Contributed by Nadia Persun, PhD
Two weeks ago I received a call from a local newspaper. After a brief introduction, the reporter named Jane said, “I am thinking about writing a story about professional working women who are good at multi-tasking their family and work lives.” Cheerful and enthusiastic, perhaps in her twenties, Jane added, “You see, I want to talk to someone who has it all: family and career, and write something motivational for young women desiring both of these things. Are you willing to share your secret with other women?” Jane explained that she has heard me presenting at a local speaking engagement on issues of marriage and parenting, while also learning that I am a psychologist working full time and raising two preschoolers.
As I was listening to her enthusiastic introduction sprinkled with compliments of my ability to multitask, I was looking out of my office window through the fuzzy fog of my outgrown bangs that began covering my eyes and looked more unkempt than casual trendy. “Gee, I must get a haircut,” the thought ran through my mind. I began thinking that it will take a few days to make the appointment and another two to three weeks to get there. My distraction was ended abruptly by hearing Jane ask to meet for an interview to get my “expert” opinion on how women “can have it all.” I promised to call her back next day to give an answer.
I’ve noticed that while I was talking, I’ve received several new voicemails and emails. I began sorting out these new “arrivals” immediately, because in ten minutes I had to see a patient. Then, I have to immediately leave the office to make it on time to pick up my children from childcare. No matter how hard I try to be there early, they seem to be always the last ones to get picked up.
I’ve decided to think about the interview later. First, I finish my work day, pick up my kids, and drive back home in a rush hour, persevering my hour commute on an always congested road animated by a never ending fight between two toddlers who refuse to get along and express their frustration by screaming and banging their little feet against my driver seat. I come home, change their clothes and wash their busy little hands, cook and serve them food, and mediate a couple of loud disagreements before they refuge to bed for the night. This typical evening routine of mine occasionally gets diversified by such additions, as stopping for groceries, home supplies, or diapers. Or cooking an “adult” meal when my husband and I are sick of eating frozen food and children’s leftovers. Or doing a few loads of laundry and other things of this nature.
So, I will think about my secret of “having and managing it all” at about 10 p.m., when it’s finally “my time”: read other than kids’ books, watch other than children’s TV programming, and talk to my husband uninterrupted. When in bed that evening, my thoughts returned to meeting with Jane and answering her questions. What would I say about being a full time working mom? I could give some “smart” answers or I could simply admit that it is far from perfect. Being a mom is much harder than I could ever imagine. It is a lot about living in a survival mode, working hard, trying your best and making lots of mistakes along the way.
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “It is not a very inspirational beginning of a motivational story for other women about “having it all.” Jane, my imagined girl in her early twenties with neatly manicured bright pink nails, well styled hair, wearing a tasteful “Banana Republic” outfit, might get scared by my narrative. She might decide not to breed at all and advice others against it. I imagined Jane’s face expression change from the curiosity and anticipation of an exciting story with good advice into expression of pity. My story, saturated with sense of stress and chronic fatigue, is far from inspirational. I don’t know much about “having it all” but have learned some basics of coping with many demands and stressors of a very busy and never ending day of a working mom. A job that is very demanding, far from glamorous, and the one in which, I believe, no one gets qualified as an expert.
I called Jane next morning declining the interview. “Due to my busy schedule,” I tell her. “Due to my relative ignorance in the subject matter,” I say to myself. I know now that I certainly don’t know much about “having it all.” I feel a sense of achievement and pride building a carrier that I truly enjoy and having a family that I love. It gives me countless emotional rewards. But synchronizing these things is hard. Most of my exercise these days comes from biting my nails and distressing strategy from biting on a bar of chocolate. I have attained many things and circumstances that I’ve dreamed about in my teen and early twenties but they did not come with a dreamlike feeling I had once.
I am familiar, however, with moments when I feel like I “have it all.” These are spontaneous, transient times filled with sense of joy, happiness, pride, or just with some calm and peace. It’s when I am watching my boys give each other hugs or laugh uncontrollably. When I am surprised by new things that they’ve learned. Or when I stop for a moment to admire my husband’s ability to apply a firm yet gentle touch of discipline to help when I lose my cool. I get stunned every time when I notice a new growth spurt: my little boys getting taller, leaner, losing their baby features, and turning into little men. I like also watching their little heads from the back, as they walk in front of me when we are out for a walk, with a little clouds of golden spiky hair and walk together holding hands. These are the moments when I feel like have it all, no quotation marks.
Being a mom is experience that can only be felt and lived, not described or imagined. My admiration and prayers go this mother’s day to all moms out there, who perhaps like me, not the experts, but are good enough handling their busy and imperfect lives. They get up every day like brave soldiers to face and handle never ending business of their days, aimed to give their best to their families. The wonderful, brave, busy women who desperately try to “have it all,” and fail sometimes, and try again. I wish them to better learn to accept “good enough” and be kind to themselves. Happy Mother’s Day and bless the path of all moms continuing to persevere in figuring out how “to balance it all” and give their best to the people they love most.