The Great Conundrum of Motherhood: Trying To Do Everything at Once

We went to Phoenix over the weekend so that I could attend a conference, for research for my second book. I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle my career with motherhood. I think it’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Everything else I’ve been through in my life up until now seems incredibly easy in comparison. Even remembering what it was like when I was in grad school and working two jobs — that seems easier than trying to mother two small children while also trying to bring two books into the world.

This past weekend was the perfect example of the constant state of juggling I find myself in. Even though I was going to be spending most of Saturday and Sunday in a board room listening to presentations on the reality of the afterlife, Greg and the girls both came with me. I’ll tell you right now that there is no way I’d be doing any of this were it not for my incredible husband. For so much of this past year he has stepped up so that I could follow my path. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched him disappear into the corner of a bookstore with Vera so that I could give a reading to a group of people, or how many times I’ve watched him walk off to the park, pushing a stroller and carrying a diaper bag, so that I could sit on a panel and talk about books. And then this weekend there he was poolside with both girls while I popped in and out of sessions to nurse Jules or give Vera a snuggle.

I think that because we do this stuff so often our friends think it’s easy for us. It’s definitely not. Greg and I both just kind of do whatever it takes. Picture me in my conference sessions, sitting in the very back row, closest to the door with a sleeping Jules in the baby carrier on my chest while I’m trying to take notes. Or me in the backseat of the car for two hours, wedged tightly between the two car seats, just so I can keep the babes happy for the six hour drive. I mean, it gets ridiculous. I’m not even going to get started on Australia and nursing Juliette while feeding kangaroos.

I guess my point is that I’m trying really hard to do both of these things, and they are both incredibly important to me. If I had to sacrifice one for the other, I would easily drop my career, but for now I’m going to keep forging ahead like this, trying to make it all work. It constantly baffles me that all of this had to happen at once — motherhood and the taking off of my career, but this is the way it is. I hope that they can appreciate it one day, and that everything I am doing will serve to provide for them in many ways, not just financially, but in a way that makes them feel confident enough to pursue all the things that dream of doing in their own lives.

I had this interesting conversation recently with a mom friend about how feminism has affected present day motherhood. Her argument was that the feminist movement was actually detrimental to women in that now we are expected to be able to do everything — juggle careers while simultaneously being perfect attachment parents. My friend also remarked that she wished it wasn’t so culturally normal to have kids so much later into life now, that having kids in your twenties and THEN diving into your career in your thirties makes more sense.

I thought her points were really interesting and found myself trying to imagine what it would have been like if I had spent my twenties as a mother. In some ways it sounds kind of ideal — I would have been younger and healthier with more energy, and the experience would have likely matured me in remarkable ways, not to mention how I wouldn’t wasted all that time gallivanting about and pondering my existence. But on the same token, I doubt I would have had the maturity to handle marriage or co-parenting.

I guess what I’m coming to is that here I am, trying to do everything. I’m trying to be a great mom and a successful writer, not to mention a responsive wife and good friend (and, on the low end of the spectrum, a decent cat owner), and that so far it’s hard, really hard, but not impossible.

Even if you’re not a mom , do you have any tips for how you balance everything in your life?

15 comments

15 Comments

  • Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t have any tips. Well, other than raising kids with early bedtimes, which I think is good for ALL. And maybe that sometimes I blowdry my hair at night so that I don’t have to do it in the morning. But otherwise, nothing. I am always looking for guidance and wisdom though, so I will be checking back here! xoxo

  • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    For me, juggling everything sometimes makes me feel split/divided/guilty and often cranky and so for me a good way to feel like I can manage both without losing it all is to try to live in the moment as much as possible with my family. I work from home and while in many respects it’s great, because I can pickup the kids from kindy/school and bake cupcakes, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by work waiting for me. My husband has his own business and works nearly 24/7. So I mostly parent alone – which can be hard but also means I can manage somethings more easily (like bedtime). I have learned super time management skills!!!
    I agree wholeheartedly with Lindsey that an early bedtime for kiddies is super important (for them and me). I also find making sure I get a 5 minute window for myself each day important too. No-one is perfect and everyone is different. It’s about finding our own happy medium and I am always getting ideas from others – like you Claire – and I find it so helpful. Mostly it’s just nice to know we are not alone and that we aren’t the only ones trying to get it right! xox

  • Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I have no tips unfortunately. I am always struggling to balance my full time job, raising two boys, and helping my husband grow a new business as he also balances a full time job. I think we just have to keep in mind that the “balance” will come as the kids get older and remember that there will be a time when we long for these days when things were crazy and the kids were babies. I just try to be present when I am with the boys and make sure they always know that they can do anything if they put their minds to it.

    Good luck sweetie, things will get better, I promise!

  • Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    No tips here, but I wanted to let you know that you’re not alone! Although I’m not as busy as you are, my freelance writing career seemed to really skyrocket after I had my daughter last summer and even more so now that my husband has gone back to work full-time. It’s hard – very hard- to juggle everything and still feel like a real person who has dreams and desires. There have been SO many times recently that I wanted to quit my current writing gig (which is lucrative and I’m thrilled to have), but I keep on plugging away. It’s day by day, hour by hour, I tell ya!

    I had my first (and only) baby when I was almost 35, and I don’t have any regrets. I enjoyed doing exactly what I wanted exactly when I wanted to do it throughout my 20s and early 30s. I think living the carefree life when I was young is making me a more content mother. The only problem is all of these aches and pains that are cropping up – my mind feels young but my body says otherwise, LOL.

  • Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, that’s actually a brilliant tip — I’d never thought of blow drying my hair at night. My appearance is always last on the list these days. :(

  • Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Tanya, it sounds like you have a lot on your plate! Wow. But it also sounds like you’re really good at recognizing how it all needs to work and making sure you are allotting time for yourself, which is so important. And yes, early bedtimes!

  • Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Tonia, you’re so right. Even after I wrote this post I was thinking about how much all of this is going to change in just a few short years. Both girls will be in school and the landscape of my days will be very different.

  • Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Liz, you’re right — it really is hour by hour sometimes! And I can totally relate to the aches and pains. My body does not feel the way it used to! Ugh.

  • Posted November 14, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Ducky, we have some kind of multi-task genetic thing a ma jiggy in us; we can carry on 5 conversations at once, get interrupted a thousand times, and I think your loving your children is great; they will learn because of your other talents, how to reveal one’s self in a meaningful way. My mom worked, and my father didn’t like it. She later blew apart from alcoholism, but when 4 of us (3 in 4 years) came along, she worked, made mittens, and was regarded by all in Randall G. Morris Elementary School as fabulous, as the favorite teacher, and looked at us as the luckiest kids in the world to have her as a mother. I felt that way. we did have a live in housekeeper; cheaper in those days, but one time before we moved to a big house, she took a series of days stretching over months and taught Latvian women, who spoke of husbands lost behind the Iron Curtain, she taught them English, and didn’t charge; of that stuff was the fibre of my mom; i would later be of service in Slavic countries, and I dedicated my first book Without A Net: A Sojourn in Russia to her; we try to be everything to everyone, but it’s all a learning experience. Little by little, day by day we progress. Love and hugs to a very good woman, mom, writer, ….

  • Posted November 14, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I do not have children. But I do have a husband and I would like to stay married to him! We’ve been married for 18 years. I think writers have a tendency to always write–we would write all the time if we didn’t have other obligations. I could easily let my writing bleed into my family time. But I ask myself, what is my priority? My relationship with my husband, or being a writer? I’ve always chosen family obligations over writing time. This is probably why it took me 13 years to write my memoir. Sometimes you just have to put down the pen and paper (or turn off the computer) and watch a movie, go out to dinner, etc.

  • Posted November 14, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Time is relentless. It cannot be created yet it is constantly being destroyed. Your dilemma is of the most happy kind. You have to choose between things you want to do. Prioritize between positives. Pick the cherries.
    Do not think life would have been easier if you had children earlier. The ‘energy’ you fondly remember from youth is likely illusory, and anyway, what you now require is stamina. That is an attribute of mature people.
    You seem to have got a good partner with Greg. Family flexibility, and “doing whatever it takes”, is the way to go. He will provide a powerful role model of what your daughters expect from a man.

  • Posted November 14, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Claire, love your honesty with your joys and struggles.

    I am 49, mother to two boys, 14 and 11, and have always worked. I birthed my first big boy, 9 lbs., 4 weeks before I defended my dissertation and 8 weeks before packing a van and moving across to my first job, husband giving up his, neither of us having any job security beyond that year. I brought my next boy, all 3 1/2 lbs. of him, to the world two months early, and with many complications for both of us, in the midst of striving for tenure at my second job.

    I often wonder how I did it all and wonder why I tried, but it was what felt right then and what I did my best to do. And I have to remind myself how many sweet memories I have of my now big boys when they were babies and little boys, and we created those memories amidst all the work I did then and am still doing now.

    We have lots of family videos, and nothing grounds me more than watching them and remembering that the blur of their growing up was actually made of lots of wonderful, exhausting, often hilarious moments. Balance is both long-term and daily, I’ve found — meaning you can try to establish a framework that helps your family’s life flow, but sometimes you just have to chuck it for the moment. I think we did that and are trying to now. I’m learning to be kind with myself.

    Have also learned that we sometimes feel invincible and almost are, and then sometimes we are reminded that we aren’t, and we should listen to that when it happens. Have had two years of that recently — where my body needed me to listen to it and I wanted to ignore it and tell it it had to be the body I’d always had. I’m finally listening, and it helps.

    Wishing you peace and continued joy with your lovely family. And thank you for providing such a beautiful place for us all to read and reminisce and wonder.

  • Posted November 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Oh Claire, If only I could document my life and struggles as you do! You weave magic with words.

    One head, many hats. This sums up my life.

    The circus that is toddlerhood has me on my feet all the time. I’m the resident clown :-)

    I’ve raised my son almost single-handedly (hubby is always away on work), while maintaining a high-pressure job with a boss who believed that having kids was a sign of lack of intelligence. The Asia Pacific team I was part of consisted only of single, divorced, separated, married but chose nto to have kids, and homosexual people. I was the youngest (at 34!) and the only one with a child. I could *never* talk about children or parenthood, so there was no ‘workplace sisterhood’. I’ve done all ‘parent chores’ single-handedly, but because everything gets done, everyone thinks it’s easy. Only I know how tough the going has been.

    I switched jobs this year and my work life hasn’t been happier. Hat juggling continues, nonetheless.

  • Posted November 18, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Last week, I read an interview of Paula Broadwell, in which she mentions, “I used to think I was invincible and could do it all, but having children helped me to realize my limits.”

    I love the simplicity of this very potent statement.

  • Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Balance is an elusive beast… I try to think of it all more as a liquid, flexible thing rather than a solid to be divided in equal parts. Working on the computer while breastfeeding, answering emails waiting for school pick-ups… whatever the task, my many worlds inevitably overlap. I don’t fight it any more & most of the time it works out. Three little boys, a family business & time for writing… it’s not easy, but most things that really matter aren’t easy.
    And most important… a sense of humor. That is what gets me through the rest of it!

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