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Having It All: For a Mom, There's No Such Thing

One mom reflects on the mental toll of her ideal life

Published on: February 15, 2018


Editor's note: Throughout the month of February, ParentMap is exploring the concept of "having it all." Each week, we'll feature a different essay from a mother that explores her idea of what "having it all" means and how she's adapted the idea to suit her needs and the needs of her family.

Perhaps you’ve channeled your inner-self by scrolling through Instagram quotes or stayed up late scanning dedicated quotes sites in search of your true meaning. You may have stumbled across quotes like this: “The secret to having it all is knowing you already do” or you’ve read some of the articles across the web iabout how having it all sucks or how you should just try to have it all emotionally — instead of physically.

I hate to burst your bubble, but there’s no such thing as having it all: not with or without kids, with or without a job.

Women today are faced with a serious dilemma. Do I follow my passion and jump into the workforce? Do I stay home and summon my inner motherly instincts — doing the whole PTA and school lunch-mom schtick? Do I work as little as possible, but just enough, because I do in fact need the money to support these kids? If I take a break from my career for a year to raise my newborn, will I be able to get back into the swing of things or will it hinder my career?

These are just some of the questions women ask themselves when they get pregnant.

I got lucky. You might even say I’m one of those women who actually does have it all — the best of both worlds. I have a full-time, work-from-home job and I’m a mom.

Shortly after the birth of my now 3-year-old son, I landed a work-from-home editorial position making a pretty decent living. Between the two salaries coming in, my husband and I are comfortable most of the time. And the best part is, I don’t have to miss moments of my son’s life. I don’t have to schlep him in the freezing cold early in the morning to transport him to my mother’s house so I can be at work by 8:00 a.m. I don’t have to take sick days or personal days when my kid is sick. He even gets to stay home with me while I work once in a while. I don’t battle a crappy commute or awful weather conditions. I don’t miss daytime school events. I can do some shopping in the middle of the day without the crowds. I can scrub my bathtub while on conference calls if I choose to — which I do.

Sounds like a dream?

Under no circumstances will I say that I'm not lucky. But the part I omit is the never-ending wear. The wear on me and the exhaustion of trying to keep it all together and juggle my working-self and mother-self simultaneously. The part I leave out is trying to work a full-time job, be a full-time mother, keep the house clean, cook, shop and show up for everybody else — all in a day’s work. I walk by a pile of toys while on the phone with a colleague — and I clean. There’s no hardline separation in my roles. I can’t leave the office and walk away from work. It follows me everywhere, and I can’t simply leave the house and dive into my work either.

The part I omit is the never-ending wear on me.

When you merge two worlds, you think you’ve discovered the answer, but in fact, nothing ever gets your full attention. You’re only giving a portion of yourself to the task at hand, with your mind on something else that needs you — right now.

Whatever your personal decision is, there’s a good chance you’ll always feel like you’re missing out on the other end of things. You’ll want more time with your kids. You’ll want to be taken more seriously at work. You’ll wish you could jump on a plane to pitch that great idea to a client, but can’t miss two doctor’s appointments and a soccer game. You’ll wish you didn’t have to miss that early morning Christmas concert. You’ll wish you didn’t have to leave work in the middle of the day for your child’s mild illness. You’ll wish you could just have it all.

The truth is when you do have it all, it’s no different than before. You end up wearing thin trying to keep it all together — stuff that’s not really yours to begin with. Your kids? They’re not really yours to keep. They’ll slip through your fingers with every passing day, month, year. Your career? You’ll realize you’re not really that important, no matter how high up on the food chain you are. You get paid for your skills and sometimes not even that matters. Your presence is always conditional and you can be exterminated at a moment’s notice. Your marriage? Well, you’ve given so much trying to balance your kids and your job that there’s often nothing left for anyone else, not even the person who helped you get into this situation.

At the end of the day, you have nothing. Maybe we should all stop trying to “have it all,” because nothing is ours to keep anyway, and in the process, we may realize we have absolutely nothing but fleeting moments, glimpses of happiness and bursts of keeping it all together.

Maybe we need to just be instead of have.

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