Moms Can’t “Have It All,” and Maybe We’ll Be Happier When We Accept It

Recently, I’ve been that mom trying to “have it all.” What exactly does that mean? Well, to me, it has meant I’ve kept up the full-time mom duties I’ve had since leaving a traditional job three years ago, while tripling my professional workload. What I’ve learned in the three months since I started this little woman-power experiment? Having it all is an impossible b*tch. Something always has to give, and it might just be your sanity.

Perhaps my endeavor was misguided from the start. My kids are 3 and 6, meaning one of them is home with me all day long and the other, while in school from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., is far from independent. So my mom duties are time-consuming and, while not as overwhelming as they were when I had a newborn and a toddler, still exhausting (thanks, kids for the half dozen wake-ups between midnight and 6 a.m. last night!).

But here’s the thing: I love being a stay-at-home mom, but I also love working. I chose a career that I have always been passionate about, and while I’m lucky that this career includes a lot of flexibility – allowing me to take a major step back to be with my kids while still keeping one foot in the game as a freelancer – I crave more of the mental stimulation, creative expression, and adult interaction that comes with work.

So when I was asked to take on a short-term project that would triple the amount of hours I usually work each week (we’re talking about going from paltry to part-time), I jumped at the chance to see how it could work. Surely I could find the time to “do it all,” taking care of my kids and my house, running errands, playing chauffeur, and regaining some of that professional life that I so missed.

But because my new gig is temporary – and I didn’t want my time with my kids to suffer because of it – I decided to try it without hiring additional childcare help. Isn’t that what “having it all” really means? That you get to be a superengaged mom and a superproductive employee? Surely, I could manage what countless women before me have done. But I quickly realized that my new situation, truly doing it all and “having it all,” is a crazy-making myth, one destined to make women feel like they’re never doing enough, one destined to push us to the limits of what any normal human can take.

It’s really simple math. Say you have 16 waking hours a day. My kids could easily take up all 16 with snack requests, but somehow I manage to throw in a load or two of laundry, run to the grocery store, head to the gym, make three meals a day, clean up after those meals, volunteer at my daughter’s school, talk to a mom and maybe a close friend on the phone, help my daughter with homework, give my kids baths and read them books before bed, and watch 30 minutes of a favorite show before I fall asleep.

And now, somewhere in there, I’m trying to fit in a lot more work. Any mom can probably guess what I’m sacrificing to make time for that work (hint: I’m not cutting anything that affects my kids’ happiness, but goodbye Housewives.)

Having it all means I no longer have any downtime, so I’m always at my wits’ end. I’m always praying that my well-crafted schedule holds. When my son doesn’t nap, I frantically try to work in the 45 minutes between dinner and bedtime, which as every mom knows is about the worst time to ask your kids to cooperate with your request for quiet time. When school’s out for the day, I now encourage my daughter to stare at her iPad for two hours so I can work, a fact that makes me feel like just about the worst mom ever.

I understand that this might be the most first-world problem ever. Poor me. I have the financial resources to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I don’t have to work, but I want to. I want to “have it all,” even if it’s making me a stressed-out, exhausted, short-tempered mess, even if doing everything means I’m not doing anything as well as I’d like to be doing it.

So what’s the solution? The only one I can come up with is allowing myself to accept that, for now at least, “having it all” just isn’t a possibility. Choices have to be made. I know I need to regain a better home life/work life balance, knowing that the scales will be tipped away from work, toward my kids, until they’re both in full-day school. They deserve a mom who isn’t shoving an iPad at them so she can make a deadline, and I deserve the occasional Housewives episode.

At the end of the day, none of us can really have it all, at least not in the literal sense, and knowing that? Maybe that’s the real victory.

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