I had a tight grip on the steering wheel of my car, I was tailgating other drivers, and I was fighting a deep urge to scream obscenities at the traffic (and also at the world in general). The cause of my Monday afternoon road rage? Getting to my four-year-old son’s soccer practice on time.
In this case, we were twenty-five minutes late to a thirty-minute practice. I had just hauled it across town after a meeting ran late, so I was already worked up before I even got to my son’s daycare to pick him up.
As I apologized to him through the rearview mirror, feeling helpless and frustrated at my inability to get him to his singular weekday activity on time, something funny happened. He looked at me and said earnestly, “It’s really okay, Mommy. You don’t have to be sad. It’s just a practice.” And then he continued eating his snack as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Because he didn’t.
I realized he couldn’t care less about being on time.
This scene sums up my overall fear of trying to balance it all. Both my husband and I work full time, and here I was having a mini meltdown over one thing. With one child. Now, we have another little boy, a nine-month-old.
How are we going to do it all?
The practices and games, the school plays, the special treats for teacher appreciation day. The haircuts and medical appointments. The playdates, the vacation planning, and oh yeah, working my job, somehow managing time to get some exercise, and do one thing for myself every now and then.
How is this possible, I wonder.
After having both of my kids, I didn’t have too much hesitation about returning to work. I like what I do, enjoy my colleagues, and let’s be honest, sometimes look forward to the parenting break that comes with a 9-5 job and being able to drink my coffee hot on the first try.
On average, it’s all fine. But, as with averages, they don’t tell the story of the outer fringes. I have had some high highs being a working mother, and some really low lows – like sobbing in my car, trying to get my shit together before walking into my office after a bad daycare drop off.
My oldest son asks me now, “Mommy, why do you work?” or “Mommy, why do you leave me?” Those moments are gut-wrenching, but I know he’s now old enough to sort of understand when I tell him that I get to tell stories to help people, and I like what I do. I explain that I love him so much and that I will always be there to get him at the end of the day. He seems to get it, but it wasn’t always that way. You can’t exactly explain your complicated life choices to a one-year-old, whose instinctual reaction when you walk away is to scream.
I struggle with this internal push and pull daily. Sometimes hourly. There are some days at work I don’t think about my children at all, and that makes me feel guilty. There are other days when I think of them all the time and that makes me feel guilty. I feel like I’ve constantly got this nagging feeling that the floor is about to fall out from underneath my feet every day.
It’s like I’m on this tightrope high above the ground balancing one of those Mary Poppins’ bags on my head with a million things poking out. There’s a net underneath me, like family in town who support us and a husband who happily splits up our responsibilities, but that net seems far away and not really like a viable option.
I still feel like I’ve got to stay on that rope, no matter what.
And now, despite still enjoying my work, I ask myself probably once a day, “Why am I doing this?” and daydream about a time when I could potentially work part-time or freelance so I could have more flexibility with our family.
The reality is, the schedule and the juggling is only going to get busier and more intense as our kids grow up. It’s exciting to imagine our sons loving activities and investing themselves in something they enjoy. Lately when I find myself spiraling downward about the “how,” – “how will I do this or manage that?” – I try reframing my mindset to focus on the “why.”
Why do I feel so stressed out? Is it actually stressful, or am I putting a huge burden on myself for no reason? Most of the time, it’s not as stressful as I think it is, and if I would just chill out, I could see that it really is just a soccer practice. If we’re ten minutes late for this birthday party, it’ll still be fun, and my son won’t care at all.
We all make the choices that we think are right for our families, and luckily our kids don’t age from 1 to 10 overnight.
So in this busy season of life, I’m choosing to take deep breaths and say “no.” We just don’t have to do everything or be everywhere at all times. There is no right balance but I think the right perspective can make all the difference.