Working Moms Often Feel Like We Don't Even Have Time To Breathe

by Dr. Cristina Rose
Originally Published: 
A stressed-out working mom holding a baby while her tween daughter is jumping in the background tryi...
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Here’s the devil talking: “I’ll just check email briefly to make sure everything is good.”

Yep, that’s a voice I often hear in the morning. And it’s a common voice for many of us. The intention to be free of work and the drive to work all at the same time. A mixed-confusing message that has many checking their emails on their phones as soon as they wake up.

If you were like me, you got some time off of work for the holiday season. For some, this holiday season started with that time off and for some, time off didn’t start until Christmas Eve and stopped the day after Christmas. For me, time off started when I submitted final grades for the semester and continues, in theory, until the day the spring semester begins. All told, this is about four weeks off of work. What a luxury, right?

And, yet, if you are a fellow teacher (or have a profession in a cause like education and community engagement, you know the backbone of our world), you know that’s a luxury that is hard to hold on to. Each day, perhaps, I consider working: working on my CV, working on my syllabi, working on my etc., etc., etc. And then I am working on not working. How can I stop my brain from wondering and worrying about work? And, perhaps more importantly, why can I not stop my brain from working in worry about work?

I know I am not alone. My group therapy sessions, mom groups, and fellow academics show me all the time that this voice in themselves is incessant on working all the time too. And all of us have ways of pushing back against that voice. And the voice about work, to be clear, is almost always coming from within. But where and when did that start?

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As children, perhaps as children of color, or as girl-children, we were told a message clearly and persistently. The words were different but similar in meaning and in how we learned to act upon them:

– Always give 100%

– Duty and honor

– Lean in

– A for effort

– Give it your all

– Try harder next time

As an adult, I can now name this message “give all” as sexist and racist, a means of coercion and submission, and a way to create a laboring class. A way to make me into a good worker. But, as a child, I simply wanted to be loved and accepted, and I acted in devotion to these messages giving absolutely everything if I could. Giving into work without even having self-knowledge of what I was giving away.

So, now I hold myself. And the work of questioning and creating boundaries is exhausting. Doubts about our loyalty and criticisms about how we choose to spend our time can gaslight our lived reality, and stepping into our power is necessary every step along the way.

And then there is the work I am doing as a mama. The discussion can go on and on about questions like: should we call it work, how can something so important be compared to careers and academics, how can I carve out more and more for child and family. More time to present as a mama.

Honestly, much of this conversation is a privilege to begin with. Did my mother and grandmothers have time to ask if they wanted to do the work of home and career? Did they have the space to grieve what they gave away to work when they were young? On the flipside: no email, no cell phones, no tech advances that allow me to always be accessible. The freedoms and advances, the choices and decisions from no choice at all: this is an important conversation and the conversation is work too. All of this is trauma and it is real and many will never escape it in their lives or in the lives of the next seven generations.

So, how do we step into our power and beyond the voice that says work and beyond the voice that reacts?

Grief and Joy.

We are worthy of living without having to work all the time. We are worthy of rest. We are worthy of grief and grieving the time given to incessantly work, and we are worthy of joy. We are worthy to find joy in not working, in resting, in simply being.


Still, another voice will say, dismissively, of course you are. Just do it already. Just stop working. This voice trivializes the work we have done and are doing to be free. It dismisses our lived realities and puts on us the work instead of acknowledging the onslaught of messages curated for us by mass media. There is a culture that would have us die as laborers, as workers. Let us not forget that.

Remember: here’s the devil talking: “I’ll just check email briefly to make sure everything is good.”

This common voice comes from an ideology that would kill me. As a professor, this voice is relentless. As a gender studies professor, I berate myself that I am not more free of this voice already. I do. As a mama also, I angrily reply to this devil voice with IT IS ALL GOOD ALREADY.

So, to those working to rest: I am there with you. You do not have to do anything to prove your worth. You are powerful in your rest.

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