New Year’s Resolutions thrilled me as a child. I imagined January 1 as a reset button, a chance to accomplish everything. My resolutions changed over the years: filling my sticker album with Strawberry Shortcake in the 1980s, attending Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair in the 1990s, and moving to Minneapolis to pursue my journalism career in the early 2000s.
Before I gave birth to my son Weston, I devoted most of my energy to my work. He changed everything. My New Year’s resolutions before his birth in January of 2014 included this sentence: “Try to have it all.”
Striving to “have it all” has caused significant angst among women, including female celebrities who are frequently asked how they manage work and family. Actor Keira Knightley famously responded: “Are you going to ask all the men that question tonight?” I believe the question is usually innocent, but still, it induces guilt, especially in mothers. It is impossible to devote 100 percent of one’s life to both career and family, yet mothers are often subjected to unrealistic expectations.
I have experienced many challenges, but perhaps none greater than the first time I left my 10-month-old son at daycare. I can still hear him, in a confused tone, crying out: “Mama? Mama?” I quickly walked to my car, as the teacher instructed me to do. Then I cried driving to work. This pattern continued for at least three months. I did not want to leave him, but I also wanted to succeed in the professional world. One day, coming home from a successful photo shoot at a surgical hospital where I directed communications, I found three-year-old Weston crying. I asked him what was wrong, and he said: “I just missed you, Mama, and you weren’t here.” My light mood dissipated as I looked into his big blue eyes and saw his tears.
I was fortunate when I gave birth to Weston. My boss let me work part-time from home during that first year, and we managed to arrange in-home care until he attended full-time daycare at 10 months old. Then I began researching the pros and cons of staying at home versus joining the workforce. I read hundreds of articles, and I asked friends about their choices and why they made them. One stay-at-home mother said to me: “I just couldn’t leave my baby. I couldn’t do it.” I remember thinking: “What does that say about me, that I can?” This friend decided to quit her full-time job and work part-time from home. She made sacrifices so she could feel at peace with her decision. She wrote to me, “I think balance is the biggest struggle of motherhood.”
Our struggles are not unique. Becky Gillespie and Hollee Temple, authors of Good Enough is the New Perfect: Finding Success in Modern Motherhood, surveyed approximately 900 working moms born between 1965 and 1980, interviewing them about sacrifices, victories, priorities, and challenges as they tried to juggle work and family. The survey “overwhelmingly confirmed” that the “constant need to be the best at everything” was the most significant deterrent to balancing work and family.
The most successful women made conscious sacrifices; they did not attempt to conquer everything because they understood they could not. These women learned to expect the best from themselves without needing to be the best always. Perhaps most importantly, they proactively chose their sacrifices and made creative adjustments, allowing them to feel more content. They envisioned what their lives could be, and they tried not to make decisions based on fear or guilt.
Nearly 75 percent of women surveyed made changes to their professional lives to accommodate motherhood. A quarter took advantage of flexible scheduling with the same employer; almost a fifth switched to part-time work with the same employer; 15 percent accepted a new full-time job with more flexibility; 10 percent chose a part-time opportunity with a new employee; 10 percent started freelancing, and 11 percent started their own business. Eight percent quit their jobs to stay at home.
We can’t have it all, all of the time. We can treasure moments of joy, whether it be at work or at home. If I am with Weston, I try to stop thinking about my to-do list at work. And if I’m at the office, I try to reframe the nagging guilt that seeps into my workday. Lastly, I try not to compare myself to other mothers, which is tempting when observing their Pinterest-worthy classroom treats. (I’m more of a Little Debbie kind of Mom).
Please remember this: You are not alone as you navigate these decisions, and as my pediatrician once said, if you’re thinking about this struggle at all, you’re already a great mother because you care.
Originally published in Bayou Life Magazine.