It’s 8:30 in the morning and I’ve already reached my borderline boiling-over point. (And if we’re going to have the “can moms have it all?” debate right here and now, I quit.) I’m answering an email, 10 minutes away from a conference call, and in the middle of a deadline. My son, clawing at my legs as I try to move the laptop from his reach, is clingy and fussy and in need of something only I can, apparently, provide. But I’m letting him cry, trying to block out his crocodile tears and high-pitched whines. I’m letting him pull the DVDs off the shelf and open the bottom kitchen cabinets to play with pot holders; both actions I’ve scolded him for in the past. I’m essentially ignoring him, asking him to be independent and self-sufficient and autonomous, yet he is only 1.
Before I put down my laptop to tend to him and, hopefully, get him to fall asleep, I receive an email from my editor. She is thanking me for my ability to meet deadlines and provide her with quality work. She is congratulating me for achieving a work/life balance that allows me to stay at home and care for my child while simultaneously succeeding at a job I love.
She’s telling me everything I wish were true.
Because the truth is, every deadline I meet and every conference call I make and every published article I produce makes me feel like I’m failing as a mother.
Every time someone tells me that I’m doing exceptionally well and my career is flourishing and my success is only increasing, I feel my son, tugging at my legs, crying for the attention I fail to give him. Every time I open my computer only to have his ineffectual hands close it, or have to stop mid-sentence to chase him out of the bathroom or away from a trashcan or out from behind a couch, I resent the very human I brought into this world.
Every time I turn a project in on time or impress an employer, I feel as if my son ends his day wishing that he spent more time in his mother’s arms. Every time I’m sick because I’ve been overworked, or I’m too exhausted to play because I haven’t slept in three days, or I’m too overwhelmed to enjoy an otherwise memorable moment, I worry that my son will grow resentful of the mother who chose to work.
Every time I’m offered a new opportunity or given a larger platform or promoted with greater responsibility, I cringe at the thought of the extra hours I’ll spend working, hoping my son entertains himself. Every time I’m commended for a job well done, I think about the hours I spent wishing my son would sleep so I could get more work finished, realizing that I spend too much of my day hoping for the moments when he is not being my child and I am not being his mother.
And it is in these moments -- these moments in time that make me feel like a failed mother and a successful woman simultaneously -- that I realize what “having it all” really means. It doesn’t mean a woman can have a successful career and a healthy relationship and be a loving mother, all at once. It means that, a successful career and a healthy relationship and the responsibilities of motherhood come with all the feelings: wanted and fulfilled, powerful and ineffectual, successful and hopeless, capable and inadequate, propelled and held back.
It’s 11:30 in the morning now. Normally, it wouldn’t take me this long to write an article but my son has interrupted me at least 10 times and I’ve had to stop twice to collect myself. He has shut my laptop while I was typing four times, ripped up napkins and left the pieces all over the kitchen floor, and shut himself in our bedroom twice. As the chaos around me expands, another editor has emailed me, asking if I can start writing twice a week. I will say yes, but not before looking at my son. I put my laptop down and I sit on the floor with him, stacking blocks he is all too happy to knock over. I will reply to the email later, but for now, he will be my focus.
I can have it all, even if it means I will feel it all, too.