I went to college at Emory University where very few people (except me) graduated from school and promptly got married. Throughout my liberal arts education there was a strong theme of women’s empowerment and gender equity- something I am so grateful for and has played a big role in shaping my life. However, there was another message that was indirectly communicated: you (women) can have it all. This is a new day and age and people are enlightened and you can mix family and work and reach for the stars. Go forth and conquer!
This energy is so much of what has fueled and directed my career- encouraging me to make leaps to numerous different organizations early on to advance in leadership. It’s what has inspired me to take on management roles, to write a book with another mom colleague, and to say “yes” to opportunities (even when they scare me) because, why not?
But along the way I’ve also taken on another big (huge) job: becoming a mom…twice. Initially, Eric and I didn’t even know if we were going to have kids. We’re practical people and when we looked at our careers and looked at what it takes to be parents- we didn’t see how it would work. There just didn’t seem like there were enough hours in the day (spoiler alert: there’s not!). But ultimately we did have kids and I learned something new: you can’t have it all. There are sacrifices.
I’ve heard executive women say, “you can have it all, just not at the same time” – but I’m not even sure this is true. In those early weeks, months, and years with your babies there are choices that are diametrically opposed. I can’t breastfeed exclusively on demand for a year and go back to work. I can’t be up all night with my baby and be mentally present the next day in the big meeting. I remember distinctly two moments that reminded me of the fact that being a working mom with an office job comes with sacrifices. Specifically, the sacrifice of time.
I was visiting my cousin after her first baby was born and Aubrey (my oldest) went with me. We had a ton of together time, including sharing a bed and hours on hours of just hanging out. I remember being surprised by some of the things she said and did, observing pieces of her personality that probably came out at daycare but not in our brief morning or evening time together that is highly routinized. It was like I was getting to know her a little deeper, and as I studied her face while she talked animatedly about her classmates I also noticed she was older. She wasn’t a little girl anymore and I felt a sad twinge in my heart for how fast it went by. I know time flies for all parents, but it really races past when you’re working.
The second was when I was pregnant with Emma and thinking about how to do maternity leave and returning to work well. I wanted to make a way for more time at home before going back. In trying to engineer a different way, I realized there were things I wished I had done differently the first time around. I felt the first real sting of regret and cried big tears. I remembered those mantras of empowerment I had been educated on, but I still felt sad… was I doing something wrong? Having it all was hard and confusing.
I’ve been tempted over the years, in the face of uncertainty, to “opt out” of the working world. At least I would eliminate the GOMO (guilt over missing out) – but at what other costs? What would it cost my spirit to leave a vocation that I love? What would it cost my organization? What would it cost the world? I believe my work deeply matters.
I don’t have all the answers; I just wanted to name the costs…to open the cage and let the birds fly out. I see so many new moms, completely overwhelmed at the start, and I know what they’re thinking… “Is it supposed to be this hard?”, “Is it normal to miss my baby this much?”, “What do I even want for my life now?” I am convinced that more support for new moms in the workplace, in the following forms, would make a difference:
1) extended leave (3 months is not enough for most moms, it was not enough for me)
2) mentorship with a mom (or a group of moms) who have been there (more Mom Posses! https://www.mindfulreturn.com/working-moms-posse/)
3) flexible options for returning to work and creative advancement opportunities without getting “mommy tracked”
Maybe if we re-engineered the system, there would be less sacrifices… maybe we could then, in truth, have it all.