Having It All. Except Not Really.

I am of a generation of girls who was raised to value strength and intellect and fairness. I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be, as long as I focused and worked hard. I’m the generation of Title IX sports, where I could play baseball and football and organize races with the kids the neighborhood. I was raised to believe I was equal in every way to boys, and there were no limits to what I could do when I was a grownup.

And so, when I got my MBA nearly 15 years ago, I decided I’d be a CEO. To that end, I spent my first years in business working as many hours as possible. I changed careers – picked accounting because I knew it would be recession-proof, and it was intellectually challenging. I loved it those first years, before I started burning out. There was just so much WORK. Busy seasons were grueling – I worked every weekend and most days from 7 in the morning to 9, 10pm.

And then I finally got pregnant with Owen. And I worried. How would I make those hours work when there was a baby at home? I mean, honestly – I worked 80-90 hour weeks up until the day I delivered my son. It was my last day in the office, and I was squeezing in doing a friends’ tax return at lunch when my water broke. I spent the afternoon in the hospital waiting for him to be born, on my Blackberry, letting my clients and managers know I wasn’t coming back that day because I was having a baby.

It became clear to me that I needed a change. So I took 6 months when he was born – an extended maternity leave. I figured it would give me a chance to try out the stay at home thing, give myself a break from the working hours. I figured it would be refreshing not to have to go to work. I’d surely be on top of everything around the house!

There were a few things wrong with that picture. I was not a confident parent early on in Owen’s life. I wasn’t much for schedules, and he was an abysmal sleeper and therefore a fussy baby. I spent that time with him completely sleep deprived and stuck in the house, because we never really had a “good time” to go out. And there were days I never even got a shower.

Quite honestly, I hated it and assumed I just wasn’t meant to be a stay at home mom. So I went back to work.

And for the past four and a half years I’ve spent my days working while Owen is in daycare. He is thriving, and I have no regrets about the decision. For us, it was what was best for our family.

The thing is. Being in the business world is HARD. It’s 24/7, and it’s a constant stress, even when we’re home. Not just that, but it’s hard parenting when you AND your husband consult. We aren’t always in the the same place, which makes things hard to plan. Our days right now are spent juggling meetings and being at clients and our work schedules. We’re fortunate that Jeff is working from home right now, so when I’m needed at a client site we have a little more flexibility, but that will go away this summer.

And Owen goes to kindergarten this fall. And for some reason, I’m feeling strongly that I want to be there when he gets off the bus every day. Maybe it’s because I can hold him accountable for homework and studying. Maybe it’s because time is going by so quickly and I want more time with him every day. Maybe it’s because I don’t find accounting rewarding anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of sitting in my car for 2-3 hours a day stuck in traffic. I’m not entirely sure.

But here I am. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that I should just quit my job.

It is so interesting to find myself in a place where I feel like I have a lack of motivation – or drive. I can’t really believe I’m thinking about hanging up my CPA and my MBA in order to stay at home and raise my family. Where I’m CEO of my house, not a corporation – or even my own small business.

Plus, I have an only child. Often, I think, Really, Karen, how hard is it to coordinate the schedule for your ONE kid to get to and from school?

So many working parents have to content with multiple kids and multiple schedules – and I can only imagine the logistics required to make that work.

But as I sit here, looking at the piles of mail that we’ve stacked up because we’ve been too busy to go through it and recycle/shred it, I am realizing that it’s not really POSSIBLE to have it all – at least not in the definition I’ve lived for the past 37 years.

I recently read this article by Beth Woolsey: 20 Things Every Parent Should Hear. And it was #19 that got me: Balance is a myth. Parenting isn’t a tight-rope walk; it’s a dance. Strive for rhythm instead of balance, and trust yourself to move to the ever-changing beat.

It’s impossible to be everything at once: Super Worker, Super Mom, Super Wife, Super Friend, Super Organized, Super Volunteer, Super Baker-of-Cookies-Just-Because, Super Writer, Super Painter, Super Runner, Super Cook, Super Blogger. I can’t be all those things – if I tried I’d keel over from stress and anxiety and exhaustion.

So, really, then, it’s a matter of focus. Focusing on what’s needed in the here and now. If that means my career takes a backseat in the coming years so I can focus on other things, then so be it.

How do you find rhythm in your family life? What choices have you made in order to maintain the dance of your life?

8 comments on “Having It All. Except Not Really.

  1. Delenn says:

    Ohhh, I can relate so much with this post. I gave up a “career” in what I went to university for (lets just say it was in the liberal arts-ish category) my family. BUT. I couldn’t stay home, financially and well, wig-out-stay-at-home-mom-that-would-be-me. So, I somehow find myself in an employment category far from where I started in my ideals. And there are many times recently, especially since my last one is going into kindergarten…where I am thinking the same thing. Maybe part time work/maybe I need a change in “careers”. Maybe time is just going by so quickly and I feel that while I have grabbed the bull by the horns many many times in life…I am still missing out. I think September is going to find me starting to really evaluate my situation…but until then…

    For some reason, we have the balance thing down pretty well most times. Yes, my filing is not done at home. My household clutter is a bit too high at the moment. But, you know what? Not going to sweat about it during Memorial Day weekend–going away on a family get away to see dinosaur fossils. Why? Cuz she will only have that wonder once in her eyes.

    I hope you are able to come up with a rhythm that works for you.

  2. Jennifer B says:

    OMG, KP, you’ve read my mind! I have two little people, and it does complicate things a bit (more), but I totally understand. I’m going to do everything in my power to be the stay at home mom this coming school year. I feel like I cannot possibly do it all, and the little ones pay the biggest price, even if they don’t know it. I had my kids because I WANT them, I never want to feel like I don’t have time for them, or that I need to sit and veg and ignore them when I get home from a long day at work. Oh, and cooking meals? Yeah, I need to get on that. We are currently on the must-be-ready-in-10minutes-or-less meal plan. Oy. I’m all about dancing, but this dance is getting old, or I am. One of those.

  3. Justine says:

    So … I just accepted a job today. Timely post, eh? I’m worried about having to re-negotiate everything all over again, making work important … and yet, I know that this is a part of me I need to tap into in order to be a good parent. I guess time will tell.

    That said, it really upsets me when people say that working parents don’t want their kids enough. That’s not true … I wanted my kids, too, and I love them fiercely. But I know that when I am home all day with them, I’m not the best version of myself.

  4. Turia says:

    The things that freaks me out is people keep telling me that things get MORE busy as they get older, and not less so. I have been assuming if I am home as much as possible/available as much as possible until they are in full-time school, then it gets easier. And this doesn’t seem to be true.

    Please let me know if you find the magic balance!

  5. Mel says:

    That is it exactly: changing the focus continuously. Maybe that’s really the answer — that we can have it all all at once. We can have it all, but only in small parts spread over time.

  6. Deborah says:

    This is so much how I feel! I think we were raised to feel like we really could have it all. When I decided I wanted to go into nonprofit management, my mom said, “that’s good. A VP of a nonprofit can earn good money, you know.” Now I know I’ll probably never get there. Ten years ago, I would’ve been very surprised to find that I’m currently in a job that’s not the highest-level job I’ve been in or even full-time, but one I like because I never have to stay late. I would be even more surprised to learn how much the current me wants to cut back my hours or even stay home. I had no idea how much time it takes to manage a household! I’m not even doing half of what needs to get done, and it’s still a lot! I also didn’t know that it would come to be something I’d take pride in doing well – I guess I thought somehow it would just happen by itself?

    I can’t really answer your questions, though. Currently, I think I’ve given up sleep and me-time, and I’m not sure that’s an advisable solution or a sustainable one.

  7. Shelby says:

    This is perfectly descriptive of how I often feel and obviously, how so many others feel as we’re all relating here. While I never strived to be a CEO (I’m in education), I once set my sights on being a director or superintendent. Before my son came along, my director shared that she wanted to groom me for her position and I considered it at the time. Well, she’s retiring this year and her position is the farthest thing from my mind. I made that known. I too am more interested in being there for my son when he gets out of school (he’s 3 1/2). I spend an incredible amount of time on one child’s schedule and I can’t imagine the time needed for more than one.

    And I don’t think it’s lacking any motivation by being less interested in your career-it’s just a shift. Priorities are ever-changing and this is what you’re experiencing. I know one day my career will start to come back into focus as a more important piece of my puzzle, but for now, I have other things to do…

  8. Kathy says:

    This is me. . .or this was me. CPA, graduate degree, working 80 hrs a week. Baby arrives but can’t get a single load of laundry, in a day, washed and put away before bedtime. My choice was to go back to work but not work with a capital W. I took a government accounting position. 37.5 hrs a week. Cube walls. The paycheck is not as pretty. I still have month end & year end deadlines. But at 4:00 I am done and on my 30 min commute home. It works, usually, most of the time. My suggestion is stay on the treadmill but just not the breakneck pace. Good luck.

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