The Irreconcilable Dreams Of A Working Mother

“You’re a LAWYER?” a new friend asks me, her eyes wide.

“I am,” I admit.

I am both pleased and embarrassed by her reaction. She is clearly impressed. Lawyers are smart. Lawyers work hard. I earned those badges through two decades of schooling and I let these new assumptions soak in.

“I had no idea!” she goes on, giving me a gentle shove on the arm.

She is also clearly confused. If you’re a lawyer, why do you hang around the kids’ school as much as you do? she must be wondering. Why are you at every mundane event? Regular dismissal? I shrug, but don’t respond, even though the answer is on the tip of my tongue. She’s not familiar with that part of me because I’m on a leave of absence trying to figure out what is best for me and my family.

During exchanges like this one, I feel both Pride and Shame, the working mother’s constant companions. They have been with me since I achieved my two lifelong dreams of becoming a lawyer and becoming a mother.

I was five years old when my grandmother first asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t hesitate in exercising the newest word in my vocabulary: a lawyer. As a kindergartner I knew that lawyers read, wrote and argued all day long. I was instantly sold on the job. Those were my favorite things in the whole wide world! For decades that followed, words were my tools and I worked them endlessly.

But even before I could read, write and argue, I loved playing Mommy. I was mother to my doll, Linda, my stuffed cat, Amy, and Red Bear, my beloved teddy. My younger brother was born before I turned two and my nurturing routine got upgraded to actual human status. I never had any feelings of jealousy over the baby. I loved to love.

Somehow when I combined the two—mother and lawyer—everything changed. I found my heated arguments no longer involved the political systems of South Africa with a fellow Poly Sci major, or the fairness of the eggshell skull rule with another JD candidate. Now the most tempestuous debates exist only in my mind, as the two parts of my identity duel to the death.

I am a mother.

I am an Executive Director in-house at a global financial services company.

I am primary caregiver.

I am a provider.

I have Purpose at home.

I have Power at the office.

I have passion for life.

Responsibility is life.

I don’t know how to reconcile these parts of myself, and I feel very alone in this struggle despite the fact that many working mothers have recently stepped forward to reveal their inside operations. They openly lament missing spring concerts for important deal closings. They admit to store-bought cakes because there are not enough hours in a day to bake. When someone asks these women, “how do you do it?” with a pleading look on their face, they typically give a response about day-to-day management and the necessity of a partner willing to divvy up the work. I get it. Every bit of it. But I also want to talk about the burdens we don’t share.

I want to know how to choose between apologies:

I’m sorry I don’t have money saved for us to go on a spring vacation this year.

I’m sorry I couldn’t volunteer for that field trip.

Or unpack the kind of example I’m setting for my daughter:

Mothers belong at home with their children (except I don’t believe this). 

Mothers thrive in male-dominated fields (except I don’t believe this).

I wonder how I can ever do what’s best for me so long as I remain conflicted:

I belong at home with my children; my desire to nurture is greater than ever. 

I belong in a productive industry; my ambition is stronger than ever.

My life as a working mother is riddled with emotional stalemates.

When I’m disheartened, I try to focus on the tangible daily successes. Most days I’m on time for work and school pick-up. Most days I pack a healthy lunch for me and the kids. I stockpile the gold-star moments to build my hill of motivation, but all those nuggets combined don’t reach the level where the real battles are fought. Most days I don’t know where I belong, even when I show up exactly where I’m supposed to be and when.

In this way, I am reminded of the words of Tina Fey: “I think every working mom probably feels the same thing: You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, ‘This is impossible — oh, this is impossible.’ And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.”

And I do. I keep going and keep going, pushing past the contradictions but never syncretizing the irreconcilable dreams of this working mother.

Carinn Jade is a conflicted lawyer, mother and writer. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, Brain, Child, Mommyish and DailyWorth, as well as several anthologies. She’s not conflicted about her love of yoga, donuts, tea, and a great contemporary novel.

This post first appeared on Motherwell Magazine.

About Motherwell:

Motherwell is a digital publication that tells all sides of the parenting story. We believe that modern parenting is a complicated entity and, as such, every single mom and dad out there has a unique voice that can contribute to our understanding of it. This means we feel strongly about showcasing a full spectrum of parenting experiences, but also that we do not shy away from conflicting perspectives. Quite the opposite, we want Motherwell to be a home of civilized debate on the topics that matter most—because we know parenting is important work and each family does it differently. You will find multiple avenues on our site to engage with the issues of the day and we ask that you do it with respect, so that we can learn from each other and participate, collectively, in new ways of thinking about how to raise our children.

The idea of a well conjures up images of community, of depth, of the essential nature of water. Motherwell is exactly this: a place for parents to gather, to think deeply and, hopefully, it is a community that you will keep coming back to, over and over again, for sustenance.

Debate: How Becoming A Mother Changes Marriage

Having children together is a big step in any couple’s relationship and one that will invariably affect the dynamic between them. For some people, like Zsofia McMullin, the arrival of a baby can put a strain on the marriage. For others, such as Carinn Jade, the joint act of childrearing can pull a couple closer together.”

Having Kids Strengthened My Marriage

By Carinn Jade

My husband and I met in law school, both of us on the clearly marked path to becoming lawyers. We built our relationship on equal ground, walking parallel and in the same direction. With a healthy chemistry, complementary personalities and a similar vision of marriage, careers and kids, we felt confident as we moved swiftly towards our future together.

We were in sync, but we never learned to operate as a unit. This reality set in only after the outpouring of love and support that held us up during our engagement celebrations fell away, and everyone else moved on with their lives once the wedding was over. We knew we were expected to do the same, but we didn’t know how. We felt unsure and alone as the new entity of “married couple.” We dealt with those feelings of isolation in very different ways, causing our parallel paths to hastily diverge.

We broke the vows we’d made—love, honor, cherish, for better or worse—like naughty schoolchildren testing boundaries, and no one came to save us. When we arrived at the point of collapse, we faced one another with the daunting choice to stay together or divorce. On paper, it would have been easy to leave: we had been living apart, we had no children, we had absolutely no idea how to fix us. Yet neither one of us could do it. That visceral knowledge has proven powerful beyond measure. Surviving that period created some sort of invincibility shield that has protected us from everything else life throws our way.

Read the rest of my essay and the beautiful other “side” of the debate (hint: there’s a lot of gray area) on Brain, Child…

The Competition to Give Our Kids Picture-Perfect Lives Is Ruining Our Own

It seems like the same pressure women experienced as teenagers to be thin and perfect hasn’t gone away; it’s morphed into a pressure to be rich and perfect as mothers. And it’s coming at a much higher price than most realize. Kids feel the financial and emotional strain that the pursuit of perfection is putting on their families.

Most mothers blame social media as the root of the parenting competition. Witnessing family life under a microscope, mothers feel the need to make the perfect lunches, throw the best birthday parties, and send their kids to the most enriching after-school programs — no matter the price.

According to a BabyCenter survey, a staggering 46 percent admit they’ve gone into debt to pay for organic food and extracurricular activities. I’m not sure how this makes sense. Going into debt to send little Janie to cello lessons at the age of 7 is only the right choice if she’s planning to be the first female Yo-Yo Ma. And while we all want our kids to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, trekking Suzie to coding class an hour away seems extreme. That’s simply a lot of stress to put on families, financially and emotionally.

Mothers surveyed see the cracks already. According to the report, half of the parents report fighting with their spouses about the cost of child-rearing extras, and 47 percent of children whose parents have finance-related friction reporting feeling affected by these issues.

For the sake of our kids and our marriages, and presumably our own happiness, can we stop letting the media (whether it be traditional advertising or social sites) undermine our self-worth? I think back to my own childhood whenever I’m struggling with whether to add another expensive activity to my kids’ schedule. I remember that my favorite times were those spent in my own house, playing pretend, dressing up in my mother’s clothes or simply watching a movie with my parents.

I often see articles lamenting the simpler days of our own childhoods, but there is little movement to actually replicate it. Why not let kids play in the yard after watching two hours of cartoons on Saturday mornings rather than carting them to soccer and T-ball year round? Why not set up a blanket fort and pull up a movie on Netflix rather than paying $100 on a restaurant and the newest theater release? These are things we can do now, even in 2015. But only if we stop trying to keep up with the Joneses.

I’m not sure even if I had all the money in the world that I’d use it to pack my kids’ lives with every possible advantage in life. Part of individual success comes from internal motivation. I let my kids explore what interests them, even though every year that passes where my son doesn’t pick up a golf club on his own means he will never be the next Jordan Spieth. I admit it’s hard not to lament those losses because I want the world to believe he’s as amazing as I do. But that’s not my responsibility as a parent. And if it’s coming at the cost of a strained relationship with my husband or at the price of spending money that could go toward our current mortgage payments or be saved for his future college tuition, it becomes counter-intuitive, if not downright toxic.

I won’t let go of the big picture and forget that quality time with family is more important than a résumé of outrageous privilege. Instead, I’ll vow to take Instagram for what it is — a bunch of pretty pictures and not a life.

Read the rest on The Stir…

How To Survive A Job You Hate

The movie Office Space is a classic for good reason: We’ve all had a job we hated so much we wanted to take the printer out to an open field and smash it with a baseball bat.

Sometimes you’re stuck because you’re waiting for your end-of-year bonus, need health insurance, or simply want your vacation days for an upcoming trip. Even if you’re in the right place, we all go through periods of disenchantment.

In the meantime, here are some dos and don’ts of surviving the daily misery of a job that sucks.

Stay Engaged

DO: Evaluate what’s not working. It’s not productive to rant about how much you detest your job without isolating the aspects that really ruffle your feathers. Is the work not challenging enough? Pitch yourself for a promotion or look for a job with more responsibility. Do the people get under your skin? A lateral move might be all you need. Do you long to work with kids, or animals, or spend your time outdoors? Research what it would take to pursue a change of career. Every problem has a different solution. To find the answer for you, identify the source of your strain with as much clarity as possible.

DON’T: Become indifferent. This is a recipe for sleepwalking through the next decade of your life.

Read the rest at DailyWorth…

My Favorite Books So Far This Year Have Inspired Me To Get Away With Murder And Sprout Wings

Inspired by a recent Facebook thread and Outlaw Mama’s summer reading suggestions, I decided to share my thoughts on the books I’ve read this year so far.  Most people ask me how I find the time to read so much.  I could tell you that I never go anywhere without a book in my purse (which is true) and how I take every opportunity that other people spend on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter and use that time to digest a page or two (also true).

But the real reason I read so much is because the New York Public Library brings the competitive beast out of me.  I recently added The Vacationers to my queue and I was number 472 on 92 copies.  Why didn’t I sign up sooner?  That could take months!  And you never know when your hold will become available — which means I refresh my position like I’m waiting for Ticketmaster to fetch me something under two benjamins.  When you get your new release you have 7 days with no opportunity to renew.  You’d have to go to the end of the line if you don’t finish.  So by damn it, whatever book comes to me, I WILL be finishing it and finishing it fast.  Here’s what I’ve read so far this year:

GONE GIRL – After years of friend’s raving, something made me finally pick this up even though I’m not a murder mystery type of person.  PS – I didn’t know anything about the plot before I read it but *SPOILER ALERT* there was no way in hell I ever believed she was dead.  I just wanted to know how and why she faked her death.  She’s a fucking sociopath that I relate to more than I care to admit.  That’s why.  I swear I started “hearing” the voice from that book in my head for days after I was done reading it.  Which is technically longer than I took to read it — I devoured every page in less than 30 hours, including two of them with it hidden under my desk at work.  The story, the writing, the characters – I worship thee Gillian Flynn.

Rating: are you HONESTLY still holding out on this book?   READ IT.  Now.  Seriously.  Or I’ll have to kill you.

SHARP OBJECTS – I became instantly obsessed with Gillian Flynn and picked up this older book of hers.  It wasn’t as swoon worthy as GG, but it was a good read.  But it did confirm that I’d pay any amount of money to get in Flynn’s head for 30 minutes.

Rating: if you’re on the fence, do it.  She won’t disappoint.

SISTERLAND – Curtis Sittenfeld – I thought the beginning was ok, the middle almost lost me, but the end?  As predictable as the act that kicks off the 3rd act is, the way she handles the consequences was fresh, interesting and real.  Life is a lot more gray than black and white — and I appreciated that dose of reality in my fiction.

Rating: I’m torn.

THE ONE & ONLY – Emily Giffin – I was soooo excited for this book to come out.  Football, TX, a spunky girl, forbidden love — this is what cult stuff was made of.  It didn’t quite live up to my hype, but EG really got her vibe back.

Rating: the book was faithful to Giffin’s style and better than her last few.  Baby Proof remains my favorite.

THE HUSBAND’S SECRET – Liane Moriarty – is there anything more intriguing than the premise of this book?  A woman with the perfect life and the perfect family randomly finds an old letter in the attic.  The envelope is addressed to her but she’s instructed to open only upon the death of her living husband. WTF?  The author keeps you hooked as you wonder what’s in the letter, but even once we know the tension doesn’t ease up a bit. She’s also got some great gems about the complications of marriage weaved through the story lines.

Rating: Read it.  Put it at the top of your list.  And then tell me which of her other books I should devour next.

ME BEFORE YOU – Jojo Moyes – I know most people have moved on to ONE PLUS ONE, but I was slow to jump on this bandwagon.

Rating: torn again.

THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES – Allison Winn Scotch – I fully admit I picked this up because I read Jen Garner’s production company optioned the rights.  Couple my Jen sized crushed with my compulsion to read anything set for the big screen and this was a no-brainer.

Rating: if you like the genre, this is a solid read.

STILL LIFE WITH BREADCRUMBS – Anna Quindlen.  I love me some AQ so I couldn’t pass this one up.

Rating: a little dry but unlike most books that sag in the middle, the center pages of this book sprouted some marriage-is-hard tears in the corners of my eyes.

A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD – Jennifer Egan.  I give the author SO much credit for writing from multiple points of view, in various tenses, in 2nd and 3rd person narrative — not to mention an entire chapter in Power Point – she’s got some god damn talent.  Period.  Full stop.  But if I were to go on, I’d say this:  the book was too damn pretentious for me.  It was show boating just for the sake of showing off.  I really wish there had been a lot more of Sasha.

Rating: I don’t care if you read the book or not, but you must — MUST — go get the hardcover and read the inside flap.  If you can read that description of the book and Egan herself and explain it to me in a way I can comprehend, I’ll give you $100.  It’s the worst abuse of purple prose I’ve ever seen.

ALL FALL DOWN – Jennifer Weiner – Jen’s a solid storyteller who takes on a big subject — addiction — without any soul crushing personal experience.  She clearly did her research but I wished it had gone even deeper.  All in all she does a great job doing what she wanted to do — show exactly how a “normal” person can find themselves in a world of trouble.

Rating: read it, but then read Marian Keyes book Rachel’s Holiday.  She killed the rehab journey with her humor and insight.

THE INVENTION OF WINGS – Sue Monk Kidd.  Kidd gets me again.  I admit I didn’t want to read this book.  Like REALLY didn’t want to.  But I had been on the waiting list for six months at the library and when it finally came in when I had nothing to do over the 4th of July weekend I thought what the hell.  Oh. My God.  Don’t ask me how I could love a book about slavery and the fight for abolition so much, but I did.  I so did.  The two main characters — Sarah and Hetty — gripped me from page one.  I loved their fire, their confusion, their losses and their conviction.  Every single page of this book was worth reading and when I was done I felt profoundly changed.  I don’t know what or how, but I felt a shift in me and knew I would never be the same.  The book was that good.  I read it in 48 hours.

Rating: really?  Did you read any of this?

So what’s in my queue now?  We Were Liars, Cutting Teeth, Housekeeping, I’m Having So Much Fun Here Without You, and Catching Air so far.  Any recommendations for me?  Has any book every changed you or impacted you the way The Invention of Wings did to me?  New or old, I’d love to know.