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Mothering › Child Articles › Having it all. Sort of.

Having it all. Sort of.

Okay. You know how mama blogs are often celebratory, documenting small triumphs and beautiful moments? How we visit them to glean inspiration for a new crafting project or recipe, to look at pretty pictures of family life, or simply to be nudged into gratitude for all the things that go right for us as mothers? It can be especially helpful on a day that feels like little weights must be hanging from it, so slowly and dully are we dragging along. But sometimes – every once in awhile – I confess the gauzy beauty of it all can be oppressive. At least to me. Life with children is by nature messy and hard and I wouldn’t mind if more people admitted as much.

So in a small effort to correct that problem, I’m sharing the most recent post from my blog, Homemade Time, with a few minor adjustments. It’s not just that I want to tip the mama blogosphere into the realm of things unresolved and distressing; I also have a feeling that many readers of the All Things Mothering blog do manage to successfully balance creative, flexible paid work with the work of parenting and creating a meaningful and satisfying home life. At the very least some of you are aspiring to that kind of fragile (yet worth pursuing!) balance. I would like to hear about it, and I think other readers would too. So here goes:

I returned from a run through the heavy gray morning air today, slick with sweat, and was greeted enthusiastically at the door by Gabriel, who led me right back outside. He suggested that we do a little weeding together in the front garden. As we set to work, Gabriel quickly transformed into a superhero named XY who battles a bad guy, Lex Leafer, who is forever making weeds grow where we don’t want them to. Each clump of clover pulled became a kind of cosmic victory. And when all the evil weeds were pulled and Lex Leafer was finally vanquished, Gabriel took out his construction vehicles to build a house for the ants.

After a night of rain, the August air was strangely cool and thick. Droplets of water clung to every leaf, and the ground was satisfyingly wet and easy to move with a tiny bulldozer. For a construction site, it was darn peaceful. I sat beside Gabriel in my sweaty skin, feeling the cool stillness without and within, after my own small storm the night before.

I had been hit unexpectedly, after a seemingly inconsequential conversation with my husband about an ill-advised freelance writing possibility, with the same lost, unmoored feeling that has come and gone ever since my new home-focused life began when we moved three years ago. But it has been mostly gone these last few months, so I was especially discouraged to hear myself expressing hopelessness all over again about ever finding my professional feet here. I like being with my children and creating a home. I also like to contribute to the wider world in exchange for a paycheck. Both desires feel genuine and legitimate, and yet they inevitably conflict.

I swear there was more nuance to my distraught feelings last night, but in the light of day, it seems that simple. I’ve been trying to build my freelance writing work in the hopes of – in a small scale kind of way – having it all. (I have my MSW and worked in community health for the first three years of my daughter’s life. My social work identity is lying in wait, still scanning the horizon, still unable to detect a part-time expression for itself out there). I want the freedom to build an ant house out of mud on a whim with Gabriel. I want quiet and space enough to notice the rain clinging to the leaves overhead. I want to exercise my capabilities and participate in a wider world too – I want to know myself as competent. I’m trying to invent a flexible life of career-building, bread-making, picture-painting, community-creating. It sounds pretty good, but in practice sometimes I feel pulled in too many directions. Changing the sitter’s schedule, forgetting to call someone back, burning the granola. Stretched into a shapeless form with no assured place in the world.

There are mothers who work full-time who have sent their kids to day care since they were tiny babies, and there are mothers who are home full-time and have put their careers on hold. I know and respect both sorts, and for the most part, they are not a conflicted bunch. They’ve made a choice about how to do this, and it’s not up for re-evaluation. Yet I seem to be constantly tweaking and planning, sending out feelers, seeing dim potentialities everywhere, wondering how I could both add more meaningful work and balance all this better. This restlessness could wear a person out.

So I am left wondering: is this one-foot-in-each-world aspiration a misguided one? Am I making this moment harder than it need be? Your thoughts and experiences on this subject are so very welcome.

My path may feel shadowed and muddy, but as Gabriel joyfully demonstrated this morning, mud can be a lot of fun. So for now? I’m making an intention to be present with my kids and remain open to those impromptu construction site moments, which are surely precious. For today, that’s more than enough.

About Meagan Howell

Meagan Howell is a freelance writer and social worker who loves art, books, yoga, friends, music, being outside, and helping to build communities of all sorts. Meagan lives in Maryland with her husband and two children and writes about motherhood at Homemade Time.

Comments (18)

"I like being with my children and creating a home. I also like to contribute to the wider world in exchange for a paycheck. Both desires feel genuine and legitimate, and yet they inevitably conflict." I wish I had written that because that is exactly how I feel. I also suspect the women who work full-time and the women who are at home full-time are not all so sure of themselves either. But that, along with sleeping habits if children under 5, is one of the most lied about things in the modern world. There is no right answer, everyone feels the need to weigh in. Being in both worlds seems to make natural sense to me. Then someone says that women have only been in the work-force for 40 years and that's where we went wrong, I always think it's that men have only been in the go to the office/factory/mill work force for about 130 and that's what needs to be corrected.
Good post. I'm struggling with this myself because additional income is becoming more and more necessary. But I feel conflicted, too. I worked for decades at a 9 to 5 job, but after I had my son I wanted to be with him. It would be easier if it were an all-or-nothing decision, but going back to work full-time means full-time childcare, a major expense. I hear a lot of women blame feminists for leaving the home, but a more charitable interpretation is that feminism gained a lot for women in the corporate world. The trouble is that we still have a long way to go in terms of access to affordable, quality childcare and appropriate compensation for "traditional" women's work.
Thank you, Kisha, you've given me food for thought with that last sentence. Great article, Meagan. I have worked my entire adult life from the day when I was 18 and my doctor said that I could work after having my first child until two weeks shy of my second child's birth, some 18 years later. This time I wanted to be home with my daughter but couldn't stop that guilt for not being self-supporting although my husband was more than willing to do it. When she was four-months-old, I started a business that I could do with her on my hip and flourished until the housing market crash which took us with it. Now my husband works a regular 40-hour-a-week job and I'm a SAHM. Although I enjoy it and take care of all the household chores, I can't help but feel GUILTY for not also bringing home the bacon.
Your post brought tears to my eyes. I went back to work full-time when my daughter turned 1. My husband left his job to stay home with her (I bring home a bigger paycheck). It's hard. I never thought I'd want to be a stay-at-home mom, but I miss my daughter so much during the day. Both my parents worked outside the home my whole childhood. I always thought it was a choice for my mom and it was an empowering influence to me - to pursue a career, to be an independent, strong woman. After having my daughter, my mom shared with me that she always wished she could stay home with my sister and I. During a recent visit with the in-laws, my father-in-law was patting his generation on the back for bringing women into the workplace (to keep the factories running while the men were off at war), but my generation seems concerned about the potential negative impacts on family life and children from mothers/both parents working outside the home. I do love contributing to society in exchange for a paycheck (I'm an energy efficiency engineer), I love the challenges of my job, but I feel like I'm missing so many magical moments of my little girl growing up, discovering herself and this world. I'm just thankful that her daddy is there to be her primary caregiver. We're sacrificing greater household income and the perceived benefits that come with that, but it's worth it! With these long summer days, I'm closer to that work/life balance by keeping my (almost 3 y.o.) daughter up later to spend more time with her - mostly playing outside. :)
Faith, I know - I went to work full time when my daughter (now 6) was 3 months old and my husband stayed home with her. We were lucky that we could do that, but I felt so sad to be missing so much of her early years. When my son was born, my husband got a job and we moved, and I thought it was all very nice and egalitarian that we could now 'switch' - but I do miss being more established in the work world. I can't imagine a family life in which we both worked full time (as my parents also did for a long stretch of my childhood), so stumbling towards a freelance/part time life is the best I can come up with. Good luck to you in your own balancing act. And the good thing is that the relationship your daughter and husband have is this amazing, unusual thing, unique I think to our generation in which dads can make that choice.
I used to be the primary breadwinner in our house and it's really hard for me to swallow how little I contribute financially. That said, when I hear other women saying that who are dedicating so much to their young children, it sounds nutty. What you do with your kids is worth so much more than a paycheck! If your family can stay afloat as is, and no one is suffering, then it really is a great gift, being home with your daughter...
I agree with Kisha. I would venture to guess that most women are conflicted - maybe not all the time, but at least on occasion. I don't think there are any easy or right answers for everybody. For me, it's like a quote from the book, Tuesdays with Morrie - "Life is a series of pulls back and forth...A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band. And most of us live somewhere in the middle."
Are you reading my mind? Seriously - as a mother who has toggles between work & home in all sorts of configurations, I have often wished I could just commit & be happy with one absolute - either staying home full time without clinging to or always trying to breathe life into what often feels like a castaway career, or working full time - really going for it professionally & introducing my kids to another person or institution for at least their day times. I cannot. I cannot. I am a lifestyle polygamist - like you - I truly enjoy both sides. Instead of feeling like a good thing - I mostly feel torn. I have to believe that all mothers are torn- but if you have "committed" the feeling of being torn & the consequences of lost opportunities either @ home or @ career are not in front your face. I can only assume. Thanks for this thoughtful piece.
I, as the working mother who sent one of her two babies to day care at the tender age of 3 months (the second accompanied me TO work til he was 10 months old), feel this pull constantly. By the time my daughter was 3, I felt assured I'd done the right thing - she thrives in a loving home day care. But with my son, I felt that same pull again - am I doing the right thing? Fate had other ideas; my husband was laid off when my son was 6 weeks old (he is still out of work). I have no choice BUT to work. Yet, still, I think I must craft a meticulous home, do Montessori-like activities with my 4 year old because we couldn't afford preschool, spend time with my now 1-year old son as he grows way too fast, and still carve out time to volunteer (three or four organizations), craft, and exercise. Thanks for posting this. I don't think any of us know which way to carve out the best option. I just try to go with the flow day by day, knowing I'll understand more, tomorrow!
This article is spot-on how I feel daily. I am a freelance work-from-home mom of a two-year-old and I often feel that my situation is "the best of both worlds" and "the worst of both worlds". I find myself envying those moms who get to stay home all day and play without worrying if they are missing a call from a client. At the same time I also envy the moms who get to drop their kids off at daycare and work in an office without a tiny assistant smearing his gooey fingers all over the computer screen. It's hard not to envy. In fact, my first though when reading the beginning of this article was "she gets to go for a run? lucky her! who is with her kid?". But then I sit back and realize that I like my little gooey-fingered office assistant, and I wouldn't trade him, and I guess I can have time to myself to exercise again when he goes to kindergarten in a few years right?
This is a great post that mirrors many of my own feelings. I have been working on and off (mostly on) since my son was born nearly 6 years ago, in a great job that I have now had for 8 years. I was fortunate to have a 6 mo maternity leave with both kids (part of the reason I have stuck with the job, amazing benefits) and even took an 8 month leave of absence (unpaid) recently. So I feel like I have been able to experience both worlds and neither is perfect! Staying at home with your kids is not glamorous or easy, but yes it is extremely fulfilling and rewarding. But I would also use those words to describe my job. So I have gone back and forth many times and even resigned once and was persuaded to stay. So maybe I am not as resolute as some of the full time working moms but I have had a really hard time with this decision and like many parenting decisions, it seems to always be up for reconsideration. :)
I completely agree. I'm a relatively new mom to a 6 month old baby and am very lucky to live in Canada where we get to take a year off work after the birth. but that really leaves me struggling with what happens next, I think I need to work in some form for myself and certainly the money would be great! Its just hard to know the right thing for myself and my family...
Thanks for this article, this is an ongoing struggle for me as well. For the time being, we have figured out a best possible solution: I have a job that I can do from home, and my husband watches our son while I work during the day. Then he goes to work in the afternoon/evening while I watch our son. Both of our jobs are flexible so we have a lot of family time as well as time to do our job. That being said, we are constantly re-evaluating our situation. Both jobs can be very stressful therefore sometimes I feel like we don't give our full attention to our son when we are with him. We always talk about me quitting my job and him getting a normal 9-5 job, and while I think I would love it, as I could give him my full attention, plan activities, playdates, etc., I am afraid I would feel that urge to want to do something else too. My point is, I don't think there is any perfect solution. I think no matter what you do, you will always have urges to do more. When I tell my husband that I'm not sure if I could be a full-time SAHM, he reminds me how important that job is. I think sometimes in the day-to-day life of it all it can feel monotonous but we need to remind ourselves the impact we have on our children's lives, and really try to use the small moments to be a positive impact on them. At least this is what I'm trying to work on right now... but it's so hard. My thought is, if you are able to be a SAHM mom, do it.. the time when they are young is so short. You have the rest of your life to work and earn money.
MY SOLUTION: BALANCE = HARMONY! My husband is an acupuncturist & Chinese medicine often guides my thoughts so the first thing that comes to my mind is balance. Yin and Yang...They are not in conflict with one another, however, it may feel that way when one is dominating over another...Balance creates harmony - so seek balance, not removal of one activity over the other...You can have it all, but the portion of each is going to be a bit smaller...I feel today the problem is that we do not have the time to fulfill the persona of mother and professional and wife etc. to the same capacity if each one of those were our only primary demand - in other words, it is not possible (due to time and energy) to give the labor we may feel necessary in order to be successful at each...Just as the energy travels through our different meridians and organs, so does the energy flow into each aspect of our life...there are times when some organs "rest" or need to be nourished - so maybe some days you may spend a little extra time being mom, or a writer, or a hot wife...just strive to have the overall efforts of your life be in balance, and when they are not, you certainly know it...then take time to evaluate & reflect & nourish to bring peace within yourself...peace, love, and light to you...
After 2 years at home with my firstborn, I found that "perfect job" teaching a night class. After our second son was born 4 months ago I would return to increased work duties of double class size and an added teaching period. Apprehensive about it all, I just gave up that "perfect" job: home with my children during the day and teaching 3 nights a week (plus prep and grading in odd hours throughout the week) with Dad home those nights with our two boys (3yrs and 4 months). We didn't need outside child care, and we certainly could use my added income, yet the time apart was a strain on our family. In my vision of me making teaching work with the added duties and 2 kids I would would go as far as wear the same clothes to work each week so I didn't have to think about it; have dinner ready when my husband got home at 4:00 so we could eat together; get up before my kids to grade. I would somehow squeeze this work in and not be anxious or distracted by it during the daytimes with my boys who DID just need to be distracted and unhurried by mud construction as it presents itself! I realized I'm not wired to balance that all with ease, turn off my grading and prep excitement to get enough sleep, focus on the play of my boys on a teaching day if I had a lesson idea to re-hash. Oh, and my husband does as much and more than needed at home without a thought. So, I love teaching and am grieving giving up my job. I still wonder if I made the 'right choice'. This was the best possible scenario, right? I am letting go though and hope and trust I'll find a path back to it in the future. I am glad to have been honest with myself, I would have had a hard time balancing it all. I know I won't regret the time I have for my boys including that husband boy! We (my husband and I)also need time to talk about 'stupid' things, play with our kids all together, or do dishes together instead of just passing the baton.
Your words touch my heart, as I am a mother of 4 kids (7 yrs and younger)...an Army veteran...a Masters Degree recipiant...and a minister's wife, so I can certainly relate. Even before marriage, I was always able to balance so many things in my life, while sacrificing my own needs. But to balance SO many things now, and have to sacrifice my children's needs, creates such an inbalance that I am NOT comfortable with. Ironically, this past week I accepted a full-time teaching job offer (beating out 60+ applicants in our devastatingly shrinking job market) after being a WAHM for the past 5 years. My husband's job as a preacher has never given us a stable income or ANY benefits, and now with the economy it has gotten worse. So as brilliant of a minister as he is, he has offered to stay home with our 2 lil ones while I work and take the 2 older kids with me to my new school. What I am conflicted about is that I am SO excited about this new position and cannot wait to have my own work space away from my home, but then I feel guilty for having those instincts? I can say that attempting to be a WAHM (2 home businesses and a music studio) did cause my youngest to have nipple confusion (with pumped mamma's milk) wean herself at 3 months, which was devastating for me, causing my milk supply to dissapear. I am a huge b-feeding advocate and nursed my others 12-18 months each (even pumping and working as a teacher with my first), but now to have to give my 4th baby a bottle of formula while attempting to work at home is a huge slap in the face. She had to sacrifice because I couldn't slow down and STOP working long enough to fill her needs in her own home. We live in a crazy time don't we? I guess we have to do what works for us, but sometimes I wish we didn't have to be pulled in so many different directions either. Our society is inbalanced as a whole and I'm not sure where this wide-spread struggle will take us. In my heart, I'm still not convinced that I've made the right decision to work, but in my head I know that my husband will be a GREAT SAHD our family will be better off financially (and am excited to have benefits again). Such is our life...
Great article, that says exactly how I am feeling. Hannah, your comment really resonated with me because not to long ago I called my husband and crying that I finally understood why some people take their kids to daycare. I work from home part time and then mother my 4 month old full time. She was 6 weeks when I went back full time and just last week I decided that I can't have two full time jobs. So I am now part time and while it gives me more time I find myself really struggling to relax about work. I am prayerful that I will find a balance and learn to be in the moment whether its a working or a mothering moment.
I completely understand your feelings. As a mother, I have been a WOHM part-time, SAHM and now I am a midwife. We also homeschool. I feel like something is always going undone, but I remember having those feelings as a SAHM too. Balancing my work/calling and family is quite the juggling act. But life itself is a circus, isn't it?
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