Last week, I sat in a dingy waiting room at the doctor’s office. Wanting to make the most of my time, I picked up a popular parenting magazine. One of the articles posed the question we’re hearing a lot these days: “Can working mothers have it all?”
I laughed out loud. I was waiting to see the doctor because I have pink eye in both eyes, and I’m suffering through my second cold in a month. Pesky daycare germs. Infected and exhausted, I certainly don’t feel like I have it all.
Reflecting further, I wonder what it means to “have it all.” Can a working mom have a career, a marriage, health, happiness, and a relationship with her children simultaneously? The answer is so individualized and complicated that a universal answer seems impossible, but, from my perspective, as a full-time 9th grade teacher and a mother to a 20-month old son, “having it all” is pretty tough. In fact, this goal seems too lofty. More often, I dream of sleeping in until 10 or taking a long, long shower, alone.
However, despite the fact that I can’t seem to take a break from my Kleenex box, I have found some strategies that have helped me through the challenges of being a working mom. I may not have it all, and I may not ever get to sleep in, but I do have many wonderful days, and I’d love to share some of the things that make these days possible.
1. Bring Your Child to Work (Figuratively)
One of my well-meaning male bosses told me that I should never mention my son at work—that I should focus on my career rather than my family so that others would take me seriously.
I tried that for a few months, and it didn’t work for me. I realize that everyone has different work environments and that keeping conversations professional with your co-workers is important, but personally, I found that once I discarded his advice, my work life became much more enjoyable. When my students succeed in class, I reward them by showing a new picture of my adorable toddler (I’m sure they love it). I proudly display pictures on my desk, and I talk about him (during appropriate times, of course). Honestly, as soon as I started being more authentic about who I am, my work life improved.
Let’s face it, being a working mom is exhausting. Every minute of the day seems crammed full of diapers and emails. For this reason, I have discovered a whole new level of multi-tasking. For example, I started typing this article on my phone while waiting in line at the DMV. When I make it to the gym (a rare occasion), I always take my book, so that I can do two of my favorite things at once. After I drop my son off at daycare, I continue my commute while talking to my sister on speaker phone. This is the only time I can find time to connect to her, and I make the most of it. Sometimes, I take my lunch to the carwash and grade papers while I wait. In order to maintain sanity, I’ve tried to streamline my daily activities so I have as much time at home as possible.
3. Cry over Spilled (Breast) Milk
Last year, I experienced a catastrophe. I didn’t drop my baby, but I did spill 6 ounces of pumped breast milk at work. Alone in the pumping room, I started bawling—and you know what? It felt good.
When I first returned to work, I tried to pretend that I had it all together, that I wasn’t missing my son all the time, that I didn’t care that I couldn’t fit into my old work clothes. But that day, when I allowed myself to cry over the spilled milk, I realized the power of allowing myself to express my true emotions.
Now, when people ask me how I’m doing, I try to be honest (time permitting), and I allow myself to cry occasionally. I don’t want to be superficial and pretend I have everything 100% together all the time, and I think I’m better off for it.
4. Make the Most of Time at Home
I’ll be honest: Some days after work, I lie on the floor of my son’s room and let him climb all over me. My eyes glaze over, and I don’t connect. Sometimes, I just don’t have much to give.
Recently, though, I’ve tried to be more intentional about enjoying and making the most of the time I have with my son and my husband. Putting my phone aside and the chicken in the Crock-Pot, I try to play. I try to give eye contact, use silly voices, and participate in my family dance parties. And all of this, while it requires much more of my energy, results in a much more enjoyable evening as well as much better relationships with the men in my life.
5. Connect With Other Working Moms
Every Friday morning at 10:30, I feel a bit sad. Many of my friends who stay at home with their kids have a “mom group” at this time, and I would love to go. There are many things I miss out on because I’m at work, and that can be really tough.
But one thing that has helped me is support from my co-workers. I work closely with two other moms, and talking to them about things like grading papers during naptime has been tremendously therapeutic. These women understand the emotions and challenges that come from balancing working and parenting. We share cute videos, hot coffee, and sympathetic hugs, and it makes a huge difference in my life.
I suppose, for me, the answer to the question, “Can working moms have it all?” is no. My life isn’t as put together as I’d like to be, and I miss time with my son that I’d love to have. Some days I feel guilty for working so much, and some days I feel guilty for not working enough. I have pink eye, and we often get take-out. I don’t “have it all.”
But regardless of this, I’m grateful for the things I do have: an adorable son, a helpful husband, and a rewarding career. So for now, I take each day as it comes, doing the best I can. And that, for me, is enough.
Photo of working mom courtesy of Shutterstock.