Last week a friend from college messaged me from the frontline of a crisis. She struggling over whether to leave her job and stay home with her young daughter. Feeling pressure from every side, she told me she felt like she was missing precious moments of her daughter’s life but couldn’t make peace with the idea of staying home full-time.
Then, I told her the secret to “having it all.”
I know we’ve talked in the past about having it all. We’ve said it’s a destructive concept that perpetuates a fantasy - the fantasy of being perfectly fulfilled at work and at home. For hundreds of thousands of women all over the world, it is. For women struggling to keep their families above the poverty line and keep food on the table, I’m sure hearing this debate is more than a little insulting. So, so many women don’t have a choice in how or when they work - much less the time or energy to debate those who do have choices.
I don’t ever want to imply my challenges are universal or even harder. However, the truth is many of us are lucky enough to have a choice. Unfortunately, in the midst of the battle, luck doesn’t seem like quite the right word for it. Norma Bombeck once famously said that becoming a mother is making the decision to let your heart walk around outside your body. If you’ve ever seen your child hurt or suffering, you know how true those words are.
And yet, I feel like the challenge of modern motherhood isn’t just that your heart grows bigger and wider and more fragile to the pains of another person (or people) but that your brain stays just the same. How can you make room in one life for the two people you’ve become? The mother who wants to love and cherish and enjoy every precious moment of the life you’ve created and the women who still has interests, goals, and dreams.
In my life and in the lives of so many of my friends, the answer is part-time or flexible work.
Over the past three years, I have cobbled together a collection of part-time gigs, contract work, and consulting gigs that have helped me find a way to feel fulfilled both at home and at work. I work 10-30 hours a week. Most of this time is on Tuesday and Thursday from 9 to 2 pm when my boys are at preschool and Mommy’s Day Out. Beyond that I work when they are sleeping, playing happily, or (let’s be honest) watching the iPad.
It’s not perfect. For a long time, I was making just enough money to cover my student loans and money was tight. Sometimes I get overwhelmed. Sometimes my house is dirty and stays dirty for a little while. Sometimes there are work opportunities I miss and projects that get put on the back burner.
But let me tell you what I am.
Very happy. I don’t feel guilty when I leave my kids to go work and I don’t feel guilty when I leave my work to go get my kids. For the most part, I feel like the two people who inhabit my body are working together instead of being at odds. The mom knows her kids are happy and she is happy raising them. The woman knows she is pursuing her own passions and growing a career that fulfills her.
The only guilt I feel is that this is not an option for so many women (and men!) out there. Simply put. That sucks. Everyone should have the freedom to support their family and pursue a career that fulfills them without missing out on those little moments that make raising children a blessing and not just a burden.
Because the truth is kids are resilient. They bend and shape and adapt to whatever we throw at them.
Why shouldn’t our work be the same?
~ Sarah Stewart Holland