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Swallowing the Humble Pill: From Working to Stay-at-Home Mom

4.14.19
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What happened here? I just don’t understand.

I have been a big proponent of women being able to do it all. Recently–more like almost seven months ago to the day–I have had a harder time believing the younger, childless me.

I’m just wondering, which woman was it that said we can do it all? What did she actually mean by that? At what expense?

This thought of “swallowing the humble pill* and being a stay-at-home mom” has come up several times in conversations with my girlfriends who have needed to leave their job to raise children. (This also applies to the dads who are raising their children full-time, but for the sake of the post, I’m going to refer to women.) We’ve worked our whole lives to quench our intellectual desires, and the day our baby arrives, we have this huge internal struggle where we’re trying to “find balance” between working and motherhood. I believe this struggle is perpetuated and exacerbated by the outstanding job women have done to stand up for our rights and promote that we can “do it all.”

Unfortunately, I don’t believe we can do it all without sacrificing something. Something has gotta go. At least for the time being. Is it our career? Our mental health? Physical health? At what expense can we “do it all?” Is it still considered “doing it all” if we’re sacrificing top priorities?

How long will this “stay-at-home” time will be? Will this time bring another child? Or another one of life’s unexpected challenges? And when our so-called “time” is up, and we’re ready for “re-entry” into the great big world of intellectual stimulation, will we begin anew, as I alluded to in my last post, Trouble Being Brave? Will computers still exist? Will the work we created before the baby matter?

The interesting conclusion that I’ve come to while speaking with several women with radically different lifestyles–liberals and conservatives alike–is that women have, I’m afraid to say, set the bar incredibly high for ourselves. That high expectation of being able to do it all makes it nearly impossible to be happy with the present situation, because we can’t achieve what we’ve been taught to expect from ourselves. I’m sorry to say, but we absolutely can’t do it all. Something’s gotta give.

So if you’re like me, and wondering how on Earth you went from working, to working mama, to work-from-home mama (my present situation), to stay-at-home mama, you are in good company. I propose we lower the bar for the moms and dads who choose to stay home with the child(ren). I suggest we cease to encourage the primary caregiver that they can do it all, and give them evidential truth, instead. I’d like to get real life advice and realistic expectations, even if it’s a big fat humble pill to swallow. Please, don’t lubricate my entrance into work-from-home motherhood with a false sense that I can do it all without immense sacrifice.

To ease my transition and expectations, I have made two top priorities in my present life stage–raising Ollie and sharing stories–and have allowed myself to say no or consciously fail at any other expectations. I know that to do two things well, I will need help with each. As much as I love and want to do things myself, I know from experience and conversations with my friends, that I just can’t do it all.

I keep coming back to this thought that something’s gotta give. And sometimes, that something is swallowing that big fat humble pill and rising to life’s demand (and let’s be honest, deep desire for some of us) of taking care of your baby. Can we normalize care-giving so it doesn’t feel like we’re settling? Can we make care-giving an ancillary career diversion and not seem like a hard stop to life or a huge gap in our resumé?

One comment that came up every time in my conversations with these women** was, “I wish the primary caregivers were more honest about their experience with having careers and (young) children. I wish we didn’t set the bar so high for ourselves.” As a type A overachiever, I wish what we all agreed upon wasn’t true. I wish we were wrong. Alas, and proudly I may say, it is true. This season of life, if you’re the primary caregiver, requires lowering the bar (and working on weekends). And that’s okay.

If this resonates with your stage of life where you feel the bar is set too high, whether you have a baby or not, I give you permission to lower your bar and rise to only your life’s priorities. If you’re not sure what your top priorities are, I recommend you spend some time thinking or journaling about what your life is requiring from you right now. If it’s a big fat humble pill, know that there are a lot of us trying to get it down, too. Get clear on your top priorities and allow yourself to say “no” when you can’t ________ and accept, even temporarily, “conscious failure” with any other expectations. You got this.

 

We’ve all got a lot on our plates. Here’s a quick way I check my top priorities every morning I sit down to work.

Step 1: Take a piece of paper and create two columns with the titles “Need to do” and “Want to do.” The “Need to do” column is for things you absolutely must do in order to keep going–whether it’s in business or life. Your goal should be to pick two or three things that you need to do. I know it feels like so many other things need to get done, but that’s not the reality.

Step 2: In the “Want to do” column, add all the things you want to do that will add to your life, business, etc.

Step 3: Take action on the “Need to do” column first. Ideally, starting right now. Once this column is completed or set in motion, you can move to the “Want to do” column.

 

*The thought of swallowing a humble pill came from one of my conversations with a stay-at-home mom who gave up her career to take care of her kids. I’ve always used the phrase “humble pie,” but I liked humble pill so much more when it came to the metaphor of swallowing difficult news.

**One mother said she did not have a hard time going back to work several weeks after her child’s birth (she had a surrogate carrier). She mentioned she did not feel out of place when she went back to work.