Have you ever had the experience when you know without a doubt what you were made for? I've had it occur twice in my life: the moment I gave birth, and the first time I wrote an article. In each experience, I felt the surge of energy that comes when you do the thing that flows out of you most naturally (though not always easily). It's like tapping a wellspring that bubbles forth boundless energy and life from the deepest part of you. Being a mom and a writer has been two of the greatest sources of joy and satisfaction in my life. They've also been two of my greatest sources of conflict.
When my husband and I first started having kids, I was gung-ho on building my career. Freshly minted from college, it never occurred to me to stay home. I could (and would) definitely have it all.
But my professors failed to tell me about how hard it is to juggle 2 a. m. feedings and heart-rending decisions about daycare, all the while staying on your A-game at the office. And then came son two, followed by son number three. That was as far as I could fake it—this pretending I could do it all. I was ready to do one thing, and do it well. No more splitting my affections between work and home.
So I packed up my briefcase and headed home, ready to experience some work-life balance for the first time.
I was miserable.
For nearly two years, I couldn't get the hang of waking up each day to something much worse than an alarm clock: crying, hungry babies. I tried to plug into play groups and engage with my kids at their various developmental stages. The neighbors and I traded turns taking care of each others' kids so each of us could sneak some time to ourselves. I usually used my alone time to write. I wanted to keep my foot in the door of my old life, just in case the stay-at-home gig didn't work out.
Writing is a wonderful profession for its portability. You can do it wherever, whenever. Believe me, I know. I've typed with one hand while nursing a baby. Heck, I even brought my laptop to the hospital when I went into labor with my third. According to the length of my other deliveries, I was pretty much guaranteed 10-12 hours without kids tugging at me. Seemed like a good use of time.
This may have been my most telling moment—the point when I realized my competing desires to be both a mother and a writer were duking it out, and the skirmish was getting ugly. What kind of mother brings a laptop to labor, after all?
It's so hard to surrender the things that bring us joy. But wanting a career was costing my family too much. They deserved better than what I was offering. Writing would have to be a dream deferred.
Vitriol over vocation
We read of "Mommy Wars"—the endless border battles we fight over breast vs. bottle, cloth vs. synthetic diapers, home school vs. public or private education, stay-at-home vs. work. In this issue, address the vocation/ calling divide. Working women judge their stay-at-home counterparts for leading "less-than" lives, and mothers who give up careers for children judge professional women for selling out their families in pursuit of selfish ambition. Neither argument is accurate, and what would a win for either side do?
According to Kate Harris, a working mother of (almost) four, women are more stressed out and unsatisfied than ever. No one's winning anything, it seems. And with so many of us feeling drained by the complex choices we're faced with, not to mention the consequences of our choices, we only heap on more hurt and self-doubt when we let our decisions divide us. Can't we just all get along?
And yet I often wonder, how can I help end this battle when I can't even reconcile it within myself? A mommy war has been waging within me for my entire adult life. Only now that my four kids are nearly grown, and I'm farther along in my career, am I grasping the insights that writers like Jen Pollock Michel, Jean E. Jones, and Kate Harris have gained much earlier in life. Helping each other find work that resembles worship, even when it's incredibly repetitive and mundane, and extending acceptance instead of making assumptions about women who are childless, and helping each other navigate the complexities of being a woman today—these are all calls to action you'll find in their writing.
So let's call a truce, at least long enough to consider their wise words. And together we can help each other settle the conflicts that rage within each of us. Who knows, maybe that will be the beginning of finding that ever-elusive work-life balance we're all striving for.
Marian V. Liautaud