During the past few months, I’ve been battling resentments about working motherhood. Every time I checked my email, there would be another notification from school about an event or activity I couldn’t attend: a field trip, a class presentation, field day, a party … I felt like a failure. My daughter told me that on her last field trip, a classmate told her, “I’m sorry your parents don’t ever come on field trips.” I simultaneously experienced the sinking-heart sensation as well as a desire to step on that kid’s shoelaces while he walked to the bus.
I work part time, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s the best of both worlds, it’s the worst of both worlds. Because I teach early childhood music classes that get scheduled nine months in advance, I am rarely able to just “drop everything” and attend a class function that is always scheduled for the 9-12 time slot, precisely when my classes take place. Sure, I could cancel classes, but then I would have 30 disappointed families, not to mention the fact that I wouldn’t get paid. If my income were disposable, maybe I wouldn’t care. But it’s not, and I do. I work to help support my family.
And sometimes I resent having to work. I would love to be able to show up at school drop-off wearing the loungewear I slept in and without makeup, but I have to immediately leave for work after I say goodbye to my kids. I feel like a slacker for not signing up for morning volunteer duties. I don’t know the names of all the kids in either of my daughters’ classes. Often, I feel as though I am “doing it all,” but doing none of it well. Every once in a while, I think, “I wish I could stay home with my kids.”
Then I remember that I love my work. That although part of me longs for a less divided focus, I believe that ultimately, I would not thrive as a stay at home mom. That is not an assertion that stay-at-home moms are less complex women, or that their work is easier, or boring, or less meaningful. It just means that I personally don’t think I’m cut out to stay home. Either way, my family depends on my financial contribution—even though it is significantly less than my husband’s—and I don’t actually get to choose. But every so often, I wish that I could choose, and that I could choose differently. (Honesty time? If I chose to stay home, I would most definitely still send my daughter to preschool so that I could have some alone time.)
Many days, I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle in my fruitless quest to balance work, family life, and some of that utopian “me time.” I feel duped by the myth of “having it all.” It would be so much less pressure if I didn’t have to work, I lament during these low moments.
I’m reading a great book right now: Lose the Cape: Realities from Busy Modern Moms and Strategies to Survive, by Alexa Bigwarfe and Kerry Rivera. It’s fantastic: It combines humor, the reassurance that we’re all in this together, and practical tips for staying sane, including strategies for smoother mornings, meal planning ideas, resources for creating a family calendar, and ideas for less frantic bedtimes. When I started reading it, I thought, “This will be the perfect read for working moms with not enough hours in the day.” And it has been.
And then, by some miracle, I was able to attend my daughter’s field day. I stood talking to another mom, who happened to be Room Mom in my third grader’s classroom. She admitted how relieved she was that the end of the year was in sight. I could tell she was stressed out by all the end of the year activities. And then, during a hectic lunch break that wasn’t going as planned, she said something I’ll never forget: “I just feel like since this is my only job, everything has to be perfect.”
It finally dawned on me: Her life was no less chaotic than mine. Both of us were balancing numerous obligations, crazy schedules, and frantic daily transitions. We were more alike than we were different. I said to her, “Just so you know, when you’re not perfect? It makes the rest of us feel a whole lot better.” But here’s what I wish I had said to her.
Dear Room Mom,
I completely understand the desire to do everything perfectly. As women and mothers, we are wired to take care of everybody and everything. The pressure can be ridiculous. When we fail to make things happen the way we think they should, we feel as though we’ve let everybody down. I admit that I have never thought about the particular kind of pressure you experience as a regular volunteer and a room mother. I have always felt inadequate and guilty that I’m not able to do what you do. So I want to thank you for everything you do to make things special and memorable for our kids. I want to thank you for the time, effort, and organization you put into all the parties and projects. You are excellent at your job. I don’t believe that my job is more important than yours, nor do I believe that I am a lesser mother because I’m not able to volunteer regularly in the classroom or be present for every daytime event. But I believe that you and I both feel as though we are inadequate from time to time for the things we are simply not able to do. Please know that your best is enough; you do not need to be perfect. I meant what I said: When we can both share a bit of our imperfection, our vulnerabilities, and our messy realities, we make things better for all moms, and for each other. You rocked it this year, mama. We both did.
As I read Lose the Cape more closely, I realized something: It’s not just for working moms. It’s for all moms, and that’s the beauty of it. The authors acknowledge that whether moms are jugging a career and a family, or juggling play dates, volunteer opportunities, meal prep, and Costco trips, we’re all juggling, and we all need validation and support. And no matter what our situations are, we can use all the help we can get finding strategies to make our lives less stressful, and every one of us can sure as hell use the reminder to lose the freakin’ cape.
**I received an advanced copy of Lose the Cape for this post, but all opinions are my own. You can purchase a copy right here on Amazon.