“To work or not to work? That is the question.” Pardon my Hamlet reference, but I am a high school English teacher/full-time mother, so Shakespeare is a constant in my daily jargon. For those of us who are unfamiliar, in Hamlet, the main character is driven mad and thus begins to question his own existence, hence the famous line, “To be or not to be?” Full time career women and full time mothers are often pressed with similar questions of existence—who are we? Are we, “mom”? Are we, “career woman”? And this existential question ripples further into—what is my purpose? Is it to raise my children? Provide for my family? Or is it both? The answer is: working mothers have to do everything, be everything, and sometimes that responsibility gets heavy. And since us working mothers have to fit different roles, it is hard to truly know who we are anymore.
Now, let me set the record straight by saying that in no way does the FTM/SAHM (full-time-mom or stay-at-home-mom) not question her sense of “self”—she does! I’ve been there, too! I was able to take nine months of maternity leave, but it wasn’t until I began working that I struggled with more emotions and pressures.
Here are the top 5 struggles that I experience as a working mother:
- Being taken seriously at work after returning from maternity leave.
When I explained to my employer that I wanted to spend more time with my newborn and take an extended leave, they were very supportive. Now I did not get paid for my leave—that was a choice and a sacrifice that I made—teachers actually do not get much paid leave, but that’s a whole other issue. When I returned to work, everything was different. Upon return, all of my extracurricular positions were refilled with other colleagues, and not by choice—it was just “assumed” that I wouldn’t have time to advise groups or teach honors classes. My first day back, I had visions of my nine month old crying as I dropped her off at 6:30 am at daycare, and for what? My career seemed to be erased while I was on maternity leave—and I began to question, “Why did I even come back?” The answer was, because I actually love my job, and that does not take away from the love that I have for my daughter.
In terms of my career, I had to prove myself and take care of my child simultaneously—that was not easy. Many women have strenuous and high pressure jobs, so I imagine this is a difficult struggle in all careers and professions. How did I overcome it? I didn’t. I mean, I try my best daily to involve myself—I offered to assist (unpaid) in extracurricular roles, joined in on morale activities, and organized outings with colleagues (thanks to my MIL for helping out with my daughter). While all of that helped get me back into work, I still have feelings that bosses and colleagues will always see me as a mom first and a career woman second. There’s no escaping that feeling, but it’s okay. I try my best daily, and that’s what counts in my mind.
- Fighting the exhaustion.
Working and mothering is exhausting. My weekday routine consists of waking up at 5 am, dropping my daughter off at daycare by 6:30 am, working all day, mothering when I come home, and passing out on the couch around 8:30-9:00 pm.
I am lucky enough to have a partner in the daily routine, but my husband has an even more exhausting schedule. He takes the 5:04 am train to NYC and gets home from work around 7:00 pm. Sometimes we laugh and question, “Is this what our thirties are supposed to look like?” I don’t really have that answer, but here’s what I have been doing to try and combat the exhaustion:
- Take a multi-vitamin. I found that this has helped me tremendously, especially because I do not have the best nutrition. The multi-vitamin has helped replace some nutrients I don’t get with my diet, but it does take a while to see results. I started taking the Ritual vitamins for women a little over a month ago, and already see an improvement in my energy and focus.
- I eat most of my calories at work. I pack a lot to eat at work and am usually munching throughout the workday because I know that once I get home (3-8 pm), I am not really eating. Packing small snacks helps my metabolism move and thus helps my energy level for when I need to give attention to my daughter.
- I try to still maintain a healthy work out on the weekend. I go to Equinox in Summit (shout out to the Jackie’s at the Kids Club!) and bring my daughter. She loves the Kids Club. I find that spending even 1 hour on a Saturday or Sunday allows my body to move positively, get the blood flowing, and give me just a little bit of “me time.” I don’t feel guilty about not being with my daughter, because it’s just a small amount of time—and she has a blast! I’ve learned that you must take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.
- Maintaining relationships (with other moms and with non-mom friends).
Socializing, or should say, “not socializing,” is probably the hardest part about being a working mom/full-time mom. It is difficult to socialize, especially with those who do not understand what it is like to be a mom. Some people are more skilled at this than others, but for me, I am more introverted—I’m not the “planner” or “organizer” type. Over the summer during my break, I met other moms and started to build relationships with them. We did a lot of activities with our children together and I finally felt like I was getting out and socializing more—but then work began in September and it all came to a halt (remember my daily schedule, where can the social time fit in?). I look at posts on social media and see that I am missing out on so many social activities while being at work: Gymboree, MyGym, story time, Zumbini, etc. I feel sad that I can’t enjoy these social activities daily with my daughter and feel left out of the weekday social mom groups. In contrast, I see my non-mom friends, or should I say “non-mom-used to be friends,” traveling and going to happy hours after work and I can’t help but feel like I am missing out on those activities as well.
Mothers can fall out of social relationships, and it can manifest feelings of isolation and loneliness. Sure, I have my little baby buddy, but it’s not the same as my once, well-established “girl group.” Something that has helped me combat these feelings are to keep reminding myself of what a gift my daughter is, and to value the time that we spend together. I have also been trying to get out of my comfort zone and plan playdates after school or on weekends. The weekend crowd consists of many working parents, and it’s good to be reminded that you are not the only person feeling pulled in different directions (hence the purpose of this blog). I’ve started to embrace my new life and new role—understand that growing into a parent will sometimes allow relationships with other adults to change, but it’s okay.
- Dealing with the judgement from others who are not on the same path as me.
Like I said at the preface of this article, I am not judging any mother who actively chooses to be a SAHM. I fully support and admire you. But for some working moms, we financially depend on work to sustain our household, and we do not deserve judgement for going back to work. Even if a mother simply chooses to go back to work for herself, there is no need to chime in and give your opinion on what the right thing to do is. Scrutinizing judgement never makes anything easier or better in this world.
How do we combat this? Time. I used to cry daily, because I felt judged…daily. Judged for going back to work, judged for not going back to work sooner, etc. Sometimes it feels like a lose/lose situation, and it might actually be, but time is the only answer. My advice would just be to understand that you (yes, you, the judged mama) are not alone. There is a community of us that feel the exact same way and will support you—whatever your decision is.
I feel guilty every day, and I can admit that freely. I wake my daughter up from her sweet little slumber, dress her, and make her get into our car before the sunrise and it kills me. It kills me that I can’t be with her and watch her laugh, smile, play, learn the ABC’s, etc. I feel guilty whenever I want to take time for myself. I don’t think the guilt will ever stop—if anything, I hear it gets worse (until they go to college…I think). But again, like dealing with judgement, this is not something that can be combated, it’s something that we, as working parents or parents in general, need to come to terms with—and that will only change with time and growth. My only advice is to value and cherish the time that you have with your children.
As I finish writing this, I think of my daughter and my purpose in this world—our purpose as working mothers. Our purpose is to be there for our children, love them, cherish them, and help them to become the best versions of themselves. But we also have another purpose, and that is to do our jobs. For me, it’s to shape and mold the young minds of the high school where I teach. I am confident that I can effectively do both because I have a passion for being a mother and I have a passion for my job. I know we can all do the same in this supportive community together. Dostoevsky says, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” The struggle is real, but it is also life, and life needs passion, whether it be a job or a family or both. And it can be both.
This article was written by our contributor Olivia Miller.