I am super late to the party here, but since I was the one who suggested the topic (in a roundabout way), I wanted to contribute something to the PAIL December monthly theme post.
First off, let me say that even though my sons are 11 months old and I have been back at work full time since they were 10 weeks old, I really don't have this whole working mom thing all figured out. I struggle all the time to find balance, and I have good days and bad days . . . good weeks and bad weeks. I spend a lot of time feeling that I'm not-quite-good-enough in at least one of my various roles.
Candidly, to the extent that I am "failing" at something, I am probably not giving the level of effort at work that I need to be. Eventually this is going to come back and bite me, though it hasn't yet. This state of affairs is one that cannot continue indefinitely, given my line of work, and I have been taking steps recently to remedy this situation by taking on additional work, in order to, in a sense, give myself no choice but to work more. Not sure yet how I'm going to manage it, but I know it has to be done.
The one role I am *not* ok at doing halfway or failing at is Mama. I will (and have) let every other role slide, at least to a certain degree, in order not to screw that one up. This may be to my detriment (see above about not working hard enough), but my sons are the only people in this situation who had no choice or voice in being placed in this situation and no way to change it. They are the innocents and more precious to me than anyone else and must therefore ALWAYS be my top priority.
I do believe in owning my choices (as Missy writes about so eloquently in this post), so I would not say that I "have to" work full time. The fact is, I choose to do so, and I have made that choice for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons include a desire for intellectual stimulation, adult interaction and fulfillment. But if I am being honest, the primary reason I returned to full-time employment in my current job after the birth of my sons was my desire to afford my sons a middle-to-upper-middle-class lifestyle, roughly the same lifestyle we had pre-children. (A lifestyle which, I might add, it has taken me years to attain.)
All things being equal, if I did not need the money I earn in my current position, I would love to continue being a lawyer, but in a more fulfilling role (like for a non-profit) and on a part-time basis. Alas, changing jobs and/or cutting back on my hours would not allow us to maintain our current (pretty modest) lifestyle, so it is currently out of the question. Maybe once our sons are in school and I no longer have to pay their nanny an amount equal to what I earned my first year as a nurse, I can consider it.
My thoughts about whether or not I would want to be a stay-at-home mom have changed over time. When I was in my early 20s and in college, and having children seemed like something far in the future (little did I realize then *how* far, LOL), I figured I'd marry a man who would make enough money to support us both in a comfortable lifestyle, and I would be a SAHM. I am not quite sure how I reconciled this idea with my career plan at the time which, up until age 22, was to become a doctor. (To say I was a bit naive at that age would be putting it mildly.)
A little later, when I was out in the working world and a nurse, I still hoped to marry a man who would make enough money to support us both in a comfortable lifestyle but, realizing this might not happen, entertained the idea of perhaps working part-time.
It wasn't until after I went to law school and became an attorney that I ever really considered continuing to work full-time outside the home after becoming a mother. After a few years of working in this field, not only had I become more dependent upon my income--between student loans and a mortgage, (later) money for fertility treatment, and a more comfortable lifestyle than I had enjoyed as a nurse--I had also found a job I enjoyed and one which I felt it would be hard to step away from for a few years and pick up later.
My husband MM also works outside the home. I think he would agree that his job is less demanding than mine, both in its expectations and duties and in the number of hours worked. He has also been with the same employer for the past fifteen years and never thinks of doing anything else (except perhaps taking a different position within his department) whereas, during the same time frame, I have had several different employers over two different career fields and spent three years of that time attending law school. To say our approaches to career are different would be a gross understatement.
MM's job has a flexibility that mine (mostly) lacks, and he has been with his employer long enough, and done a good enough job, that he enjoys good benefits and is "set" until retirement, which he could conceivably take in just a little over five years and will definitely take in no more than ten years. He has no idea what he would do once he leaves his current job--it being the only professional job he has ever had--and doesn't even spend time thinking about it these days.
As I write this, I am mindful that some who are reading this today and in the future might be pregnant or new moms who intend to return to full-time work, so in the interest of helping those women with the advice I didn't find, I want to offer the following. To the extent that I *have* found some balance, here are a few things that have helped me:
- First, realize that you are NOT alone. In talking to my friends who are working moms with children of various ages, I have yet to find one who feels that she has truly achieved a balance between work and motherhood. I have therefore come to believe that this balance is mostly a myth, or perhaps something for which we may strive on a regular basis but rarely attain.
- The #1 thing that has made my current life manageable is having a husband who takes on his fair share of the work. I cannot stress this enough: I could.not.do.this without MM's taking on half the load. (He says I do more than him, and he may be right, but if so, it's not by much.) He took a 12-week FMLA leave when I returned to work. He works from home one day a week while watching the boys and cares for our sons every morning after I leave for work to minimize our childcare costs. He gets up with them at night as needed every other night (now that they're older; I did all that for the first 8 months). He also does their laundry, washes their bottles, plays with them, helps with baths, changes diapers. The only things he won't do: put on pajamas and cut finger/toenails.
- Get help! We have a nanny 32 hours a week, and a housekeeper comes once a month for the heavy cleaning and dusting (wish it could be every two weeks, but $$ is a factor). My in-laws watch the boys about one Sunday a month so we can go out together, and we now get a babysitter for one date night a month. I use meal preparation services, landscaping services, you name it. I don't even TRY to "do it all."
- Accept that, at least while your children are small, you aren't going to have a spotless house, or get to see your friends as often, or read as many books, or see as many movies as you used to. Continuing to try to live the life you had pre-children usually isn't feasible for most new parents, at least for the first year or so. I've found that friends and family accept this and will cut you a lot of slack.
- I know how hard it is, and this is something I still struggle with. . . but. . . take time for yourself. You'll be surprised how refreshed you'll feel after a long lunch with a friend you haven't seen for a while, or after a pedicure or massage, or just spending an hour by yourself going for a walk or a shopping trip (even a trip to Target alone can feel like a luxury these days).