Staying Sane: Being a great mom and worker – don’t expect perfection

Part of being a person is fulfilling on the different roles that you play – whether friend, daughter, sister, wife, worker, mother. When we are little and life is simpler, there really is no juggling act. When we enter the workforce the juggling act is between friends, family and work is still manageable – especially if you become friends with your peers at work.   It becomes harder when we become girlfriends – at that point we do juggle between our friends, family and partners.  Time starts to feel stretched.   You get married, and there are tradeoffs.  Then a child comes along.   Even though this evolution of roles occurs over time, nothing can prepare you for the juggling act when a child arrives (I know, all of you know this!).  When you have to go back to work, it can feel like your world is caving in.

Simply stated, it is almost impossible to fulfill expectations of being a good friend, family member, partner, worker, and mother, ALL AT THE SAME TIME.  You may try, but you will exhaust and deplete yourself in the process.   The best advice I could give ANYONE is simply to expect less than perfection and be OK with whatever it is you can manage to do.  I’m going to be writing a series of posts related to “staying sane” but this one is focused on the simple mental acceptance that you cannot do it all – the notion of a PERFECT working mother who seemingly can do it all and continue to excel at work and have a spotless home with charming children just does not exist.   Your expectations need to change.  You need to think about what is important and focus on that. Your way of living will forever be changed when kids come along and you need to re-adjust your expectations of how you work, how you live in your house, the relationships with your friends, and even the relationship with your partner.

I did NOT want to return to work after each pregnancy. I LOVED each of my maternity leaves and loved being home with my babies. I went on walks, went on outings, and really had fun with them — I loved teaching them things and singing, dancing — pointing at trees and talking about flowers and looking at the sky at airplanes.  In my experience (remember I did this three times) being pregnant, having maternity leave with your child, and then returning back to work felt like I had two left feet. IT WAS NOT EASY.  IT STILL IS NOT EASY.  What should have felt normal for me at work felt very, very different.

After Big Bro:

After Big bro was 4 months was counting down the weeks to the end of maternity leave. I did not want it to end. the day finally came. I bravely put on a smile and said to myself that I could get through it. It’s just another challenge that I will have to overcome. It was the hardest day of my life. It felt so unnatural. I think the hardest thing a woman can be expected to do is return to work after the birth of a child, especially her first.   I had been with my son for 9 months when he was in utero and then another 4 months for maternity leave and now somehow I wound up in a situation without him. It felt un-natural. Pumping at work felt unnatural. Counting the hours and feeling impatient on conference calls felt un-natural. Things that would normally get me riled up at work seemed all of a sudden insignificant. What a metamorphosis occurred.

First day after maternity leave with Big Bro as a baby

First day after maternity leave with Big Bro as a baby

For that first year, I tried to do it all.  And I tried my best. I wanted it ALL. I remember all too clearly taking Big Bro in as a baby in a stroller on my way to work to drop him off at daycare. I remember some mornings doing this EXTREMELY early — taking him out of his crib and leaving before Hubby even woke up, so I could be there for an 8:00 AM conference call. I remember the exhaustion of working all day on client commitments then running out the door to pick up Big Bro from daycare and walking home – to then figure out dinner and maybe play with him for 30 minutes before he went to sleep. Then working on my computer some more. I also remember when client commitments were heating up, I would wake up in the middle of the night and work on PowerPoint presentations. I remember Big Bro not sleeping through the night until he was 8 months old. I remember trying to keep up with my peers at work and feeling like a duck above water that was calm cool and collected but under that water my feet were scurrying like you wouldn’t believe. I remember the days went into each other and there was no relief. I remember wanting to do more at work the way I used to but it was just soooooo damn hard to do the basic requirements of the job. I suddenly went from an A player to a C player overnight. I had VERY a hard time dealing with this.

I also remember trying to merge the worlds of “work” and “family” and failing miserably.  I tried. But it just didn’t work for me. I remember days picking up Big Bro from daycare and taking him up to my office since I still had some work to do.  This poor kid was cranky and hungry – but I would get irritated and actually get annoyed at him for wanting to touch my computer keyboard especially if I was trying to send an email to a client.  Thinking back on those days disturbs and disgusts me.

This went on for one year – and after that time, I tried to assess where I was and where I wanted to be. I made a BIG decision – I changed my attitude, big time.   I no longer thought of my work as a “career”, but as “job” instead.   I just stopped expecting so much of myself.   I went in, did my work, and got out.  I stopped trying to over-achieve.  I did the bare minimum and just tried to get myself through the damned day/week/month.  Since I did not want to become less of a mother, this was really the only acceptable solution at the time.  I still worked 5 days a week, and still did the travel when required, but I learned to say “NO” to extra projects, I learned to turn away work / proposals if I thought I was too busy (even if I knew that others were busier than myself). I knew that this strategy would have consequences but I made that decision for myself.  But, as soon as I made that decision to step back and look at this as a “job”, I suddenly became happier. This may not have been the right approach, but I thought it worked for me at the time (thinking back, I should have been brave enough to make a much bigger change — to a less demanding job – but that is in hindsight).
After Red:
After Red was born, I again loved being with her. My little girl. I enjoyed learning of her little squeaks and sounds that were so different as a girl compared to a boy. She was my little baby red-head and she got lots of attention even as a bald baby. I again went through the routine of the end of maternity leave and return to work. The pressure was big at that time. Now we had two kids in daycare and a HUGE expense. At that time I was making considerably more money than Hubby so there was no option for me but to return to work full-time. I ached inside.   And the second time was NOT any easier.   I had a double stroller and would get both kids out and walk to work, do the drop off and head to work.

My first day back from maternity leave with Red as a baby

My first day back from maternity leave with Red as a baby

My morning commute with Big Bro and Red

My morning commute with Big Bro and Red

After the Twins:
The twins swere born after 2.5 months of bed rest. I also took 5 months off for maternity leave with them. Mothering baby twins was quite different than “singletons” and I again enjoyed and felt lucky to have the time with them. I remember when I returned to work after the twins, I just felt drained. The feeling of going back did not get easier.  And the pressure was mounting with FOUR kids in daycare.  It felt so illogical to me. Why am I doing this? I have these four beautiful children and why can’t I spend time at home with them? Doesn’t having FOUR justify the ability for me to spend more time at home with them????   WHY AM I DOING THIS????  THIS IS SO UNFAIR!!!!

My first day back from maternity leave with the Twins

My first day back from maternity leave with the Twins

But life is not always fair.  And sometimes families do not have all the choices they may wish over whether one can stay home with the children – even if you do have four of them!

Trade-offs.  Be careful what you choose to sacrifice. For example, walk away from dirty laundry but still keep that commitment for date nights. Let dirty dishes sit so you can have a conversation with your child. Walk over the dirty clothes and piles of crap in your house to make room to do a puzzle with your child.   You can’t do everything well all the time.  Don’t expect this of yourself.  Your house will be messy.  Be OK with that.  You won’t be able to make home-made meals all the time.  Don’t worry – your kids won’t hold it against you.  It’s OK if you drop your kids off at daycare with no make up — other mothers have been there too.   Don’t judge yourself.   My house usually looks like a disaster and ask my hubby – I don’t clean ANYTHING and it is a chore just to keep the up with the clothes (that someone else washes and folds for us).  I came across a great description of a one mother’s feelings and emotions on this topic – and the conclusion she came to was that she be appreciating the fact that she was doing the best she could:  How to be a working parent

This is easier said than done.  Even now at times I have those nights when I am extremely stressed at work when I quickly lose patience with the kids because I know the amount of work that I still need to do.  I hate that feeling of my kids getting in the way of my work. As such a devoted mother, I still cannot believe that I still am able to let those feelings creep into my psyche.   The juggling act between work and being a mother is still haunting me.  I still have not figured out the right answer for me and my family and am still working through this process. I think this tension between work and motherhood will always exist for me and be a source of stress.  But at least now I recognize that I can’t do it all and it is OK.  That is the biggest learning for me and the first step to becoming happier with who I am as a mother and who I am as a colleague.

So I’m going to sign off now and go upstairs and kiss all four of my kids – we have a big day tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be the first day of Kindergarten for Big Bro, and the first day of a new Pre-school for Red.   I decided to work from home tomorrow because of these big milestones.   And I’ll try to make a good dinner while at home to help celebrate with the family.

Thanks for reading –

– Mama K


  1. […] – we need to start delegating our load and paying for help.   I also wrote about how you shouldn’t expect to be able to do everything   and that you need to rely and team with your partner.    Well after these two important points, […]

  2. […] I oftentimes feel like I’m not doing it – or at least now to doing it well (refer to Staying Sane: Being a great mom and worker – don’t expect perfection).    I believe there are a lot of factors that go into making our crazy lives work, which I will […]

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