That Kind Of Mother

When my daughter was born and I was presented with an opportunity to go back to work, I knew there was no way I could turn it down.  I was suddenly compelled to set an example for my daughter as a successful working mother in a way I had not been while I was home with my son for two years.  I wanted to be “that kind of mother” who gives her the freedom to make her own choices, while continuing to break glass ceilings and forge work-life balance to make her path just a little bit easier (as previous generations have done for me).

I’ve since realized that “successful working mother” is a loaded goal.  I am successful at work, yes.  I am a professional, working at a reputable national law firm.  I have a salary that allows me to take home six-figures even after egregious federal, state and New York City taxes.  I have awesome family health insurance paid for by my employer — and it even includes dental.  The “successful working” part rings true.

As does the “working mother” part.  I am grateful to have a job that respects my priorities as a mother.  I have not missed a phase-in session, orientation or smallest event at my children’s school and none of the partners I work for have blinked an eye.  They trust that I have a handle on the work that needs to get done and they leave me to do just that (my associate co-workers are another story, but I’m ignoring them).

But “successful working mother” implies that I’ve got it all under control.  That, while I wish I spent more time with my kids, I have negotiated drop-offs and pick-ups around conference calls and late night loan document distribution.  But this simply isn’t the case.  Every single day is a negotiation.  If I have deals closing, Ian needs to do more at home.  If he has an important client meeting, I offer to take the kids on the morning he’s supposed to do it.  For the most part our schedule is utter chaos.

And it’s taking a toll.

I am now “that kind of mother” who misses dinnertime and bedtime at least once a week.  Once a month I get home after they are asleep and leave before they are awake.  On those days I have no idea what they ate during the day, or whether they brushed their teeth, had fun at school, or read any books before bed.

I am now the kind of mother who screams at their kids to put their shoes on, adding, “hurry up, Mommy has to get to work!”

I am now the kind of mother who says, “Mommy’s just got to finish this email before I come in to read you a story” more often than I’d like.

I am now the kind of mother who has trouble transitioning from the uber-productive state at the office, to the constant presence required to spend time with a two-year-old and four-year-old.

I am now the kind of mother that cries on Sunday night because the thought of doing it all over again — another Monday through Friday! — is more than I can bear.

None of this is what I had in mind when I wanted to set an example for my daughter.

I don’t know exactly what we will do about it, but something has to give.  Finding an exceptional nanny/caregiver would certainly help.  So would moving to Maine, or anywhere else where the cost of living wasn’t so insane.  But alas, none of those is a reality for today, so I’m trying my best to keep my shit together and get through another day.

Now, after I said all that, please don’t look at me like I’m crazy when I tell you that I agreed to cover the weekend news for Mommyish yesterday.  If you are interested in any of my posts, here they are:

You Definitely Didn’t See Louis C.K. Or His Kids In Line At The Apple Store Yesterday – I don’t care if you click on this or not, but if you didn’t see Louis C.K.’s recent rant on Conan, you MUST find it.  Hysterical and profound, I love this man.

Why I Won’t Take My Introverted Son To Be Evaluated For Autism – an intensely personal story inspired by the Salon’s piece on confusing introverted brainy boys as showing signs of autism.

I’ve ‘Opt-ed In’ To ‘Lean In’ And Now I’m One Of Those ‘Maxed Out’ Working Moms Having It All – last night I read the first chapter of Katrina Alcorn’s book Maxed Out: American Moms On The Brink and I nodded my head with every.single.line.

After Kindergarten, Redshirting Backfires On Uber-Competitive Parents – this really just revolves around my fascination with the topic, but there’s a much more personal story of a mother willing to let her son be the youngest at Omnimom.

7 Awesome Benefits Of Being A Working Mom In An Office – you know me, always trying to stay positive!

32 thoughts on “That Kind Of Mother

  1. Girl, you have more energy than that bunny with the batteries. It’s going to take my all day to read what you were busy writing. I adore that Louis CK and his piece on this is perfect and briliant. Good for you for telling it like it is. Because it IS hard.

  2. Great post Carinn! I’m so sorry things are such a struggle.. It is hard stuff and it feels like our culture isn’t really set up to support and encourage family and raising children. Money is always at the center, even of our own self worth at times. Plus everything is expensive and it’s a struggle just to make enough money to live….I just got a full time job and start on Monday. I’m totally excited and happy but we are talking and working out all the details of after school care, etc. – yikes!
    The quote you posted totally struck a cord with me – “Most jobs are still made for people who have an adult at home who can take care of the kids and do the grocery shopping and fill out the school forms and attend the parent-teacher conferences in the middle of the day. That’s not how we’re living anymore.” That is SO much of the issue as well as women feeling like, even if you work 40+ hours a week, you should still be managing everything yourself. Impossible.
    I have cried on Sunday nights as well in previous years with past jobs. I am so sorry and truly hope things change in a positive way for you soon. Know I am thinking of you!

    • A new full-time job! Anna, that’s great! The thing about the “do it all” thing that I really relate to from Katrina’s book is I have a supportive husband and an accommodating employer and I am still overwhelmed and miserable. Yes, change is coming soon. I’ll be thinking of you too!

  3. Instead of being “that kind of mother”, think about being that kind of parent. You are a parent who makes use your children are provided for, cared for, cherished, have a good example.
    It’s funny, I once had a conversation with my husband where I stated “my first priority is being a good mother to my kids”, he turned it around and said that “no, your first priority is providing for your kids”. This wouldn’t have raised any questions or eyebrows if the roles were reversed. Now he’s the one picking up the kids after school, taking them to the pool during the summer, etc while I’m at work. And that’s fine.
    Between the two of us, we might miss a few bedtimes a month, sometimes for work, sometimes for poker night (my mom had bridge night every week!), and I think it’s great that we’re truly, as so many friends are these days, co-parents, instead of just the traditional mom and dad

    • I only think of myself as “that kind of mother” because I am, in fact, a mother. I feel truly blessed to have Ian as a partner. Especially in this last round of work (after the babysitter quit and it was too late to get C into daycare), he has stepped up flawlessly. I couldn’t ask for a single thing from my work or my husband. Which means I’m left with just me and my tough decisions.

  4. Oh, Sunday nights. Sunday nights were made for crying, right? They certainly have become that for me. The idea that I have to get up and come into a place I just left on Friday, some place I don’t even enjoy being, even though it pays me kinda sorta ok to just show up and pretend like I’m working really kicks in around 6:00 on Sunday. I know what kind of mother I want to be. I just wish I could find a way to make it a reality.

  5. You are amazing, Carinn. And you put your finger on one of the theoretical difficulties of ‘having it all’: that it isn’t always the ostensible sum of its parts. You can be successful as both a mother and a worker, but there is often an emotional space between the two that is harder to bridge than doing each job well in insolation. Please keep sharing your journey, you have much to teach.

    • Thank you so much for this perfect comment – full of empathy and encouragement. It’s the best feeling when all I do is share my life and it has an impact on other people. That’s what I love about writing.

  6. I’m crappy at taking my own advice, but let’s take a looong, deeeep, breath. (I’m doing it, are you?) As a stay-at-homer whose greatest challenge these days is stain removal, I applaud you. May I gently point out that you’re beating the crap out of yourself? As a lawyer, I have to assume that you’re very smart (the stuff you do all day is like an Aboriginal dialect to me!) and since you love your kids (I’m sure you do) you’ll end up making the best choices possible. (I’m deep breathing again for you….)

  7. Carinn- Love this post! We all strive to be good mothers (well most, right?)- and we all have different definitions of what good parenting is. For me, I felt so lucky to have my mother home every day, all through high school….she was there every day I got from school, for every track meet, pick up, etc. I think I cherish this more because she died young, but when I started having kids, I knew that I wanted to be home. The flip side is, my kids don’t see me ‘working’ and earning money in the traditional sense. I am lucky to be able to do this and still live comfortably. Everything we do has a trade off. The trick is finding that balance that makes you, and your family happy. And, if it makes you feel any better, I am home with the kids ,but still shouting at them to get their shoes on because we are going to be late 😉

  8. Carinn- thank you for sharing this. I am the daughter in your post– raised by an incredible successful working mother (with a pretty demanding high-powered career). Yes, I remember her yelling, hurry up mommy has to get to work and yes, I recall some bedtime story delays because she had to “check her work voice mail” (no email of course in those days). And there were work trips and dinners missed too. But I make you this promise: none of that seems important now. That’s not to say, of course, that your emotions aren’t important. That is to say: the role model she was and is for me has stood the test of over three and a half decades. Whenever I try something professionally- reach for the next rung– I always think of my mom. She inspires me still.

  9. I have no idea how you’re making it through. I struggle to balance everything with freelance projects and no sitter. I can’t imagine. Just can’t imagine.

    Is it a good sign or a bad sign that this honest post about a grueling emotional struggle hasn’t made me reconsider law school a whit?

  10. Great post, I felt almost exactly this way for about eight years, as a lawyer at a “reputable national law firm” and parent of young children (and even now I feel it in a different job, but in a different way). I have it easy in a way – my husband is a full time stay at home dad. But that made me feel worse about my own inner and sometimes outer chaos.

    Every day like you say, a negotiation, and every day, chaos, and the toll, yes. My lower back I think is a casualty of being a “successful working mother.” But I would argue those terms do not mean “having it all” anymore. They mean struggling to figure out what it is that we want, and why we are pulled home to the kids, yet also satisfied at work. I have not met any mother at a law firm who is not struggling, who does not have many plates in the air and is not questioning if she will catch them all in time before they fall and break. And on a macro-level, if she is being a “good” mother. She almost always is.

    I love especially your articulation of the difficulty of transitioning from work mode to toddler mode. I definitely had a hard time being present after a day at work. For me, this got easier as my first kids (twins) got older – at nearly 9 years old now, I can engage them. It is not as easy to do it with my two year old and I feel the guilt creep back.

    As for the example you set for the kids, it sounds like you are setting a great example for them. They know they are loved, whether they have to wait for you to finish the email or not!

  11. I just remembered it’s Sunday, and past noon at that. That means it’s just a short jump to Monday Morning Meltdowns as I just started calling them right now. Having it all, doing it all.. Ugh. I admire your ability to do so much, with such less than easy circumstances.

  12. This is a great post – something most working moms can relate to for sure. I’m sorry you’re struggling to get through it all. Being a top earner is no joke, eh? Going to click on the other links now : )

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