Can I have it all? I’m still trying to figure out how

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I recently watched a documentary on CBC called “Motherload” that made a huge impact, resonating with me because it examined something that I have been struggling with lately. It’s as though they were looking through a window into my life. Watching me struggle, slip, fall, get up and stumble again as I try to navigate this tricky world of working mother.

I’m not sure why but I have been feeling like I was the only one suffering through this conflict of family versus career. It has seemed like everyone else had it figured it out. Like others were just sailing through, easy peasy. I thought something was wrong with me. I didn’t see that others were putting their best face forward as they faced the same battle every day.

Truth is…this isn’t easy.

Sometimes I feel lost. Sometimes I feel like a failure. Sometimes I feel like I could be so much more than I am.

What hit me watching this doc is that I’m not alone in this feeling.

Let’s go back a couple of years (or a couple of decades), I started University bright eyed and bushy tailed. Facing the world on my own for the first time. Living solo, learning how to balance the responsibilities of life. School, work, paying bills, doing my own laundry and cooking, all the stuff that feels like such a burden now, was so exciting to me then. I was inspired. I was on my way to be anything that I wanted to be. I had the whole world ahead of me and I was ready to conquer it all!

I was going to be something.

I worked the entire time I was in school, whatever job would fit my schedule. From retail to call centre, I did what would help pay my bills and still allow me to study and do well in school. I found my balance.

Within a month of my graduation I landed a pretty decent job for a new grad. I gained experience and eventually was head hunted by other companies to make a move. I did. A couple of times. Each new opportunity teaching me something, giving me more knowledge, more skill, more experience, more to offer. I moved up. I may not have been CEO but I was doing well. I was working with some wonderful people who had taken me under their wing. Talking to me about my potential and where they saw me going. I was invited to lunches discussing my career goals and there were offers, which I gladly accepted, to mentor me and help me attain those goals.

Then I got engaged. I got married. I had a baby.

Everything changed.

The interest in me died. There was no slow dimming of my light. It was just snuffed out in one swift motion.

No one was interested in investing time, money and energy in a woman who was going to be preoccupied with family. Someone who would have to do daycare pick­-ups instead of happy hour client meetings. I justified it to myself. Telling myself it wasn’t fair for me to expect more of them. Truth is, there was still a sting to the slap.

I reluctantly returned to work at the end of my maternity leave, feeling guilty for leaving my darling little baby in the hands of a stranger yet ready to do my best. All of the mentors had suddenly disappeared. In a meeting to discuss my transition back I was told that no one was sure what to do with me since I was most likely going to have more children. The message that I was not going to get ahead if I came in at 9 and left every day at 5 was loud and clear. I was given busy work, nothing of importance, nothing of significance and nothing that was putting to use what I had to offer.

I was a waste of time. I no longer had potential. I was just a mother.

It was then that I realized I was going to have an uphill battle. It was a battle that I chose not to take on. I made a choice. A choice that I am not always proud of. Although there are times where I am ashamed of myself for not taking it on and fighting for what was right, I know in my heart I made the best decision for my family. I chose my family instead of the fight.

It has been 4 years since I began finding my new place in the workforce and I continue to struggle. I feel as though I am caught between two worlds. Educated career woman and mother. I now have two full time jobs and to be quite honest I’m not being all that I can be in either role. I am capable of so much more.

I know that I can be a better mother. I wish I had more time to dedicate to them. I wish I could focus every second of my day on them. I would love to walk Mr. T. to school every day and pick him up when he’s done. I wish I could sit quietly with Ms. J during those couple of hours we are alone and prepare her for her first year of school. I hate myself when I am short fused because of the long day I’ve had at work. I beat myself up when I pick them up from daycare and buzz around the house trying to squeeze dinner, dishes, fun time, bath time, bedtime, laundry etc. etc. etc.. into a few short hours, instead of giving them my undivided attention.

I know I am capable of so much more in terms of work as well. My intelligence, experience, abilities are not being used to their full potential and I know that. My career path has changed drastically since I became a mother. Its place on my list of priorities has changed and it has fallen from the number one spot. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my career at all or that I won’t give it my all when I’m working, it just means that I have other obligations that have to be fit in as well. Since my first child was born I have essentially started over career wise. My career choices are now dictated by my family obligations. I have to choose roles that will allow me flexibility, that are close to home and that will not take so much out of me that I am incapable of giving to my family when I am home. Those roles may not always challenge me the way I would like.

My choice to become a mother has hurt me financially. Two years of maternity leave has played a role in that, sadly both years that I was on maternity leave I did not get a raise. What does that say about how companies view women in their procreating years? While mat leave has negatively impacted my pay it’s not the only thing, higher paying roles mean more responsibility, possibly travel, more hours, all things that don’t necessarily fit with motherhood. With my skills, abilities, experience and education I should be making far more than what I am making. Men with far less experience than I are moving up the pay scale ladder as I watch them surpass me. Why is that? Most likely it is because they don’t have to take that career break. They don’t have to choose less demanding roles because they have to be home with the children.

I will admit that is a bit of a stereotype on my part because there are men who do make the same decision. Men who choose not to take those top jobs because they are aware that will mean they won’t be a huge part of the day to day family life. However, for me personally regardless of how involved my husband is, I am not willing to give up my time with my kids. It’s just not worth it to me. The old saying On my deathbed I won’t wish I worked more pops into mind. Why should it be one or the other? Family or career? No one told me that I was going to have to make these choices. I was led to believe that I could have it all.

Guess what? I can’t have it all.

Something has to give.

When a man does his fair share of the housework and child care he’s admired. Oh how lucky you are to have a husband that cooks. People were shocked when Mr. C. decided to take some of the parental leave with Mr. T.

Why do women not get the same praises? I didn’t get a pat on the back when I went back to work. No “good for you, you’re going back to help bring money into the house” It’s just my job. As a mother, as a woman I am now expected to take on both responsibilities. I am expected to be the primary care giver, house runner etc…while still maintain a full time job. It’s nothing special, it’s just what I am supposed to do. In fact, while men are praised for helping out, many women are made to feel guilty for going back to work. For leaving their children with strangers, for not cooking from scratch every night, for not being able to make every PTA meeting or soccer game.

Trust me when I say that your shaming of me will always be overshadowed by the guilt I bestow upon myself. The guilt I feel when I walk out that door in the morning knowing my daycare provider will be walking my child to school. The guilt I feel when I have to ask for a day off because my child is sick.

I feel guilty at home because I’m not entirely available and I feel guilty at work because I’m not entirely available. Where does that leave me? I will tell you, it leaves me feeling like a failure much of the time. Wondering why I can’t just make it all work.

Why can’t I just have it all???

I don’t know what the answer is. I write this because I feel lost. I write this because as I watched this doc I thought to myself “YES! That’s me!” I write this because I wondered why no one told me I was going to have to make these types of choices. I wonder why I didn’t plan better. I wonder why most of the business world hasn’t caught on yet? Why they haven’t realized they are losing some very talented women because they aren’t factoring in their “other” job.

I write this because when I begin to feel like I am letting everyone down I have to take a step back and know that I am doing the best that I can at the moment. I hope that other working mothers out there can take a step back and remember that when they begin to feel down.

My dream is that one day the world will catch on. One day women will not be forced to choose between career and family. They will be able to have their children and not be forced to sacrifice their career. My dream is that my daughter will truly be able to “have it all”. To follow her passion and have a career that challenges her and makes her happy but will be able to balance that with raising her children and will not have to give up actually being an active mother.

We have come a long way but we still have far to go.

I’m still in transition and transition can be scary and confusing sometimes. Life is full of changes and transitions and this is one of them. I didn’t realize just how much having children was going to change me, including my career. I am confident in myself and what I have to offer and I know wherever I end up my kids and my husband will be standing behind me cheering me on all the way.

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11 thoughts on “Can I have it all? I’m still trying to figure out how

  1. Hi Natalie,
    I really enjoyed reading your “Can I Have it All” article.
    I believe it is a struggle women have their whole life at every stage. First you are too young and need experience, then you have some experience and lots of expectation, then you marry and have children and are divided not able to give 100 percent to anyone (including yourself), then you find yourself free again when the children leave only to discover you are older but still young enough…so you start retraining…maybe even doing something NEW because you are older and wiser and have your own vision…having raised children and having had all that responsibility has made you unwilling to listen to anyone telling you what to do or how to do it! You find yourself making different choices about what’s important, how you want to spend your day, how you choose to do business and interact with people YOUR way, you become more spiritual and want to conduct yourself in a different way. You also have a NEED to do something IMPORTANT in your life that will make a difference and you become more sensitive to everything (Yes, I know…god forbid that we become even MORE sensitive). We KNOW that we can be so much more and we start realizing that life is indeed short. We know this because now that we are older, wiser, more peaceful within, we now do not have as much stamina (no matter what some women may tell themselves; it’s NOT the same energy as when you are in your 20’s or 30’s!) and you wonder how you could have done it differently.

    I believe, Natalie, that a lot of the problem is that we are stuck on believing our self worth is in the TITLES that we are giving…I don’t know what your ‘CAREER TITLE’ is, but let’s say, as in my case, a ‘Graphic Artist’… we can get so caught up in that particular title that we close our minds to other possibilities and other experiences. You say you could have traveled more, had more dinners with clients etc. Is it what you really want or does the ‘Title’ sound glamourous and therefore you want to keep it? I say this because there was a time in my 20’s where I was a Travel Agent for a short time, that I thought I wanted badly, and ended up going on training courses paid for by the company, to BC when I lived in Montreal, flights paid, hotel and course paid etc. Sitting there on the plane with my company uniform on, getting extra-special attention. It all SOUNDED so glamourous to anyone whom I told. But the REALITY was…I’m not a great flyer-I’m actually very nervous about flying! I hated having to wear a skirt, jacket and tie! around my neck on the plane and in classes! One hotel room is like the other after awhile and so are the brochures that you try to promote. The all had…conference rooms, pools, golf courses, near the beach or on the beach, blah blah blah, and some BUSINESS MEN could be a real pain in the ass with their constant changes! But the thought of me being a TRAVEL AGENT was exciting to say.

    When I finally decided to look into something else and realized the truth which wasn’t that I wanted to SELL travel to other people…the truth was…I wanted to TRAVEL MYSELF! Not go on Fam-trip (Familiarization trips) and make reports, gather info and SELL better…I really wanted someone to send ME on a trip and be on the receiving end of it.

    All this to say, my dear, that our self-worth is alway a struggle and you have to find the answer within yourself. Don’t look for confirmation from others (least, people you work with!) and don’t get caught-up in titles or what it may look like from the outside) Take care Nat and I’m sure you will make the right decisions as they come up.

    Ciao for now,

    1. Thanks Linda! Well said and so very true. One of my life lessons has been not to search for my self worth in others approval.

  2. I think many of us who are moms and professionals have struggled with balancing both worlds. I think women need to be able to recognize and accept that they can strive to “have it all” but they can’t have it all at once! I feel that at different times in your life your focus and priorities need to be different -particularly when raising a family.

    1. I think that’s a great point. There is a time for everything and you can drive yourself crazy trying to do it all at the same time. Maybe I can in fact have it all, it’s just all going to come to me at different points in my life.

    2. I love this viewpoint! You can “have it all” just not at the same time. I have everything I need right now in my family. As our lives change my “all” will change too.

  3. Stay at home moms feel the uncertainty or self doubt too. I had a very successful career in the insurance industry for 15 years before I had my daughter and decided to stay home with her. I made the same amount of money as my husband, but people always assumed that I didn’t return to work because of the cost of child care. In reality, if I returned to work, we would be in a much better financial situation. I can’t go out and buy my husband birthday gifts without him knowing about it, and forget spending money on myself….i feel too guily. Our view of success however, is not based on the monetary things. These early years are so important and will go by quickly. I didn’t (and still don’t) want to miss out on a single minute of it. I was surprised how most woman my age have responded to my decision….like what a waste of my education and earning potential. When my daughter starts school, I would like to return to work. I have my education and work experience, and I’ll have spent my daughters early years helping to shape her into the person she will become. I feel like that is truly having it all.

    1. That is an excellent point, stay at home mom’s must feel that same tug of war. These years do go by quickly and being there as much as you can is so important. Since we aren’t in a situation where I can stay home I decided to make a change in industry, location and organization so that I could be home as much as possible. I’m finding as they get older I want to be home even more! Life is incredibly hectic and having one of us at home would make our life much simpler.

  4. Thank-you. Well said. I just watched that documentary last week. It is always reassuring to me to know that we are not alone in the challenges we face. The constant juggle and guilt of not feeling like we are doing anything to our full potential. And the questioning of whether we have our priorities in line as our kids ask if its a nanny day or a mommy day. There is just no single “right” answer.

    1. I think that’s exactly it, there is no “right” answer. We are all in the same boat, juggling our priorities. You are right, it is so very reassuring to know I’m not alone in this struggle.

  5. Having gone to an all girls high school, I truly believed that I could do anything. When I started university, I didn’t understand the point of “women’s groups”. I was so naive. I agree with the point that you can’t expect yourself to “have it all at the same time”. It is just too hard and requires a huge level of sacrifice as well as lots of support (and not just from hubby)… think Sheryl Sandberg. However, just because you can’t have it all at once doesn’t mean that your career has to go down the tubes. There is life after children and why should you have to start all over. After having children, you have just the same “potential” that your employer saw in you prior to having kids. It is shameful that an employer makes assumptions about your level of commitment to your career. That type of attitude will only drive very qualified people, the future of companies, away. It is one of the main reasons that women end up leaving the work force. Why go to work if your work is meaningless and you are given the worst mandates. Ultimately, the right thing to do is to talk to you and try to come up with a plan that allows you to still develop your career recognizing that your development may have to be a bit slower because you might not be able to put in the longer hours now. Knowing that they are willing to continue to invest in you would engender loyalty to the company while still grooming you to be a future leader of your company. You might be willing to find extra hours after the kids are in bed if you actually think they cared about your development and you felt it was going to get you somewhere.

    1. I absolutely agree with you. It is shameful for a employer to make any assumptions about you just because you are having children. It’s shameful and sad. Unfortunately I do think this happens more often than we would like to admit. I also think you raise a good point in the fact that there are many employees who are willing to put in the extra hours “after the kids are in bed” If an employer is flexible with the hours and the location (ie: telecommuting) they may get a lot more out of their employees, especially those with families.

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