Basically from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I was curious (anxious) about how I would combine motherhood with work. I wrote this post over a year ago, and unfortunately, other than our childcare situation (more about that below), not much has changed. I’m still overwhelmed and I still haven’t hit on a routine that feels right. I’ve felt a constant tension between my desire to develop my business and creative endeavors and my desire to live a slow life spending the majority of my time with my son.
Earlier this year, I came across this series in the Atlantic, which was fascinating. If you can save it to your reading list, it’s worth coming back to when you have some time. We know all moms have their struggles, but what was interesting to me was that the moms who chose to focus on one aspect of life (either high-powered work OR mothering) seemed to have a little easier time. They’re not putting as much pressure on themselves to excel in both areas.
The writers, Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace, call the other group of moms the “scale-backers”. “Instead, the women still chasing the having-it-all dream are the group we’re calling the Scale Backers—13 women who dialed down high-powered careers to simultaneously be full-time mothers and workers. And in the process of downsizing, they became, ironically, the most stressed-out of our subjects, attempting to do everything well, but feeling like they excelled at none of it.”
The frustrating thing is that if we don’t choose the high-powered work path, as women, we will fall behind in some way. It’s impossible not to. The demands of young children are such that it sometimes takes everything we have just to get through the day. If you completely opt out of work (outside of the home), you leave ideas and creative paths unexplored. It feels like there’s no way to win.
I feel strongly that this conflict doesn’t get talked about enough. So much so that I thought I’d ask a bunch of other mothers how they handle it. When we hear of someone else going through similar struggles, it makes us feel like we’re not alone. I’ll be posting these women’s stories throughout the summer in a new series on my blog called creative motherhood. Creative in the sense that we're creating something, but also in that we have to get creative with how we make it happen.
My intention with this series is not to give advice, since we're all constantly trying to figure it out, but to acknowledge the struggle that we all share. I focused on moms who seem to have similar work situations to mine, fitting in part-time work around mostly full time childcaring. Please know that I am fully aware that women who are working full-time or childcaring full-time have just as many struggles.
I prepared a list of questions for all the women who are participating, and I thought it’d be fair for me to start this series with my answers.
Q: Introduce yourself, your family, the work (aside from mothering) you currently do, and how that work has evolved as your children have gotten older.
My name is Dacy and I am married to Dave and we have a 3-year-old son. I started my business, mindful closet, around the time that I got pregnant, and the amount of work over that time has fluctuated wildly. In addition to actually working one-on-one with clients, I am creating an ecourse due out in Fall 2017 called Making Space. I shop online for clients, create lookbooks, maintain a blog and two active social media channels, create content for social media, deal with scheduling and communicating with new clients, handle my accounting, meet with potential partners, coordinate events….I’m sure there’s more….
For the first year after my son was born, I was still building my business and only worked with clients a few times a month. The second year of his life got much busier and I would schedule clients when my husband could watch my son (we both have irregular schedules) or when I could get a sitter. We were constantly trading off, and I also never got any time to myself or to work “on the business” instead of “in the business”. Because we were getting worn down, we decided to put my son in full time daycare/preschool when he turned two. Those were an interesting few months because while I was getting to work on business and with 4-5 clients every week, my son wasn’t adjusting well and that caused other stresses. It was clear after a while it wasn’t a good fit and I would have rather kept him home than work, although it was a hard decision because I love what I do so much. We tried fewer days a week, with no better results, and a few months ago, we took him completely out of school, and he’s home with me.
Q. Do you wish you could do more or less creative work? How do you manage those conflicted feelings?
I do wish I could do more creative work, but I also don’t want to spend any less time with my son. It’s a weird place to be in, wanting to do both things but only having the physical time for one and a little of another. I’ve been trying to remind myself that this is a season of my life and my only chance to spend so much time with him. There will be more time for business later, but it doesn’t stop the ideas from flowing or the desire to work on them.
Q. Did choosing not to work full time affect any financial or career goals for you?
Definitely. Part of our discussion in choosing whether to try to have a child or not involved this decision. We knew that it would mean less earning power for me. I feel pressure (from myself, not my husband) to contribute more to our family financial goals. We’d like to retire early, and if I worked more, we could get there sooner. As far as career goals go, sustaining my business through these early childhood years is my goal, and I have fears that if I don’t work on it hard enough right now, it might not succeed. I also have a lot of anxiety about falling behind some imaginary competition.
Q. What kind of a “village” or help do you have around you?
This has been a tough one for us. When my son was in preschool, I didn't even know who to put as an emergency contact. My family is in Alabama and my husband’s is in New York. We rely completely on babysitters, whose own lives are always shifting and changing and aren’t always available. We’ve recently begun to feel close with some of our neighbors, who’ve offered their help if we ever have an emergency childcare situation, and that helps. I also have some great mom friends who I’m sure would be happy to help (and have helped!) in a pinch, but asking is always hard for me. I’m trying to get better at this, because I would offer my help in a heartbeat, and we all can benefit from that willingness.
My husband is a huge help. For one thing, I wouldn’t have the options to do the kind of work I do if it weren’t for him. When I do get pockets of time to work, it’s because of him. He also shares equally in the housework so that I’m not tasked with all of that. I am constantly grateful that I have such an amazing partner in life and parenting.
Q. Do you feel as though your work and home life lines are blurred? How do you handle that challenge?
Very much so. Now that my son is 3, there are little pockets of 20-30 minutes where he’ll entertain himself, which is so new and great. Then I have to decide, which thing should I do first? Not only that, but it’s like a ticking time bomb and you don’t know how long you’ll have to work. I can’t really turn work off, since part of my work is communicating and building community on social media.
I dream of setting regular hours for all my tasks (for example, emails only between the hours of 6-7, etc.), but every day is different and requires different things at different times for both work and family. I have learned enough that setting an unrealistic goal or schedule will only stress me out more, so I’m trying to appreciate the pockets of time when I get them and not expect much more.
Q. What’s a typical day like and when do you actually get your work done?
At the moment, I work with clients 2 afternoons a week (usually covered by my husband), try to work on my business one morning a week (usually have a babysitter for that one), and also do things like social media and blogging before he wakes and after he goes to bed. Throughout each day, I’m also replying to emails and social media. I would love to compartmentalize all of this more, but I’m realizing that the only way I can shut off the work thoughts is if I have a specific time in the future when I know I’ll be able to get to it (i.e. “I can worry about that at 2pm when I know I’ll have an hour free”). I need to work on that. Having said that, I never plan to do anything during naptime because I need that time to recharge after handling a toddler all day!
My actual day looks something like:
6-7 email, social media, etc.
7-1 with kid
1-3 naptime, sometimes rest, sometimes work, sometimes with a client
4-5 tv time, prepare dinner, check social media, etc.
5-8 kid time
8-9 work time
9-ideally, get in bed, hope to be asleep by 10 or 11, sometimes still working
Q. What do you do when creative ideas hit you and you’re in the middle of mothering?
Try and write it down somewhere! I keep my laptop on the kitchen counter and sometimes I’m able to do it there, or on my phone, or in my bullet journal.
Q. Do you have any words of encouragement for other moms juggling all the things?
I am constantly reminded how intensive this part of parenting is. I know parenting is hard at all stages of your child’s life, but in this baby/toddler phase, it’s so all-encompassing. I try to remember it won’t always be this way.