Monday, September 03, 2012

Having it all

There are a lot of articles out these days about how virtually impossible it is for women to have it all.  While I agree with these articles, they amuse me because I think most mothers have known this for a long time.  It is hard to have it all, but there are very few alternatives for most of us than to at least give is a try.  You try to find a balance - but balance is hard work, in and of itself.

When my first daughter was born, I immediately fell so overwhelmingly and completely in love with her that I was willing to sacrifice absolutely everything to be the best mother I could be.  I saw immediately that it was impossible to have it all and I chose motherhood over career and self.  I dove in headfirst and threw the rest of my life to the wind.  If it didn't involve caring for my child, I put it on a shelf and decided to get back to it later, or not at all.

By the time my second daughter was born I was so invested in being a mother, that I had forgotten what it meant to focus on me at all.  And honestly, there was SO much to do for my children, that I had no idea how to make time for me or my career.  I had a job I could do from home, so I could pay the bills, but there wasn't time for much else.  I thought I was content to sacrifice my life, but I was far from happy.  I rarely went out, exercised, or focused on anything that was just for me - but I didn't know how to make time for those things.

Fast forward a couple of years and I realized I was drowning.  I was sleep deprived, overeating and in a relationship that sucked the life out of me.  I knew I had to make changes and so I began to, but I quickly realized that those changes involved taking time and energy away from my daughters.  Increasingly, they had to do with less while I put resources that had once been solely for them into myself.

I began to work out of the home and to take classes in things I found interesting.  Suddenly, I was not there to drive them to activities, to arrange playdates, to play games.  I was often not around to cook dinner or do homework.  I was happier and more fulfilled in my life, but constantly worried that I wasn't doing enough as a mother.

Then this summer, I made a huge step towards making my life better.  I finalized the end of my relationship with their father by moving out.  But suddenly, finding a balance became harder than ever.  And I was trying to do what all the articles said I couldn't do, what I had known was impossible when I gave birth the first time - I was trying to have it all.

Working, fixing up an apartment, dating, exercising, being a mother, taking classes, and juggling a co-parenting schedule, that rarely worked out as planned.  And my body flipped out on me.  I developed random chest pains, my hands broke out in bumps that I self-diagnosed as pustular psoriasis (the doctors agreed), and I was tired all the time.

I took a vacation from work to try to catch up on time with the kids and to get some rest.  That time is coming to an end now, and honestly, I have more questions than answers.  Less balance rather than more.

Taking care of kids is a full-time job.  I find that after a day of negotiating sibling arguments, play games, having deep teenage talks, I'm worn out.  The energy for exercise or working on things that are important and fulfilling to me is depleted.  When the kids are asleep, the house is picked up, and everything is quiet, I sit down at my computer and pass out.

I swear that I will wake early and go for a run before the kids wake up, but more often than not, I'm not fully awake until one of them is jumping on my bed asking what's for breakfast.

Now, as I get ready to go back to work in less than 24 hours, and school is about to start in a couple of days, all I see ahead are long work days, back-to-school shopping that isn't complete, not enough money to buy everything they need, and a long list of research and preparation that needs to be done as part of my teenager's high school application process.  The time and energy for taking care of me, running, dating, taking classes, seems to be shrinking quickly

And so, here I am trying to figure out how to have it all...and knowing full-well how impossible that is.  And yet, when you recognize that you can't have it all, how do you choose something to give up?

Can't give up kids - they are the center of it all.  They need what they need and it breaks my heart every time I realize that they are getting less than that.  Do I take time away from preparing my teen to apply to high school, knowing that getting into a good school can affect the rest of her life?  Do I take time away from my second grader, who deserves at least as much as everything her older sister got?  No. I have to figure out how to give them all they should have.

Can't give up work.  I now have to pay all the bills completely on my own.  I need my job to keep a roof over their heads - to make sure they have the things they need.  Money is tight with a job.  Without one, we'd be lost.  And honestly, I like working.  There's satisfaction and accomplishment in it.  But, more than anything, I can't be a good mother, if I can't provide at least the basics for my kids.

Can't give up exercise.  Being fat and out of shape was killing me.  I can't go back to that.  But finding the time to fit it in, is always a struggle.  I committed to doing something everyday for the next 30 days, and on day 3 I've already missed one day and am on my way to missing a second.  Yet, they say, in order to be a good mother, you have to take care of yourself.

I could give up dating and classes and socializing and anything else that isn't kids, work and exercise - but really?  Again - isn't that giving up taking care of myself?

So, here I am...I don't want to do it all...but motherhood and life are clearly all or nothing kind of things.

So...I will find that balance.  I'm not sure how.  But to not find it would mean giving up, and I am not giving up.  Not on my kids, not on myself, or my life, or my career, or my health.  I'll keep pushing on and I will have it all, as impossible as that seems, because being a mother is pretty much always about just that - making the impossible possible.


hope said...

Just in the middle of very interesting book, Teach Your Children Well, by Madeline Levine. Yes, it's a parenting book, but it's also a philosophy of how to live kind of book. I'm thinking a lot about some of the things that I have considered as part of "they need what they need." I agree that the balance is never steady, but I'm beginning to consider how important it is for my kids to see me being fulfilled in the ways I want for them.
So, maybe teaching them to cook is good for them, and in no way makes them feel deprived. Much more to say....

Suzanne Rust said...

This is a great post, Julie. I think so much of it is realizing that there is no permanent perfection. We have to adjust our attitudes. Life with work and children is going to be a constant juggle, and we must accept that sometimes a ball(or two, or more)will drop. We just have to pick them up and start again and not beat ourselves up when our game is a little off.
(BTW, I am also dreading this high school application process. Can we hire a surrogate Stepford mom to do that for us? Maybe we can split the cost!)