In my early 20s, before my babies were born, I always knew that, when the time came, I would be a working mom. My work is important to me – it makes me feel fulfilled in a way that’s not replicable, and I love being cognitively and creatively challenged. Working motherhood is not the right choice for everyone, but I was sure it was for me.
But, that was before. As it turns out, I married a man with a highly demanding job, and a few years later, when we moved halfway across the country for his job, I was six months pregnant and unable to find work. Even after our baby was a few months old and I dove into the job search again, the stakes were much higher. With my husband in a career where days-off and leaving early for school closings or doctors’ appointments aren’t necessarily an option, the bulk of the day-to-day parenting fell on me. And that meant that my job had to fall within the constraints of child-care schedules with a level of flexibility that is not agreeable to most employers. It seemed impossible to be able to make it work.
In our society, even with the most feminist of spouses and the truest equal-partnerships, it seems that parenting falls largely on women (particularly, carrying the mental workload, scheduling, and managing childcare). Very generally speaking, juggling children and work is something that working mothers struggle with much more than working fathers.
As Jenn, 31, an engineer at a construction company, points out: “The hardest part about parenting and working in my position are the unexpected last-minute kind of work projects that I often can’t stay late for because I need to pick up my son. I feel like those are the times where men have the upper hand in work environments, and why they will get the promotion, ultimately. From a management standpoint, they seem to do their job better because they can drop their life at the flip of a switch for work, but I usually can’t.”
This is just an example of what’s coined the “motherhood penalty”– a term used by sociologists to account for the penalties mothers face in hiring, salaries, and perceived workplace competence that do not seem to affect fathers.
Societal norms won’t change overnight, we know. But, the truth is that the way we treat mothers in this country is pretty archaic. As we continue to push for legislation supporting mothers and equality in the workplace, we also need to lift mothers up with encouragement and actionable advice on how to make time for both parenting and career.
Five years after my oldest son was born, I feel like I’m just now figuring out a career path that seems feasible for me in terms of supporting my family.
Now in my early 30s, the road seems more arduous and obstacle-filled than before. Not only do I have two children to account for, I’m also much older than the average woman entering my field. But, my work is important to me, and I continue to push through in my attempts to create a career means to me while making time for my babies, as well.
It’s not easy, and each mom’s journey is different. But, if you are struggling to build your career in those moments between motherhood like many of us are, here are three tips I’ve learned along the way that have helped me feel good about my choices and seemingly-slow career growth.
You Can’t Do It All
As mothers, it’s often really hard for us to let go of things. We feel a lot of pressure to maintain the house, do well at work, be present with the kids, and, generally, take care of everything, always. But, you know as well as I do that doing it all is just not sustainable.
When I first become a mother, I tried endlessly to take care of everything, and I tried and failed countless times. At some point in my parenting journey, I came across an interview with J.K. Rowling where she mentioned that people always ask her how she raised a baby and wrote a book. Her answer: “I didn’t do housework for four years. I am not superwoman. And, um, living in squalor, that was the answer.”
We are not superwomen. And, it’s ok to let some things go. In fact, as I write this, there’s a giant pile of unfolded laundry staring at me from the couch to prove it.
It’s Okay To Feel Every Emotion On Each Side
Even though I know I want to work, I constantly feel all sorts of conflicting emotions surrounding job hours, child care, missing my kids, yet still wanting to work. It turns out, I’m not alone in that.
Alyssa, 28, who works for a tech company in Oregon, notes her best advice for working moms: “It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to be overwhelmed. It’s OK to constantly be thinking about your little one as you’re simultaneously bringing all you’ve got to the conference room, your projects, and your passions. It’s OK to be frustrated when you have another bottle or pump part to clean, or that you feel like you never get 15 minutes to yourself for a hot cup of coffee or an uninterrupted shower. Your choices to stay and grow in your career are the best ones for you, your family, and are always, always made out of love. No matter what you do, you’re providing a wonderful example to your little one — even when you feel like you aren’t.”
It’s safe to say, at some point, you will feel frustrated or resentful at each part of your life. But, it’s important to move through those emotions and trust your choices and decisions and the belief that you make them with your absolute best intentions for your family.
Accept That Work Is Important To You
One of the things I didn’t expect to feel as a working mother is guilt. I felt guilty that I needed another job to feel fulfilled when other women were completely content staying at home with their children. I felt guilty that my job wasn’t important or high-earning as, say, a doctor’s. I felt less as a mother, and I often beat myself up for not being different. These feelings were compounded by comments from friends and strangers; each time I heard “Oh, they’re in school that long?” it punched me in the gut.
Kate, 30, chimed in on our Everymom Tribe page with a similar experience. “I LOVE being a working mom but have found that other people don’t expect that to be the case. I disliked getting comments like, ‘It must be so hard to leave your baby,’ and now, ‘Will you really keep working after your second is born?’ Yes, I really will, and happily! It is okay to enjoy being a working mother. Plus, I know I wouldn’t enjoy staying at home nearly as much as many women do.”
It’s vital to try to understand yourself and accept your truth. After years of peeling back the layers and really getting to know me, those sorts of comments don’t bother me that much anymore. The truth is, I like working. And I might not be saving lives, but my work fills me up on the inside and that’s important, too.
We are all just doing the best we can.