If you google “working mom balance,” you will get over two million results.
That’s a lot of opinions on how to deal with a 40-ish hour work week and managing a household (with or without a partner, it’s a lot of work). And if you’re one of the ones who has a Career, that’s probably adding at least 10 hours to your work week and a whole slew of additional advice (“Lean In,” anyone?).
This is not about advice.
This is about getting my happy back.
I’ve had a job since I was a senior in high school (let’s just say it’s been a long time). I worked through college and found myself direction-less afterward. I bounced around from startup to startup, but I had no clue what I wanted to “be.”
Oh, sure, I had adult delusions childhood fantasies of being a doctor, a rock star, a scientist, a chef…I don’t remember mothering my dolls, having all the babies, playing wedding. I was too busy singing along to the radio and conducting mud experiments, or helping my pets birth their litters. And while I enjoyed the ideas and the science and the music, there was no REAL follow-through. I even thought I could pull off a degree in biochemistry. Thankfully, my liberal arts school helped me channel my movie-watching passion into a useful degree when my science advisor attributed my academic struggles to my gender (that’s a story for another day).
When I and hundreds of my dotcom colleagues found ourselves out of jobs, I had even less of a clue of what I wanted to do. On top of which, I was in a failing relationship—a relationship that had opened up a new chapter of what ifs: What if we get married? What if we have children? Do I want children?—that was slammed shut before I could solve any of the questions.
So I did what any other jobless person of my generation did: put on my Chucks and became a barista. And moved in with my mom. And began a battle with crippling anxiety of all of the above not being what it was “supposed” to be. Shouldn’t I have a Career? Wasn’t I supposed to be married and have kids?
After a few years and some promotions, I found myself going as far as I could go schlepping coffee. And I was tired of not having a life—nights, weekends, and holidays were consumed by a job that I loved and hated with equal passion.
I found myself in a better place not too long after a somewhat embarrassing breakdown at the coffee shop: The Corporate Job. A chance for a Career! The Possibilities Were Endless! I had DIRECTION towards SOMETHING!
Once I reconciled the Life That Was Supposed to Be with Enjoy Right Now, things were awesome. I could deal with the Cube Life because I was still learning, and I had the flexibility to do whatever I wanted. I was doing well, progressing on a professional path and kinda liking it. And my mom moved out! Also, I could date without worrying if this one would be The One because I was taking care of myself, balancing my wine and cheese meals with yoga at the gym. Which is where I met my husband. Over a year and a deployment later, we were engaged. We found out I was pregnant two months before our wedding, took a trip to Italy as our honeymoon while I was six months along, and then everything changed.
There is a moment when you become a parent, however you become one, where your perspective shifts so drastically it practically knocks the wind out of you. Mine came the moment my first daughter was handed to me by the OB. I felt as if I was in a huge bubble that just POPPED, and along with the joy and the tears that it brought, I Was Something. I was now Warrior Mother, Life Giver, and Milk Maker! I was responsible for the care and feeding of a Tiny Human! It was the most amazing, most terrifying feeling I’d ever had! (Still is.)
But I was still Corporate Job Girl. I had a new role waiting for me upon my return from maternity leave, which meant I got to keep learning new things and bring home a great paycheck. Sitting in the cozy Mother’s Room, pumping along with some friends and co-workers, we commiserated on the Warrior Mothers we’d become. On the cute things our babies were doing, how wonderful/not wonderful our partners were doing in their roles as co-parents, and how much it sucked being at work.
Almost every other thought I had for a year after I returned to work was about my daughter. About how much joy and happiness I was missing. Because that path I was on at work? It wasn’t mine; it was the Status Quo. I had to box most of myself up to Be Part of the Team. Before baby, this wasn’t an issue because I wasn’t bothered by following the rules. After baby, what mattered more was being the best me I could be to raise this amazing kid. And Best Me talks back, questions a lot, makes jokes, talks real. Which is great if you’re Fun Work Event Girl, not so great if you’re For Serious Manager Lady.
FSML tried really, really hard to play the game: the one where you follow the rules, agree with things you don’t, complete time-wasting processes, and smile when being told you’re doing everything wrong. Plus, as a FSML Mom, there’s the whole “You must work to show your daughters working and momming is how life is, sacrifices and all.”
This led to me being stressed out, crabby, and overwhelmed. Do you know how hard it is to pump effectively when you’re miserable and someplace you don’t want to be? Add to this, Second Baby! Now felt like I was drowning in a sea of overwhelming activity because weekdays were a blur of getting the kids to daycare, going to work and not being happy, picking the kids up, feeding/bathing/putting them to bed, going to bed, and repeat. They’re so little that they don’t really have much in the way of school events or extra curricular, but I can see it coming. My kids are wildings; they are nonstop from wake up to bedtime, needing us to observe their latest masterpieces and listen to their stories. And I couldn’t enjoy it because I was exhausted. (I also had the brilliant idea to start my own business during this because I’m clearly a masochist.)
So, I quit. I am walking away from easy income because working had turned me into a crab apple, and I was missing the fun of being a little kid. Knowing the end is in sight is nerve-wracking. Knowing that I have an opportunity to make my co-owned business amazing is nerve-wracking. After all, I’ve always worked for someone. Now I’m working for someones, towards raising kids full of hope, happiness, and love—for them AND for me.