Mamapedia City Voices highlights the inside scoop on your city by selected writers, from up-and-coming mom bloggers to well-known mom experts.
Moms Turned Inside Out
Do you compare your insides to other people’s outsides?
Most of us do, even though we know better. We’re social creatures. It’s natural to make comparisons.
But we rarely get to glimpse other people’s insides. When we make our comparisons, we inevitably wind up comparing how we feel to how other people seem.
This may partly explain why so many mothers feel so much guilt. We look around at the women we know from the office or the kids’ school and see patient parents, happy marriages, and well-adjusted children.
And we think, what’s wrong with me? I let my kids watch too much TV and I snap at my husband for folding the laundry wrong and I hate my job. Why am I the only person screwing up her life?
I asked several of the women I admire to send me a paragraph or two about the things you can’t see about their lives from the outside. If they thought it was a dumb idea, they kindly went along with this little experiment anyway.
Here are six successful, together, high-achieving women, outside and inside. Think of them the next time you feel like you’re doing everything wrong, while others got it right:
‘L’—Pioneering mom in the world of high-tech
Outside: If there were a poster girl for the self-actualized working mom, it would be ‘L.’ High-paying, high responsibility job in tech. Breaking barriers at work by negotiating a part-time schedule, she somehow manages to go to weekly dance classes, and still devote weekends to her two young kids. Husband (who also works) is a full partner with kids and housework.
Inside: What people don’t see about me is I’ve been on the edge of a panic attack for the past 6-8 months—just started seeing a therapist. Worst time of the day is 5:35 p.m., when I get home from picking my 21 month and 3.5 year old up from daycare/pre-school and we’re all starving, grumpy, and don’t know what’s for dinner.
I’m sick of being the main breadwinner and fantasize about moving to a little town where we can live on a farm and I can be with my kids all day and raise chickens.
I feel guilty about the business trip I have to take this week, and all the household projects I never seem to have time for. Today I’m working from home and spent the morning in tears because I haven’t been able to get online and I have work to do, which is what I should be doing now that our Internet connection is finally restored…
‘A’ – Mom with coveted job in high-profile nonprofit
Outside: ‘A’ is incredibly organized at work. Not only does she do what she says she’ll do, she always does it well, usually while wearing some stylish outfit. Despite having a child with health problems and a commute, she manages to work full time and then some. Luckily, she has a job she adores.
Inside: What people don’t see about me (or maybe they do!) is how anxious and cranky my commute and job make me.
Ever since I went back to work and stopped breastfeeding, I’ve found myself needing to take Ativan a few nights a week on work nights.
When I have a day of non-stop, back-to-back meetings, followed by the inevitable email backup, followed by the mad rush to the train to do daycare pickup for my toddler, followed by my daughter not wanting to get into the car seat and screaming and crying in the parking lot at the top of her lungs, I find myself hyperventilating in the car and I have to take an Ativan by the time we get home so that I can literally breathe.
I’m cranky towards my husband when he gets home, annoyed with our dog, and grumpy and anxious. I manage to hold it together all day and be professional, upbeat, and on-the-ball (I even manage to work out at lunch time a few days/week), but by the time evening comes around and I’m trying to cook, I’m a mess!
After dinner, bath, and stories, I usually get back online to catch up on work since I left “early” to do daycare pickup, so I end up eating chocolate to stay awake. And the nights I don’t take Ativan, I often can’t fall asleep because I’m thinking about how much I have to do at work, so I end up taking half an Ambien to fall asleep!
The other thing people don’t see is that my daughter has a serious medical condition we will have to manage for the rest of her life, and this adds an extra layer of anxiety and worry. We have extra doctor’s appointments and evaluations. It’s a lot to stay on top of with her health, and some days I get so worried and overwhelmed that I go in the bathroom at work and cry.
‘K’ – Gregarious former model mama
Outside: You can’t miss her—strikingly tall and blond, with that infectious laugh. She seems to have about 1,000 close friends. She had the easiest pregnancy of any woman I know, and has been the most successful at integrating her pre-child and post-child lives. She obviously loves her daughter, and seems to be immune to the mother-anxiety so many of us feel, taking business trips as needed and often going out with friends in the evening.
Inside: What people might not see about me:
Being a mother is one of the greatest and one of the most frightening things I have ever done with my life.
I never got a college degree. I’ve had to work really hard to get where I am. And I don’t want to stop.
I’m constantly worrying about money. I never learned how to be really good at saving and it pains me I’m still learning in my 40′s.
I am never going to be thin enough (I’m sure I’m the only one who feels this way too…Ha!)
I love my husband and we’ve worked through a lot, but I worry that at some point it may end.
I am truly grateful for everything in my life and am constantly reminding myself on a daily basis that I could lose it all at any moment. Because of this, I hold a weird level of optimism and anxiety, which works a bit like oil and vinegar.
‘J’ – Glamorous lesbian mom in music industry
Outside: J. and her partner have one of those made-for-TV lives. They both have hard-won careers in the music industry, and count various famous musicians among their preschool parent friends. Their house looks like something from a movie set. For the last few years, J. has been freelancing, which gives her more time to be at home with her son while still keeping her career alive.
Inside: I feel like each day that goes by where I am not fully employed in my industry, my career slips further and further out of reach. When I am ready to jump back in full time, who is going to want to hire a 42 year-old mom when there are 20-somethings chomping at the bit to do my job for longer hours and less pay?
My mind swirls with this thought and others:
“I need to volunteer more at his school.”
“I need to start running again in the mornings.”
“I should take him to a baseball game so he gets more into butch sports.”
“Baseball’s actually not that butch.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t have done private school so we could save money for college.”
“ I have no 401k.”
“Do the other moms think I am weird because I am gay?”
“I need to make more friends outside my marriage.”
All of this could take place in my head in the same 5 minutes. I smile on the outside because to describe what’s going on inside would make me seem off my rocker. I cry in my car on the way to pick up my son and then turn the air conditioning on full blast to cool my face down and un-puff my eyes. It doesn’t really work, but I say I have bad allergies.
‘S’—Clear priorities around work and home
Outside: S. has made the perfect compromise between keeping a career she cares about without letting it swamp her life. She has a 3-day-a-week schedule, spending the off days with her daughter. Happy marriage. Cool non-profit job in her chosen field. Gorgeous apartment in coveted neighborhood. It’s what we all want, isn’t it?
Inside: Being a mother isn’t satisfying the way I expected it to be. I tried so hard to become a mama, and sometimes I think that I lost sight of why I wanted to have a child, what my motivations and expectations were. My daughter is amazing—healthy, happy, energetic. It’s just that spending time with her is often not as gratifying and enjoyable as I once believed it would be.
Sometimes I feel guilty about not wanting to have another child—like people think I’m cheating my daughter, or I’m not truly part of the two kids’ “Mommy Club.” I do feel determined not to be pressured into having another child and to go with what my heart is telling me. Enjoy what you have now. I’m content with the kind of work that I do, but the daily grind of parenting and working outside of the home often overwhelms and bores me at the same time.
Career advancement is on hold since I only work part time. I thought I would be fine with this but I feel torn between spending enough time with my daughter and putting enough energy into work to satisfy my employers and my patients.
‘M’—Social butterfly pregnant with #2
Outside: Despite the fact that she works full time, ‘M’ has a rockin’ life outside of work. She always seems to be attending interesting parties or throwing events like her annual chili making contest or working on her next novel. Having a toddler hasn’t seemed to slow her down one bit, and there’s no reason to think baby #2 will, either. Firm handshake, easy smile, direct eye contact—her confidence is to be admired.
Inside: We had just decided to hold off on having baby number two, when I found out I was already pregnant. I have never been more depressed. I’m not sleeping at night, worrying about work details. I’m terrified of giving birth again. Haven’t made it to a prenatal yoga class once. (Have not done one Kegel!) When people ask how the pregnancy is going, I want to say, “It’s just another thing I can’t possibly do, but I’m doing it.”
Katrina Alcorn lives with her husband and three kids in Oakland, California. She writes about the perils of working and raising children on her blog, Working Moms Break.