All parents make sacrifices and working moms are no different. However, if I'm being honest, I have a problem with the word "sacrifice." "Sacrifice" implies an unfair trade we’ve made in order to have children and I don’t think that’s accurate. So, sure, there are sacrifices working moms make, but they're totally worth it. They're not indicitive of a horrific loss and they're not something I sit around lamenting. For me, the pros of having children and a career, outweigh the cons of choosing one way of life over the other.
Would I advance faster up the corporate ladder without kids? Maybe. However, just because I wouldn’t be putting time in as a parent if that particular scenario was my current reality, doesn’t mean I would put that time back into my job. Perhaps there would be other passions I’d cultivate outside of work. Besides, the women in the corner offices at my company whom I most admire also happen to be moms. There is no steadfast formula for guaranteed success, in any aspect of life but especially when it comes to your job.
There's no denying that you need time and brain space to cultivate a successful career, though, and being a mother can cut into both. If there is one thing that frustrates me more than anything else as a working parent it’s that I will never be able to turn off the mom switch at work. My phone is always handy, should the school call. I’m doing a mental inventory of our refrigerator at my desk so I can text the sitter what to reheat for dinner before I get home. I’m using my lunch hour to run errands that I don’t want to do after work, since it would cut into the small window of time I have with my kids before bedtime.
Still, I love my job. I cherish working at something (in my case writing and producing commercials) that I feel proud of and that I can share with my kids so they can be proud of me, too. I’m privileged to be able to build a professional life that not only pays the bills but capitalizes on my creative passions. And as much as I wanted to have a career, I wanted to be a mother, too. There is no balance between the two. Priorities shift constantly, and I’m grateful to have a parenting partner to share the tough logistics of raising smart, curious, kind children while working 40 hours a week. So the sacrifices I make as a working mom are not really sacrifices, to me. They are the choices I’ve made, at this point in time (because, with kids, nothing is forever), that best allow me to have the career I want, in the city where we want to raise our family. Here are some of them:
Giving Up Happy Hour
Since having kids, my "happy hour" is the time I spend alone on my commute home from work. Yes, I’m on a dirty subway, riding sardine-style with the millions of New Yorkers who appear to have had sh*tty days, but I’m by myself. I read and listen to music and play mindless games on my phone. I can’t get calls or work emails and my kids aren’t asking me for anything. Sure, I miss grabbing drinks with friends regularly after work, but I look forward to those rare kid-free nights more now, as a mom.
Declining Girls’ Night Invites
As important as it is for me to maintain my close friendships, I’ve learned, since having children, that my truest pals don’t disappear even though I’m no longer joining them for drinks or brunch on the regular. I took full advantage of the time I had to socialize when I was in my 20s and early 30s. With the compressed free time available to me now, I find I’m turning down invites to get-togethers more than I’m accepting them.
Once I realized that I wasn’t jeopardizing my relationships with the people I really wanted to keep in my life by spending less time with them, I was so relieved. Now, I take great care planning the rare girls’ night out because, after figuring out work and kid schedules with my partner, they are so hard won.
Downsizing Date Night
I could lament the fact that my partner and I rarely make time for each other. It’s definitely a part of our life we can improve upon. We seem to put everything first — work (gotta pay those bills), kids (our other job and joy, most of the time), sleep, showers, meals — and then when our wedding anniversary rolls around, we look at each other and realize we're spent. Like, we don’t even have the energy to plan something special. Lame.
However, we do spend at least 45 minutes together every evening, having dinner and then watching something. Lowering our expectations about “date night” is a healthier approach, as it doesn’t loom over our heads like one more thing we have to fit into our lives or check off a never-ending list. Sitting on the couch together, every night, counts. (Bonus: no makeup, no shoes, and no pants required.)
Not Watching Anything In Real Time
With the exception of Game of Thrones, no appointment viewing is happening in my house. Time is a precious commodity and I can only watch TV in small installments. So, the bad news is that I have to avoid spoilers until I’m caught up on my favorite shows. The good news is that I get to bed at a decent hour (usually), which facilitates my early rising.
Getting Up Early For “Me Time”
If I want to hit the gym, I have to go before my kids wake up. However, going to the gym is my therapy, so it’s totally worth it to get up early. I hate going, but I love having gone.
Missing School Events
Of course I feel guilty about missing a lot of events. I can’t volunteer to chaperone every school trip, or volunteer at school during the day.
Still, I always accompany my kids on at least one of their trips each year, and working allows me to donate money, if not time, to their school's fundraising initiatives. My kids don’t ever take for granted the times I am able to join them for a school outing and since it’s probably my only one for that year, I really look forward to it. I think I’d start dreading the third field day with the kindergarten class if my schedule permitted me to attend that many.
Cooking Less Than You Had Hoped
This may not be the case for all working parents, but for me, working full-time means not being able to cook as much as I envisioned I would. Truth: I don’t actually like cooking, but I like eating, and I especially like eating homemade meals. So, there is a twinge of sadness that goes into the microwave, along with the turkey chili we’re reheating for dinner, again.
Once I let go of the fantasy of following some Martha Stewart menu for daily suppers, and learned to batch cook on the weekends to tide us over throughout our busy week, I embraced the notion of not turning on the oven as much. There are fewer pots and pans to wash after a long day, and my kids are still getting nutritious meals. Frozen veggies, the occasional chicken nuggets, and a million variations on one batch of pasta is how I am able to spend time with my kids playing before bed, instead of prepping and cleaning up from more elaborate meals.
Not Having Office BFFs
I love my co-workers, but I don’t have the time, or brain space, to pursue close friendships with them outside the office. Before I had kids, my main tribe of friends were people from work. I even met my partner at my job. Now that my calendar is filled with reminders for two other people (beside me and my partner), I have to preserve my focus and energy for my family. This is working for me; I still get to socialize with work friends during the day (I mean, we all need to eat lunch) but I don’t get sucked into any personal drama because I don’t seek most of my co-workers out after the workday.
Obviously there are exceptions and it’s so wonderful to make friends as an adult, that I don’t brush off any friend chemistry I may have with someone I meet at the office. I am just super careful about how involved I get with my colleagues, when I know I’m so limited with the time and energy I could offer as a friend to them outside work.
Logging On After Hours
The work day may end when I leave the office, but my job has its way of creeping into all hours of my days. I try not to let it happen, but there are certain times of the year that are especially busy in my industry, and I just have to resign myself to the fact that I’ll need to check e-mail, review some cuts, give some feedback, and maybe even get on a call after my kids are in bed. This is because I don’t stay late at the office. I think it’s reasonable that I leave work at six, and focus on my kids for the next couple of hours until they’re asleep then, if I absolutely need to, I hop on my laptop to finish what needed to get done before the next day.
Setting these boundaries is important, or else work will take over my life, and I know I would be miserable if I let that happen to me. Others may feel differently, or have more support to allow for a more consuming work schedule. I totally respect that, but it’s not for me, at least at this point in my life with an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old.