Dear Working Moms,
We work for various reasons. The collective of those reasons is individual to each of us. Perhaps we need to work because raising a family on one income is an extraordinary feat these days. Or maybe our income is the only income. Bills have to be paid. Ever growing debt has to be tamed. Yet the bank account doesn't necessarily reflect our hard work and dedication. Perhaps we want or need the career to feel whole. A place where we make outside contributions to the world without sticky fingers grabbing at us. Where our clothes can stay spotless for just a few hours while we have adult conversation at the coffee maker, close deals that don't involve juice boxes, and handle five minute calls quietly. We can have closed office doors without little ones on the other side demanding entry. Yet from behind that closed door, we miss out.
Sometimes we can't find the words to express the reality of working motherhood. The joy and simultaneous hell it brings. It's an extreme description for some, an exaggeration, but it's eerily accurate for others. Just as our reasons for working are not one-size-fits-all, neither are our experiences.
Some of us have plenty of paycheck left after paying for child care. Some watch almost all of that paycheck fly out of the bank account to daycare centers. We imagine the house we could own if it weren't for that hefty expense...even as those child care workers struggle to make ends meet on what is finally funneled to them.
We are stretched thin. Rising before the sun to greet each new marathon day. We go to bed long after the sun sets and only a few hours before it rises again. Maybe we find time for ourselves in there. Maybe we don't. Maybe we lie in bed kicking ourselves in the midst of our to-do list run-through for not finding the time to squeeze it in - because "me time" is most certainly scheduled. Do we get up even earlier? Workout in lieu of lunch? Maybe at the end of the day before going home? We mentally arrange and rearrange things, trying to decide what we will sacrifice for a brief workout, manicure, solo trip to the store, or even a brief moment to sit in silence in the car.
At the end of the work day, some of us brace ourselves before going in the house. We try to bolster our physically and mentally exhausted selves for an onslaught of demands, daily stories, and sometimes drama. We love being needed. We love knowing we were missed and still have a crucial role in our homes. But a buffer. We need a buffer between work and home. A chance to decompress before homework, practices, games, and cooking supper. We need a chance to brace ourselves if we know the house we left decently picked up that morning will look like an F-5 tornado has blown through since.
We help with homework. We cook supper. We hear stories of field trips, after school tooth pulling, play dates at other friends' houses. We hear about the things we missed because of our careers. Sometimes we are okay with that. Sometimes we are not. Sometimes we just want a reality where we get to choose what we miss and what we don't. Work. It dictates when we get to be Mom.
When the little ones are finally in bed, we look around our houses. Perhaps we have someone come in to clean and what we see sparkles. Maybe we have a routine that allows us to keep it clean ourselves. Or maybe we walk into the middle of the kitchen, suddenly assaulted by the sight of dirty dishes, the toys strewn from the sink all the way to the other side of the living room, random clothes scattered instead of placed in a hamper, and an awareness of bathrooms that haven't been scrubbed in we-don't-want-to-think-about-how-long. We have to decide if we ignore it, deal with it, or put it off for another day. No matter what we choose, something is sacrificed.
Significant others either help with the load or add to it. Often it's a conglomeration of both because of the very nature of relationships. Our partners are pushing through, too. And dedicated time for our partners? That's a scheduling issue. Where do we fit in date nights? Can we even afford a sitter? How do we find time for intimacy when all we want is to embrace sleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow?
We stress about whether we'll have access to paid maternity leave, sick leave, or annual leave when we birth our beautiful babies. And leave for family vacations? That's not always an option, either. Maybe we have a support system and/or family nearby we trust to help; a support system we can rely upon when things go awry. Maybe we don't. Trust. We have to have it as working moms, but if that trust is destroyed we're stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Working moms, I hear you. I see you. I intimately know your struggle, your sleeplessness, and your bliss. We sometimes envy our "stay-at-home" counterparts, even as we recognize the grass isn't always greener. We secretly think of all the things we would get done if we didn't have that career. The organic, fresh ingredient lunches we would pack. The spotless houses in which we would reside. Somehow, we imagine we would be the perfect mom, partner, and woman. Whatever that truly is. Spinning reality gets us a little crazy.
Mamas? Hang in there. I'm here for you. I've got you. I honor you.
P.S. Stay-at-home-moms, don't despair. I've got you, too! Your letter is coming up next!