understanding employers.
I’m talking about the kind that of employers that recognizes why you must stay home with a sick child.
The kind that understands the stress of scrambling to find child-care when school closes due to inclement weather.
We need more employers than encourage us to attend a school program even if it means you (gasp) miss a status meeting.
And how about more supervisors that don’t judge you when you leave the office at 5 p.m.?
If I were a Fairy Godmother for moms, I’d wave my magic wand and grant mom-friendly jobs for all of us.
I would be like Oprah, pointing my finger at everyone:
“You get a mom-friendly job! You get a mom-friendly job! You get a mom-friendly job! Everybody gets a mom-friendly job!”
Balancing a Household is Difficult
When I’m working, I struggle to balance things at home. I don’t think I’m alone.
Let’s face it, working leaves us with a limited amount of time to get crap done. I’m talking about errands, laundry, cooking, and don’t even get me started on cleaning.
Even when we hire someone to clean or we purchase prepped meals, it’s still freaking hard. Why? Because there is always something else, damn it.
Homework, school sports, dance lessons, programs, family commitments, birthday parties, grocery shopping, and paying bills.
Oh, and what about that extra work that didn’t get done at the office? Well, fire up the laptop, baby.
Nobody cares that your head is about to explode. Take two Excedrin and get going. Zip it and be grateful that you have a job.
Juggle smarter, not harder. Go take a class on time-management or efficiency. Yes. That’s it. One more thing for your agenda; learn how to do more things in less time. You’ll be better for it.
We have never-ending, time-consuming to-do lists.
So that three to four-hour window between when you come blazing in after work to when you collapse into bed in exhaustion, well, it’s not enough.
When you cram in all of the above into limited hours, it leaves little room for balance.
Taking the time and having the energy and mental space to be fully present with your people is hard when you’re overwhelmed.
Oh and “me time?” Ha.
Forget about it. Most working moms I know would laugh at those words.
By the Way, It’s Not Only a Millennial Mom Problem
The first few articles I read about the work-life balance struggle spoke solely from the Millennial Mom viewpoint.
But hey ladies, this isn’t only a Millennial Mom problem. In fact, it’s been a problem way before Millennials became moms.
Even though millennial moms now account for the vast majority of U.S. annual births, let’s not forget about Gen X moms. There many of us “Midlife Moms” out here.
A large number of grandparents also raise grandchildren while simultaneously working outside the home.
We all need flexible options. We’re all tired.
Work-Life Balance is Hard – Even with Partner Support
I’m lucky. In our household, my husband helps a lot. He cooks, cleans and shops when I need help. He even does his own laundry. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.
Still, for him to be fully present and able to do as much as he does in his job, I need to be able to keep things running smoothly at home.
On the flip side, if I went back into a work role similar to what I’ve had before, not only would I be doing less around here, but I would be a stark raving lunatic. (More so than I am now.)
Yet I would feel the pressure of working and running most things at home. I know this because I have been there before.
And it’s one of the reasons I am so hesitant to go back to work.
Work-Life Balance is Hard – Even with Work Support
Years ago, I worked as a field-based marketing employee for a great company. I worked mostly from home, which offered great flexibility.
My supervisors and my team supported me. When the baby had a fever, when we had doctor appointments, when I had manic meltdowns, they understood.
They loved me and lifted me up.
Even with that kind of support from my immediate team, I still felt frustration with upper management.
Like the time they scheduled me for a 6 p.m. conference call. I took the call from home because the sitter only stayed until 5:30.
Stressed, I simultaneously gave my recommendation on a media plan while trying to keep my eight-month-old occupied.
During the call, she pulled herself up on the sofa and in the process, the phone fell on her head. She howled like a banshee and I abruptly clicked off the call so I could comfort her.
Did I look bad when I jumped off the call without warning so I could console my crying baby and check for injury? Sure.
But was I frustrated about a last-minute, evening conference call when I didn’t have child-care available? You bet.
I knew the other participants on the call judged me for it, which frustrated me even more.
I have missed the mark countless times. I missed the mark at home when I missed moments with my daughter.
And I missed the mark at work because frankly, I started putting family first.
Family Friendly Cultures – Many Employers Talk It, But Few Walk It
I’ve worked for several companies since becoming a mom. Not because I’m flaky. But because I couldn’t seem to find a job that fits with how I wanted to parent.
Every company I’ve worked for claims to be family friendly. I don’t find that to be the case in most circumstances.
I can only speak from my experience, but for the most part, the subtle message I often received from employers was this:
It’s not really okay to miss work for a sick kiddo. Or a dentist appointment. Or a talent show.
Subtle comments. Disappointed looks. Probing questions. They indicate the feelings lying underneath.
I still clearly remember overhearing some moms talk about how they would drop their kids off at daycare, fully knowing their children had a fever. They would feign ignorance and hope it bought them a few extra hours at work.
I remember days of rushing back to the office with a knot in my stomach, worried that I had been gone too long for the Pre-K Christmas Party.
I remember being out for a few days and feeling anxiety about missing several, mostly unnecessary, conference calls.
That’s not a culture that works for me. And it never will.
The Mom Guilt Is Real
I remember the heavy sadness of leaving my toddler at day-care. I hated handing her over to the teacher.
She would cry and grab for me, and I would walk away, fighting back tears. In time, it got better.
Ms. Gretchen would feed her French toast sticks and have her smiling within five minutes of me walking out the door.
I am forever grateful to Ms. Gretchen for taking care of my girl. But it still hurts my heart.
One reason I pursued self-employment as an Insurance Agent (which did not end well) was so that I could take off for my daughter when I needed to.
During that first year, I worked in the District Office as part of a recruitment program. Although technically self-employed, I worked under scrutiny, since the District Manager watched when I came and went.
He made note of any time I left before 6 p.m. He let me know when I wasn’t meeting his expectations of staying past 7 p.m. and coming into the office every weekend.
Even while pursuing self-employment, the guilt from “not doing enough” overshadowed everything I did.
The Funny Thing About Not Working
I love the space and freedom I now have, but I’m a little lost. The longer I’m out of the workforce, the less relevant I feel.
As a strong-willed and independent woman, that feels unsettling. Because the flip side of leaving my career is it feels like there should be more.
Once an up-and-coming employee, my supervisors gave me growth opportunities and told I had a bright future.
But after I had my baby, I stopped trying so damn hard at work because I couldn’t give as much as I had been giving.
Before my baby, my work was my baby.
After my baby, work was simply….my job. Whereas before, work had been my life.
And I’m not saying I regret I didn’t move higher up after I had my baby.
But I am saying I miss using my talents and skills. Because I grew up with a fire in me to do big things.
I still want to do big things.
Inevitably, at least once a week, I find myself scrolling through jobs on LinkedIn.
Because “what if?” What if I could find that sweet spot? What if I could find a job that keeps me in the game but lets me be a mom in a more balanced way?
But for me, that means being able to take my daughter to her activities that start right after school.
It means being able to take her to and from summer day camps that start mid-morning and end mid-afternoon.
Those are things I want to be able to do – but that doesn’t work for most jobs.
Maybe I Want Too Much
Seriously. Maybe I’m being unrealistic. That’s possible.
All I’m saying is that for me, it’s hard to make these choices. But I don’t think I’m the only one in this boat.
How the hell are we supposed to do it all?
I don’t have that answer. But I do know this. While we have better mom-friendly job options that generations before, we still need more.
And we need better.
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