The young mother bounds from bed before the alarm rings. She nurses the baby, leaves lists for the baby sitter, reviews her notes for a presentation one more time, showers, grabs a coffee and heads for the office.
At work, she sees patients, teaches, works on accounts, calls to check on her son. When she gets a break, she pumps breast milk for the next day. Exhausted by 5 or 6 p.m., she heads home to begin her other full-time job.
The young mother is millions of American women. She is my daughter and my nieces, and at one time I was her, juggling as best I could the responsibilities of home, office, marriage and motherhood. I always felt guilty when I left in the morning, and when I got home at night I worried that my kids hadn’t really missed me.
I danced that dance for many years. I worried all the time about the kind of role model I was for my daughter. I could feel her eyes on me as I bustled about my days, taking the sum of me, considering my life, the woman she thought I was and the woman she wanted to be. Now I worry that she’s trying to do too much all at once, that she’s demanding of herself more than she can do.
Did I suggest that super-mom role to her by my own crazy example?
My fear always was that when asked to remember me in the future, all she would recall was a human rocket, flying in the house late, cleaning chickens in her coat so that dinner could be served in time to eat and get her and her brother to meetings or homework groups or band practice.
When my kids were 4 and 7, I went back to work outside the home. Like all working mothers, I majored in juggling. On the job, I often felt I was neglecting the kids by not being there to open the door when they returned from school, by being too tired to give them the best of me. If I took time off to tend to a sick child, I worried about work.
I didn’t have just two balls in the air. There were friends to reach out to, errands to run, invitations to reciprocate, relationships with a husband, mothers, fathers and sisters to nurture. There was a house to maintain. A garden. A dog.
I was no different from any other working woman except that my burden was lighter. I went to an office only three days a week. My husband was helpful, but he worked in the city, and if a child was sick, I had to make “the arrangements.” The conflicts of trying to do it all created an emotional minefield.
Today it’s even more difficult for working mothers. Their stress levels are extreme. Multitasking is a way of life, even though no one can do two things at once. More women have great jobs, but they can barely enjoy their professional success or their home life. They have money, but time is the greatest luxury in their lives.
Is this what I wished for my daughter? It seemed simpler in the ’70s, when I became a teacher because that was what my parents had encouraged me to do. I knew I’d teach for a while, then quit and raise my family. It even seemed simpler later on, when, awash in feminism and restlessness, I changed the plan, staked out a writing career and went for it.
Since then, nothing has been simple. Compromise is the name of the game. And doubt — if I hadn’t stayed home for seven years with my kids, perhaps my career would have been different and better. If I hadn’t gone to work at all, maybe my kids would have been more secure. My children? My job? My husband? I always felt I was neglecting some responsibility.
So what can I say to young women today? Having kids is the easy part. Raising them and balancing home life with a demanding professional life is the trick — and no one ever quite nails it. At times you need a weak mind and a strong back, a good sense of humor and a long list of take-out restaurants.
Of course, the early years are only Chapter 1 of a woman’s family life. As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m still “on the job,” writing and facilitating book groups. My children are out and on their own, doing their own juggling with the grandchildren.
But these days my mother needs my attention and care.
The rhythm of life? We mother ourselves, and then our children, and then our mothers. As long as I live and even after, whether my daughter knows it or not, I’ll be her model for mothering, just as my mother is mine. I try to be a good mother to my daughter and a good daughter to my mother. It’s the best job in the world, isn’t it?
To all of us women, full-time moms and part-time jugglers, happy Mother's Day.
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.