Angela on Who’s the Boss? made it look so easy. You land the big agency gig, you have a baby, you hire a sexy (retired professional baseball player) guy as your housekeeper, you rock motherhood, and you breeze through it all with just a few awkward nude moments. She had a great life, and as a kid, I wanted it.
When I got the career, then the baby, I realized it was bullshit. It wasn’t easy at all.
It didn’t happen immediately. After reading countless books on “having it all,” I can say with ease that I didn’t just have a baby and automatically know if I was fit for staying home with the baby or destined to continue my career. Obviously, many women don’t have the luxury of a decision at all. But when I returned to work at the end of that 12 weeks, I found something new. The birth of my baby and the maturation of my career brought an all too real and raw emotion that went beyond anything I’d known up until that time. It seemed the minute I dropped the placenta, I gained guilt.
I first recognized it when I pulled the door closed to return to work after the 12 system-shocking weeks of maternity leave. While that little human kicked my ass during her early years, I felt like leaving her—my sweet newborn baby who could do little more than slobber and whose face was in the hall of fame for cluster feedings—in someone else’s care…the act of closing the door symbolized so much more. A wave of longing and pain flooded over me. My husband gingerly reached around me, pushing the elevator keys to hastily escort me from the building as tears pushed away my blush like a watercolor painting.
But I loved my job. It seemed that instinct and rational thought sat on each shoulder and battled it out just like the devil and the angel. I thought that if I just “leaned in” a little more, I would continue to grow in my career. I had busted my ass to be the first in my family to graduate college, and there were legions of women before me who had busted their asses to make it normal for moms to work. I could do this. I wanted to do this.
Then came work travel. The thought of it—even months in advance—watered that seed of guilt, growing it until my departure date. Travel to the West Coast or overseas was the worst; the FaceTime conversations were hurried and always during a meltdown—either mine or my baby’s. Sure, when that plane touched down, the electricity of being in a new city still pulsed through me, but it was replaced by the glow of my phone screen as I turned it back on to see if I had any new pictures or video messages from the family I’d left behind.
Still, big presentations and brainstorming sessions created that familiar surge of excitement. For a long time, I felt that my work had purpose. I worked for clients who pushed me but were ultimately doing good things to benefit the world.
But slowly, the passion started waning.
I was about 38 minutes into a conference call when the babysitter texted pictures of the kids at the park. As soon as I wrapped up the call, a single question refused to leave my head: “What the hell am I doing?”
Three weeks ago, I quit my job. I have no idea if I’ll be able to hack it as a SAHM. There’s a good chance I’ll last a month before crying for my old job back. I am a terrible cook. It typically takes me an average of six trips back into the house before I can leave for the day, and that’s when I’m just packing up myself. I’m not patient. I am a ridiculously compulsive shopper and terrible at sticking to a budget.
Do my babies even want to be with me all day?
Who knows. What I do know is that it’s one of the most contentious issues of motherhood, oftentimes relegating women to one side or the other, which is bullshit. We all struggle with it—the guilt, the balance, the desire to have it all.
Sure, there are plenty of women who, like Angela, know that they are career women, others who know they want to stay at home. But the vast majority of us live in the confused middle somewhere—feeling guilty if we stay at home, guilty if we work. What we really need to lean in to is each other, supporting one another and establishing a healthy dialogue around the subject.
Three weeks in, I’m feeling good. I’m comfortable in knowing this is the right decision for me. For my family. For right now. And knowing that will make that next heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the park so much sweeter.