Monday, November 30, 2009

A Balancing Act

So, after two weeks away from safe, lovely, middle earth I'm firmly back in the suit-wearing, heel-clipping "other world". A world without Elmo, Chica, Star and Sophie...I am left with several burning questions...

How does your heart heal when you return home and find that your daughter has been crying all day since you left? That she stopped when you scooped her up and nuzzled into your shoulder offered little consolation. How am I meant to get up tomorrow and do it all over again?

As a stay at home mom for the past 8 months I thought I had it figured out. Balance. I was a mum during the day, a wife at night and somewhere in between my daughter's naps I found time to see myself.

Now, I play a different sort of working mother during the day. One that works for and not with her girl. Someone detached from whoever I was to whatever I have become. I did not return to my career but accepted a job to help finance this new family. I am not alone. The current economic climate is no doubt sending more and more parents back to work. This generation might be well schooled but they are now paying the piper.

And, guess what? Paying the piper is not easy. I stifle every maternal, emotional instinct and summon every ounce of mother lion courage to leave the house each day. And yes, I'm terrified. Absolutely terrified. That I'll miss something, that she'll hurt and I won't be the one to heal her, that something will happen and I'll never forgive myself for either missing or preventing it. I thought I was scared of her forgetting me during the day but now I want her to play with joy, without looking for me. I leave every day and as I press the call button for the elevator I know that I'll never get these days back.

I know, I know. I sound all a bit over the top and dramatic. The answer as far as I can tell is that you just do it. Simple. You just do it. How did I get up and go to work each day 18 months ago between throw ups and all day morning sickness? You think you can't but you do it. When your eyes were so tired they would sting in those first few weeks, you would still rather hold your baby for 3 hours and just stare instead of napping. You push through the exhaustion. You just do it. And, those nights when after rocking and singing and running the faucet, the baby would still be crying so hard that you yourself begin to weep - how will we get through? Will this ever end? It did. We just got through. Day by day.

And so, I'm striving for balance. I run home and get just under 2 hours of mummy time. Followed by another 2 hours of being a wife before passing out. It's all me. It's just that when I lie in bed at night and run through a checklist of my day and see how I did, I wonder where *I* went?

Ahh, balance! Or perhaps...Ha! Balance! In a quest for balance I find guilt. Yesterday when Olivia was asleep, I went and worked out for 30 minutes. Grunting my way up the stepper I felt bad that I wasn't spending that time with Tom. This week I have a work holiday party - if we attend I will miss my precious post-work time with Olive and not see her before bed. Does that make me a terrible mother? Yet, the thought of a glass of wine and the opportunity to get dressed up with my husband is appealing.

I don't know how to do it. How to find that balance. How to feel balanced enough to lie in bed at night and feel that in ticking the "(working) mother" box and the "wife" box, that the *me* box is still legible and not addled with guilt.

Motherhood seems to be like plate spinning. Is it possible to find balance? Or in paying the piper are we in danger of paying a higher price?

This song has been on a running loop in my head the past
two weeks - good luck getting it out of your head now...


  1. Well from one mum to another, you are braver than i could ever think to be. The idea of leaving my little man at home is......well lets not think. Your words have made me cry, pregnancy hormones? Who knows but never has a truer word been said!! My partner came home & said he was going out on a works xmas do!!! Well the fireworks started, since the birth of my wonderful baby & the rather fast conception of number 2, i have not been out!! For a meal, drink or just some me time & i'm starting to climb the walls. When did it get to the point that i live for my child, bump & partner having no time for myself. Answers on a post card please. Once again you have hit the nail right on the head. x x

  2. I think we have to look at it as the lesser of 2 evils. Were you to stay home, there would be less money, meaning more stress, and at least an equal amount of guilt to what you feel now, just directed in a different way. Guilt that you aren't working, that you are leaving it all to Tom, that you can't buy Olive all that you want. At least this way you can provide for your lovely family AND spend some time with them. Plus that time you do spend is all the more precious, and you are less likely to take it for granted. You are teaching that lovely girl a valuable lesson in life also. Don't feel like you are neglecting 'you'. All these people you have become are the new you! You don't have to seperate them. At all times of the day you are mother, wife, worker and the old you that you have always been. Just because you aren't at home, doesn't stop you being a mother. Just because you aren't at work, doesn't mean you aren't a worker. Would a trifle be as delicious if you ate a lump of sponge, a peice of fruit, some jelly, then some custard and then a big dollop of cream? Nope - much better to mix it all up and have a little of all those things all at once! Hmmm I have just compared myself and you to a trifle. Personally, I've been called worse! xxx

  3. I have no answers. I have learned that no matter what "they" say, we can't have it the same time. But everything in life is a phase and things will change and turns towards more of an equilibrium.
    I've worked full time, part time and stayed home. None of these scenarios are easy once kids enter the picture. No matter what you do or where you are, you are always striving for balance and trying to stave off the guilt of wanting to be were you aren't.
    We do the best we can, we love our children and they love us back.
    Take it easy on yourself! You're doing great.

  4. I really feel your pain in this post. I don't know what the right answer is for you, but I can tell you how it went down for me.

    At first, I thought I could do it all: go back to my career, find the best care for my baby (she even brought him to my work every day so I could nurse him), be the awesome wife I was before mommyhood, etc. What I found was I felt I was lacking as a mother, a wife, an employee, and a woman. I was exhausted, spread out too thin, and not doing anything as well as I knew I could.

    So I gave up my post-MBA career (the one I'd worked so hard to get to), we sold our house, and down-sized to a tiny place in the country. Since then, I've stayed home with my son, I homeschool him now, and I've NEVER regretted that decision. We have less money, and do without a LOT, but we have more time together as a family, and more of the simple pleasures.

    Having said that, I don't know your situation. If you in fact HAVE to work, then you just have to find the strength to sacrifice your own emotional needs in order to provide for your daughter. I know I would do the same... if I had to. The hard part is determining if you really HAVE to work, or if you are working to maintain some idealized lifestyle. That's a question we each have to answer for ourselves.

    I know one thing: you will do fine. You are a mom and that makes you the strongest, most nurturing, self-sacrificing and capable person on the planet. If you do what feels right, you and your daughter will come out of it with flying colors.

    Best of luck finding the balance! :)

  5. Your emotions bled right through the Internet on this post. I'm so sorry you have to be away from your girl right now.

    Lisa @
    All That and a Box of Rocks

  6. Oh my Paula!! We should buy that house upstate and have our mommy commune :)

  7. Oh Paula you made me cry, but you will get through it Day by Day! Woman have always felt guilty, whichever choice they made, and that will never change.Olivia will not know any of this, so enjoy every moment you have with her. Do you know she will be grown up before you know it, and maybe going through exactly what you are now. I love you so very much.

  8. oh friend... i am going to be brutally honest here, and i'm SO sorry if it adds to your pain. but you KNOW me, and you KNOW how desperately i want to be a full time mother.


    it's simply NOT true. olive wants and needs YOU. no one else. you are her entire world.

    i have fought tooth and nail to be home with my kids EVERY chance i could. i would work some, get caught up, and quit again.

    i am BEGGING you, for your own sanity (and i mean that LITERALLY) to work as LITTLE as possible. as soon as you and tom have one BREATH extra, resign. you can't EVER get this time back.

    that wasn't as urgent for me when my first was born, it was when i was considering cameron that scott and i decided that we would make whatever sacrifice was necessary for me to be home with her. i stayed home for a year, then i worked for two, then stayed home again until she was in school.

    you will NEVER get this time back. i know you HAVE to pay bills to live, but learn from one who regrets EVERY moment i worked. it's just not worth it.

    paula, we even (and i can't believe i'm posting this on the internet, no one knows) filed bankruptcy and turned our house over to the bank for me to stay home for the longest stretch. our credit was ruined and i wouldn't change a thing.

    work when you HAVE to, i have... but make it as temporary as possible. you are olive's world. her entire world.

    i LOVE you. and i'm so so so sorry.

  9. I've gotta agree with Rebecca Marie. And we also have completely walked away from financial security in our efforts to keep me home with our son, even risking foreclosure (we got renters at the LAST minute, but we were ready to go there.) Now our house is rented and we live in a small apartment!

    It isn't so much that your daughter will somehow suffer or be scarred for life if you have to work. I have lots of friends who grew up completely in daycare (both parents always worked), and they turned out fine. Kids are resilient and can get through anything. But you can't pay someone to love her like you do. You can give her something MORE than what anyone else can.

    Plus, I'd hate for YOU to miss out on these moments which will FLY by. If at all possible, stay with her.

  10. this was a very candid post. And I think many people can relate in various ways. Sorry you are in this situation and I hope you find the right solution for you and your family. :)

  11. I loved this post, and clearly a lot of people feel very strongly about this, as they should. The only thing I can add is that you just have to do what is right for you. What worked and what sacrifices were acceptable for one person are not the same for another person. Obviously being home with your daughter would be ideal, but it is also very obvious that she will grow up knowing that she is endlessly loved by you. And that is really what matters most in the world, and what will matter most to your daughter wether you are home with her or at work.

  12. I think you are so right about balance. I am also a working Mom and it is so difficult. Two days a week and a couple hours a night seems like so little to spend with our babies. The good news is that you are conscious of how valuable this time is and are taking advantage of the time you do spend with your baby. That is the most valuable thing, to have that state of mind. Even some stay at home Moms who have "all the time in the world" don't see how valuable any time with their kids is and just let it all go by. That mindset of appreciation is a huge gift you are giving to your daughter and to your husband and even to yourself. Thank you so much for your honesty, your blog is just beautiful. I love your writing and the openness you have in sharing this with other Moms. I think what you write about is what many of us are going through and it feels so good to connect with someone having the same issues and experiences. I am so glad to have found your blog on MBC. I look forward to reading more.

  13. My best advice is to thinking about the "balance" as INNER balance as opposed to trying to do all the external stuff perfectly. The latter simply isn't possible. But of course it takes us overachievers a while to figure that out! Just remember you MUST take care of the *me* part in order to possible DO the *mommy* and *wife* parts. Never ever feel guilty, for this is mandatory. I'm impressed you're working out - that's awesome! Personally, I also recommend meditation as a great inner balancer.

    Looking forward to reading more - love your style!

    Stop on by my "Balance Beam" sometime! :-)


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