Friday, December 13, 2013

Work and Life and Mama'ing and All the Things

A little while ago, a friend reached out for advice on this whole working mom thing. She just had her second baby, and has been a stay at home mom for a few years. She sent me an email with a bunch of "crazy 'show your real' questions" (her words, not mine!), basically explaining tha she has very few friends who juggle multiple kids and both parents working full-time. Whew. Don't I know it. I'm always looking for those examples! (If you're out there, working mamas of 2+...raise your hand! Unless both hands are full?!) My friend is considering going back to work, but can't seem to imagine it being feasible (her husband has some tough work demands: Unpredictable late nights, last-minute travel, tons of overtime from home, etc.) So she wanted advice on how to make it all work, if it even could all work.  

She ended her email apologizing if it all seemed too personal or crazy. But nothing could be further from the truth. I explained that I don't really know many people that are doing it either, and when I find someone, I pounce all over them to hear how they do it, so I'd love to share how we make it work (I use "work" loosely bc I don't want anyone to think we have it figured out. But we are still there is that!) 

I was actually excited for the chance to sit and mull things over for a bit because most days we're running so fast I don't adequate reflect on what our big picture goals are, and if we're getting there. It's also been something I've wanted to blog about but have been hesitant because I don't want to seem like I think I have the answers. (Plus I'm still a little cautious about writing about work.) But as I've said before, I wish more people would share about the challenges (and benefits!) of being a working mom, so in the spirit of Show Your Real, I'm always willing to get that ball rolling...

Here is a snippet (the longest snippet ever...) of my response to her:


First- thanks for reaching out! I'm just going to start typing and see where it goes, so I apologize if it ends up being more cathartic for me than it is helpful for you. Hopefully it's both!

Let me start with why I work. I don't work for the money. We don't actually need the money. Argh, that sounds spoiled and terrible...I mean, everyone needs money, and I certainly do like having more money vs. less money, but I mean if I was really passionate about staying home I'm sure we could make it work on one salary. Plenty of people do. I work primarily because I love working. I don't love waking up every morning and dragging myself out of bed and fighting traffic and arguing with people and never getting enough done and spending all day writing/reading/following up on silly emails, but I do love working. I need the consistency of going to an office every day and I need list to check off. I have to accomplish things. And not like "bum wiping" type things. Real things. Simple, every day to do list things, and big, look back on them one day and be proud of them things. Even as a mom I'm a do-er. I know that there is value and pride in cuddling, and diapering, and "little teapot" singing, but it's always a struggle for me to leave the list behind and just be with my kids. I'm better when I'm feeling productive- even if it's plowing through some laundry, organizing toys, or researching Christmas gifts. My brain is fast. I don't necessarily mean that to brag…it's just that my mind is always going. My racing mind, and boundless ambition (again, not a brag…just a truth that not a day goes by where I don't think of at least two more projects I want to start) means I have to have someplace to channel all of it, or I'll go nuts. I start to get restless, bored and resentful. And on the flip side- I'm terrible without structure. Having the entire day open is a blessing for a few days on a vacation, and then I start to atrophy. When I have too much free time, my motivation actually plummets, and I'll find myself squandering it all and feeling sloth-y and lethargic and depressed. I don't mean to suggest that being a stay at home mom means you have your entire day open. I know first-hand how many things have to get done in the time before the evening routine of dinner/bath/bed. But I also know that it's a life with considerably less structure, and is much slower paced than a rat race type of job. And I've found I prefer the hustle. I actually kind of like walking into a small mountain of undone work each morning because it's a challenge. A challenge I fail at every day to some level, but a challenge that keeps me moving and makes me better. 

Related story- why do I work full time? I believe that part time work would and could be THE jam. It's the best of both worlds, right? One foot in the career world, one foot at home…both sides of your brain are satisfied and happy. Just enough "me time" balanced with enough time to still get things done at home without feeling harried or like an absentee mom. You could work in the morning, be done in time to pick up from preschool, play at the park for a bit and then head home to whip up some dinner. Life win!!!
Except….I've never really seen that perfect set up in real life. I don't know anyone who has found a part time gig that actually works like that scenario, and even if it does exist, it seems to come with trade offs that I'm not willing to make (yet). The money doesn't ever seem to justify the part time hours. So you pretty much have to do it because you're passionate about it. But for me- I don't want a job. I want a career. And I haven't seen many (any?) part time careers. If you want the authority, the trust, the freedom, the responsibility, and the credit that comes with a career, you kind of have to put the time that goes along with it. I'm sure there are fields that are more accommodating than others (teachers have a more kid friendly schedule for example, and that is still most definitely a career) but in retail, which I was accidentally dumb enough to fall in love with (ha!) you pretty much have to sell your soul. Or at least put in some serious hours. 

photo/card by Elise

Okay, but you didn't actually ask any of that. So why don't I stop rambling and get to your actual question. If you do decide to work full-time, how do you make it work?
Here's my secret: I have the best husband ever. Honestly, that's not a very helpful answer, but it is true. His schedule at his new job, which he's been a little over a year, has been awesome. It's a pretty tight 8 to 5. Which means he can pick up the girls pretty much every single day. In truth, he actually drops them off most days as well. So if you want to ask somebody what it's like to feel burdened by having a full-time job plus the full-time job of pick up and drop off, I'm really not the one to ask. He does the heavy lifting on that part, both figuratively and literally. Could I help with that more? Absolutely. Could I do it every day if he couldn't? Maybe. Honestly the morning wouldn't be the challenge, (as long as I could drag myself out of bed early enough to get ready and get all this out the door on time, which is no small feat in and of itself).The real struggle would be the evening. It doesn't seem to matter what time I get to work, quitting time still isn't right at five, as much as I would like it to be. Now, I have made some rules for myself in the season, where I leave by 5:15, pretty much no matter what's going on. But it does feel awkward. It seems like I'm letting the team down, even if they're not saying it. I talked to my boss and she understands that right now I can't put in the hours that I used to, but I do sometimes feel like it's only a matter of time before the expectations of the job outweigh the time I'm able/willing to put in. Some of it is flexible, I can leave on time, go home and do my thing, and then get on email or work on things at home for a little bit before bed, but who wants to do that? But I do that when necessary, and I'm definitely guilty of checking my email and my calendar and getting some work stuff done in tiny snippets while I nurse the baby or heat up dinner, or when I'm supposed to be hanging out with the family. I don't like that, I would much rather be fully present, but sometimes it's the only option. I figure it's better for me to be there even if 10% of me is preoccupied, than not be home at all.

I will say a lot of the guilt comes from me, not people at work, and not my family.  The girls are obviously too little to understand how long either one of us is gone and why. But I do feel bad about leaving them, and I do miss them when I'm gone. But more of the guilt comes to me with my working relationships. I don't want to look like I think I get a pass because I have kids, but it is a different reality, and I am only able to do so much. I have different priorities now, which is strange because I was in this job way before I had kids, so it's definitely a noticeable shift. I'm not willing to get there at seven and stay till nine anymore. I am willing to work twice as hard to get it all done in a shorter amount of time, but to be honest I kind of already was working twice as hard, so it's hard to give any more than I was. In the end, I really just have to do the best I can do, and hope that it's good enough, and figure if other people are making compromises that they're not happy about they shouldn't blame me for not making the same compromises. My boss actually had a really insightful take on it, explaining that working (and being a mother) is a marathon, not a sprint. Right now, I'm in a bit of an uphill point in my race. The wind is in my face, so it's all I can do to just keep plodding along. But someday (soon?) there will be a downhill turn, and maybe even a tailwind, and I'll be cruising along a top speed again. And then it will shift again. The point is, we shouldn't judge ourselves (or others) on our "split-time" (how's that for a running analogy/double meaning?!)...when it's about the long term. I hate to run, but that concept sure does make me feel better. 

As far as the rhythm of our life outside of work goes, I won't lie to you; It's tough. There is a lot to get done in the after work hours, which is a challenge when you're really just trying to soak up time with the little ones. There are weekends when it seems like all we're doing is running errands. Grocery store, picking up presents, post office, whatever, it all seems to need to be jammed into a Saturday morning before nap or a Sunday afternoon after church. I hate feeling like family time also has to serve double duty as getting stuff done time, but that sort of it is what it is. If I were home full time, the girls and I would surely do the grocery shopping together too, so that we could hang out with Dustin at night, so I suppose in the end it's not that different, but it still isn't my favorite. I've actually started grocery shopping in the morning on my way to work. It's kind of bizarre, that I drop the girls off at daycare and then go get my stuff done, but Piper likes to be there at a certain time to get breakfast with everybody anyway, and I have a little bit of time before I absolutely have to be at work, so I might as well make that time count. So I do my shopping, bring whatever I need to into work and then bring it back out at the end of the day. There's probably 1,000 little tricks like this where you try to squeeze out any sort of efficiency and time that you can find in an otherwise jampacked day. Part of that is great, it makes me feel like I'm moving and shaking and getting it all done. And part of that is so stressful, because it feels like a jumbling tower where everything is one nudge away from toppling.

Oh, and did I mention how tired I am? (Who am I kidding? Of course I've mentioned that.) Because I am. Oh so tired. So that's another wrinkle, but to be really honest I think I was actually sometimes more tired when I stayed home.  That might sound counter intuitive, but for me it's a little bit easier to slam some caffeine, suck it up and keep my eyes open in front of a desk, than it is to find the patience and energy and emotional stamina to keep up with the little ones when running on fumes. Plus I'm only at the 6 month mark with Fin. Talk to me at a year, when we're all (god willing!!) sleeping through the night (most of the time...) and this becomes much easier. This baby phase is both short and long, but undeniably intense when it's happening. 

I'm almost the wrong person to ask about a lot of this, because there's a ton that I have not figured out yet. To be honest, I struggle still with the whole two kid thing. I had trouble with it when I was at home with them, and going to work kind of gave me an out when it came to caring for the both of them in tandem on my own, and I happily accepted that free pass. Other than maternity leave, Dustin and I can each probably count on one hand the times when either one of us has cared for both kids on our own. (Not including when they're both asleep and one of us runs out to do something for an hour.) That has probably been the biggest struggle for us so far. Honestly that's been one of the biggest struggles that the two of us have ever faced in our relationship. We both feel trapped by the burden of children at times, and feel guilty about saddling the other one with that burden. Negotiating time away in the evening or on weekends is a sensitive topic bc neither of us feel like we're "allowed" to leave the other one alone, or if we do- we end up jealous and resentful that our partner has a life and we don't. Ugh. This is where it gets really "show your real". Do I want to admit that my husband and I fight and are sometimes overwhelmed by the kids that we chose to make? No. Do I want to admit that caring for two, just two, of my own offspring on my own makes me nervous? No. You and countless other moms do things that I haven't had to do, and would be nervous to attempt. In the beginning we thought Dustin's job was going to have a lot more travel, and it's turned out to have none so far.  But if he were consistently gone in the evening? I don't know how I would handle it. I'm sure I could do it because everybody rises to the occasion in which they are placed, but I wouldn't love it. That's just the truth. There are days when I was on maternity leave that I counted the minutes until 5:20 when I expected him to walk in the door. And if it was 5:23 you better believe I have questions for him. That makes me sound like a psychopath. But sometimes being home with a one month old and a nineteen month old, makes you a psychopath. 

All in all, I'm not hundred percent sure where I'm going with all this. If you do decide to work full time you would rock it. Because that's how you are. And if you did decide to work full-time, people like me and hopefully countless others would give you tips on the nitty-gritty of making it happen. Crockpot meals, carpools, other awesome things I don't even know about yet. But that's probably not what this is all really about. You don't need pinterest tips from just want to feel like someone else is feeling the push/pull of this whole identity struggle. I love to work. I love my kids. I don't love either one all the time. Neither realm is enough on its own. But both are sometimes too much. What's the perfect solution? How do you balance? How do you bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never, never let him forget he's a man? I HAVE NO IDEA. But right now, I'm working. And hustling. And cuddling. And failing. And apologizing. I'm kicking ass at some of it (encouraging and relating to other mamas). And I'm not even attempting some of it (cleaning my house). I pick my battles (maybe not always wisely, but I do pick them) and Dustin and I constantly do the dance of "you grab this one, I'll grab that one". "You pick them up, I'll drop them off". "Your schedule is priority this time, you take one for the team the next time." We cram as much into the hours that we have (luckily the kids wake up at six, so we have more hours than you'd think!) and we try to embrace the pockets of rest when we can find them.
If this season for you is one of being a full time mommy, that doesn't mean that it has to be your path forever. You may be able to find some fulfillment through part time work/volunteering/hobbies. And you may try some of that stuff only to find it's more stressful than it is life-giving, and if so, you have my explicit permission to bail. There is already so much stuff in life that we grown ups have to do even though we don't want to, no sense adding any more in the name of "should". If/when you decide to go back to work may have to dust off some cobwebs. But you'll get back in the swing of things. For better or for worse, the working world doesn't change much. Sure, some new buzzwords, or process shifts may blow your mind for a bit (I'm like a crotchety grandpa every time my Excel gets upgraded) but you'll find you fit back in faster than you think. 

Whew. I hope that was helpful. Or at least just true. 

You're doing a fantastic job with those kiddos, and you should be proud of the family you've been blessed with, because they're thriving, in large part thanks to you. Keep me posted on what you're exploring, and please let me know if I can help at all. I promise not to send you another novel. 



That last part? The "you're doing a good job, mama" part? That's not just for my friend. That's for all of you. Whether you work outside the home or not. Whether you have one kid or seven. We're all doing our best to complete this marathon, and I'm honored to run it along side you all. 


  1. Court ... whoa. First, major kudos for your honesty. It was eye-opening to read. I mean you've mentioned bits and pieces of home life here and there throughout your blog posts so this sort of combined a lot of it into one post, but I think even with good friends there are still issues we 'sweep under the rug' and don't mention even to friends and so I found this to be a great read. And I hope it's okay if a dad shares his thoughts on this definite mom-centric topic because I know society has made it much more difficult for women to deal with the emotional burden of work/stay home.

    A lot of what you describe is Jillian. It's not my blog so I'll be brief(ish), but she too wants a career, feels the push/pull pressure of work where she comes home by 5:30 but often times is on her computer after the kids go to bed. And I let it happen. I think our relationship suffers because by the time the kids are bathed/read/brushed/fluffed/asleep we each invariably just want time to ourselves to do nothing (or sometimes do more work). And that lack of communication slowly creeps in over time and I'm aware of it and it scares me and yet I stay silent wondering what life looks like 10 years from now. So I don't know what happens from here but I do understand.

    And Jill travels a lot (roughly 60 days a year) so I think it's easier for her to then understand my need to have outside activities. So on a lot of Wednesdays I play tennis or I may go visit friends for a weekend during the NCAA tournament or something. I think that does help our sanity a bit so there are lots of times when it is just one of us with the two kids. And it is hard, although I will admit, when one of your kids is 5 it makes it a lot easier. Plus b/c there are a lot of times when it's just one of us with the kids, I think it makes the days when it's 2-on-2 easier.

    In the mornings we each take a kid to school and pick them up so that helps. And weekend time is 'errand time.' Grocery shopping for us happens after church and so Jill gets groceries w/o kids while the three of us terrorize the toy aisle. I consider it playtime with new toys so we have family time amidst errands. I also think it's okay that our kids see what goes into making the family work. So that means going with us on those errands, etc.

    And I agree with the marathon analogy. Because right now it's very hard because they rely so much on us, but I also think that brings a lot of joy/laughter b/c they want to be around us. I think about the future when they're 11 or 12 and they sleep in until 11 am before waking up and bouncing off to 'Joey's house' to play and they'll be home at 6 for dinner before going downstairs to play Xbox and grunt two word phrases at my questions. I have no doubt my personal life will be much easier in that regard b/c the time demands will have shrunk dramatically, but is that something I'm looking forward to? That makes me sad b/c I want my kids to want to hang out with me. And not as BFFs but you know what I mean. So when I get whimsical and wish for this far off fantasy of 'easier' times that also means giving up a lot of what I love. Snuggles on the couch to watch cartoons, working on puzzles together, cooking with mom, etc. So I guess it's a struggle to know which thing I want.

    But I'm so grateful you wrote this and shared it. It too allowed me to type out feelings in more of a cathartic note. Hopefully this even encourages further dialogue amongst your readers b/c I would love to hear from others too.

  2. THANK YOU MAMA! Not enough working moms blog (because, really, who has time??) and I find myself soaking up the details of anyone's life that looks even remotely like mine. So thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank and KEEP WRITING.

    And parsons - "So I guess it's a struggle to know which thing I want." Such a struggle, every breath.