In the rising age of feminism, women are repeatedly told you can have it all, especially in regards to family life and career. Sure, you can have both but is it really having it all?
When my son was born in 2015, I was fortunate to be able to take 4 months off before returning to my work as a psychotherapist and parent educator. And yet, it didn’t feel like enough. I felt like I was sacrificing precious moments with my baby and my heart ached for those mamas that had to return to work full time just 6 weeks after having their babies. At 6 weeks postpartum I still had tons of pain from childbirth and don’t get me started on the breastfeeding pain I was still experiencing so returning to work at that time was truly unfathomable. Even at 4 months postpartum I felt like a shell of myself in a constant state of sleep deprivation, with my hair falling out, and a fluffy body that didn’t fit into any of my old work clothes. Things got easier as my son got older and soon I began to see my 2-3 days at work as personal time and a welcomed break from the stresses of being a parent.
Fast-forward 3 years later, we had another baby and moved from California to Indiana with a 3-month-old. The plan was for me to stay home for a few months and then head back to work when our baby was about 5 or 6 months old. I really struggled with this life transition of being in a new town with a fussy baby and a stir-crazy toddler who was used to being outdoors every day. My husband was working from home and I found myself getting envious that he got daily showers and lunch breaks while I was wearing spit up from 2 days ago and eating granola bars in between tantrums and baby cries. And on a larger scale, I was also quite jealous that he never had to make hard choices about his career and family like how long to be out on leave or how he will rebuild a client base after stepping away for several months. Because dads don’t grow babies they don’t have to make these tough career choices. And if dads did grow babies we’d have 1 year paid paternity leave and lactation rooms in every office but that is a different topic for a different day.
As I started to acknowledge these feelings, I quickly realized I had to start working on getting back to my career. I needed to get relicensed, network, and find an office space or a group practice. It was an overwhelming task to do all of this and also just manage the house and kids. I chose not to stay in this space of “it’s not fair,” I chose to keep moving forward while embracing the daily challenges of motherhood. My career has always been important to me and I’m passionate about the work I do helping children and families. So I allow myself to feel frustration with the gender inequality in the workforce, and at the same time I also have a strong feeling of gratitude that I am in a position to have a choice to work or stay at home. So right now I choose the in between, the no-mans-land that is part-time work. For me, it creates the most balance in my life while my children are young and allows me to stay in the workforce. When my kids are older I’ll devote more hours to my career while they are in school so, for now, I’ll make the most of my childcare hours and do what I can.
Before having kids I thought part-time work was really having it all because I could have my career, be at home a few days without work, and really have an ideal balance. While it does work well, for the most part, I was unprepared for the amount of professional sacrifices I would have to make and will continue to have to make if we have more children. Since becoming a mom I’ve had to turn down opportunities that would have been great for my career or would have provided a lot of professional growth. I turned them down because the time commitment was too great, the cost of childcare didn’t make sense for the pay, or I couldn’t arrange last-minute childcare. It is a disappointment every time I have to turn down a career opportunity, but I remind myself that this is all temporary. My babies are only babies for so long so I try to embrace the in-between state that is my life right now.
So for all the mamas out there struggling with career and family life balance…. I see you. And no, you aren’t crazy-this stuff is hard and the odds are stacked against you as a career woman and mother. We need a community of women and oddly enough that is quite hard when you are working during the week. My advice is to turn to your partner for help if you need it, organize a mom’s night out to vent, or join a weekend moms meet-up group. Full-time, part-time, or stay at home we are all in this mommin’ thing together and mommin’ ain’t easy any way you slice it.