Three weeks after my first child was born in 2009, I returned to work from my “maternity leave” and quickly realized that finding a balance between work and home life would be more challenging than I had expected. I was fortunate enough to have the option of bringing my son to work with me for the first two months of his life, but each day it became more difficult to meet his needs while also doing my job well. I finally put him in daycare when he was about 9 or 10 weeks old, and it was one of the most heartbreaking days of my life. I missed him. I made a few trips to the restroom to cry. And I couldn’t wait for the workday to be over so I could take care of him again until the next morning.
It took a few months for me to get used to bringing my son to daycare and only seeing him for a few hours each day, but the desire to take care of my child full-time never went away. This part of motherhood surprised me; it was painful. I didn’t want to give up on pursuing my career, but I also didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to spend more time raising my child each day during the first few years of his life. Every day I tried to convince myself that I was doing my part by providing financial support for my family. But every day I became more heartbroken. There were so many other ways in which I wanted to provide for my family, and I could never seem to manage to do half of what I had wanted to do for them.
I tried to make myself happier by taking a new job that promised a higher paycheck, more flexibility in my schedule, and new opportunities, but the novelty of my new job wore off after a few months. A higher paycheck simply meant that child care was more affordable and that we had some extra money to work on house projects. More flexibility in my schedule meant that when my son was sick, I could stay home with my son and avoid taking a day off by starting my work day when my husband got home from work. Although new opportunities were available, I began to realize that I didn’t want these opportunities anymore because pursuing these opportunities would require spending even less time with my family.
When my daughter was born, I savored my seven weeks of maternity leave, and I tried to prepare myself for returning to work with a positive and ambitious attitude. The first day back was hell. I cried a lot. I cried in the restroom. I cried while I pumped. I cried in my cubicle. I even cried in the cafeteria. I missed my son and daughter. I missed taking care of them. I missed being there for them. I tried to fight it. I tried to make it work. I tried to grasp at that illusive work-life balance. But I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t touch it. I felt like a failure. Two months before my daughter turned two, I quit my job. I left my job for many reasons, and I felt like a failure for doing so. I worked hard in college to make my future better and to become an independent woman. I worked hard at every job I ever had so I could create more opportunities for myself and become successful in the workforce. I worked my ass off, and after all of my hard work, I went and quit my job.
I have had a little over a year to process my thoughts about this decision and to absorb everything that has happened since making this decision. Although this has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life, I do have concerns about how this decision will affect my future. I am not able to put as much money aside for retirement now as I was able to when I was working full-time. Other women my age are getting promotions and raises while I am providing my services and talents for free with little to no recognition from my delightful children. I feel lonely, and it comes with the territory, but the loneliness still hurts some days. And I worry that others will forget that I am more than a stay-at-home mom. These concerns do get me down from time to time, but then I remind myself that I only have these concerns because I am still chasing down the idea that I can somehow have it all. And each day, I learn to understand and accept the truth more and more: I cannot have it all.
I have finally come to accept that there is no such thing as maintaining balance in one’s life after becoming a parent. As a mother, I will never have it all because it is no longer all about me. And that’s okay. In fact, this realization is a relief. It frees me from any doubts I have had about choosing to be a stay-at-home mom. It frees me from the disappointment I feel when I compare myself to other wonderful mothers who have been able to continue pursuing their careers despite the challenges that come with working full-time while also raising a family. It frees me from the hurt I feel when I am simply labeled as a stay-at-home mom, or when someone makes a remark about how easy my life must be.
Most importantly, it is a relief to understand that I can’t have it all, because after all, I was never meant to have it all. I was put on this earth to give my all to others, and that is what I am doing for my family now. It’s not always easy putting my family and others first, but I am finding more fulfillment in my life today than what I had over a year ago. I am discovering that my purpose in this world is greater than what I had imagined when I graduated from college seven years ago. I am discovering that all of our purposes are far greater than what we all have imagined for ourselves.
I know that there are many wonderful parents who have fulfilling jobs outside of parenthood, but we all have different callings, and none of us truly have it all. We all make sacrifices to support and raise our families. And that’s good because we are not supposed to have it all. We are meant to give. And we all give in different ways. And that’s where true balance comes into the big picture. We are here to support each other. We are here to create a better world. Our everyday tasks may seem small and trivial, but what you choose to do each day and how you choose to live does have an impact on others. You might not see it right away, but what you do does matter. Whether you are a parent who works outside of the home, or a parent who stays home, what you do does matter. You can’t have it all, but you can certainly give your all to others.