Work-Life Balance: Fact or Fiction?

Working mother at her desk with a bottle of breast milk--trying to achieve work-life balance
When I decided to have kids, continuing to work full-time too seemed like a no-brainer. All around me, women were having babies and heading back to work with breast pumps concealed as messenger bags, nursing pads secured in their bras, and nary a postpartum bump in the road. They seemed to have no problem with work-life balance. So I just assumed it would be that way for me. I would birth kids, love my kids, send said kids off to daycare/school, and head back to work like nothing had changed.

Yeah. Right.

Working mother feeding her baby before going to workOf all the women I knew who returned to work after having children, NONE ever told me three months of maternity leave feels like three days. They also didn’t tell me that the thought of leaving your newborn with someone else—ANYONE else—makes you feel like vomiting. Or that when you return to work you feel like you left your heart outside your body and count the minutes until you can go home. As if these surprise emotional aspects weren’t hard enough, time management issues almost drove me insane. How is someone supposed to feed a baby, take a shower, feed a baby again, get ready for work, feed a baby yet AGAIN, and get to work on time? It felt impossible. And for a while, it WAS, until it wasn’t.

I’m unsure how, but eventually I found a routine. I could get where I needed to, and being away from my kids became less traumatic. But the scheduling, the working, the parenting . . .

Working mother asleep on her computer

Nothing ever stops for a Working Mom. Ever.

Now, I’m not saying Stay-At-Home-Moms don’t have their struggles, too. When I first returned to work, it was part-time, and I “joked” that my work-days were my days off. Staying home with kids is hard for a million reasons—the biggest for me being that it was impossible to get anything done with my kids around. It felt like EVERY TIME I got them occupied and started to do something around the house, they’d need me. Try as I did to encourage them to wait, they never could. Sometimes, I wouldn’t finish cleaning until midnight and, although exhausted the next morning, I’d drag myself to work grateful that I’d get to just SIT there. Sitting is goooood. And underrated. Try not sitting for an entire weekend and you’ll see.

Once I was at work, I’d feel torn.

I missed being home with my daughters and felt guilty that I wasn’t there—and that I was sort of ENJOYING not being there. On a related note, (and I think I speak for all Working Moms here) the WORST thing you can say to a Working Mother is, “How can you let someone else raise your kids?” Ummm. EXCUSE ME? No one else is “raising” my children. They are HELPING with my children. Why would you SAY that to someone? While you’re at it, why don’t you tell me how much older I look since I had kids and how I’ll never get my body back?! Or remind me of how much I’m missing not being home with my kids. COME ON! Do you think I don’t KNOW that and already feel bad about it? You don’t need to make me feel worse!

That being said, I find it hilarious now when childless friends remark about how they’re going to be SO prepared to go straight back to work after having kids and aren’t worried about leaving them at all. Ahh, I remember those days of blissful ignorance when you pull statements out of your tushy about things you know nothing about. Enjoy those days, my childless friends, and later on, I’ll try not to remind you of how clueless you once were.

Finding work-life balance is always a challenge.

As my two girls age, I honestly feel like work-life balance is getting harder; now, there’s homework to help with, playdates to organize, and extracurricular activities to navigate. It’s so hard to work all day and want to see your kids when you get home. But also know it’s good to involve them in sports, Girl Scouts, gymnastics . . . all of which take up a lot of time and energy, which I’m usually lacking, and take them away from me. So what are we supposed to do? Quit our jobs? Not let our kids do extra activities? I often wish there was more time in a day or more of me to go around. If I plan too much for them, I barely get to see them, but if I don’t plan enough then I feel like I’m depriving them . . .

. . . either way I feel guilty.

Then I take a breath and remind myself work-life balance isn’t about quantity, it’s about quality. It’s about experiences. They don’t need to do every after-school activity, and I don’t need to stress so much about the time we’re apart. What I need to do is try to be in the moment when we’re together. I know… easier said than done, but I’m hopeful I’ll get better at it in time. For now, I’m just doing my best to give them all I can. And to document all the “advice” I’m getting from my childless friends, just in case they need me to remind them of it later.

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