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By Tammy Marshall
Let me begin by stating that I am/was terrible at balancing work and parenthood. Growing up on a farm, I was raised to be a workhorse. I started working at age 13 and will likely work until my body finally fails me. I’ve had plenty of kindhearted advice over the years telling me to “relax” and “just hang out” that I simply don’t take. There’s too many chores that need doing for me to sit around. Well, that’s my excuse anyway. When it came to becoming a mom, I fell short in that I didn’t fully grasp that there is very little multitasking that can be done between work and parenthood. At least there wasn’t for me anyway.
Beginning employment at such a young age did catapult me into the world of stay-at-home-mom or SAHM. Leaving the workforce and venturing into freelance came as quite a surprise for some. My intense work ethic caused many to believe I was some sort of career lady who couldn’t be bothered with gender roles and mom labeling.
They honestly couldn’t have been more wrong. I leapt off the corporate ladder and into my tiny farm house in front of my stove, barefoot with a baby in arms. I was determined to be the very best mom for my baby and that included exclusive breastfeeding and utilizing—to the best of my abilities—everything I learned from my time working with teen moms.
However, I thought I would work more than I did. There were months that I literally did not take any calls nor did I look for any assignments. I remember the day I finally shut the lid on my work laptop and kept it closed for nearly two years.
Learning from Parents In the Limelight
I’m not alone in this concept that I share with many soon-to-be moms including the brilliant journalist Christiane Amanpour. When the war correspondent decided to become a parent she says this thought popped into her head that she would still work as much as she did before being a mom and she would just, “Bring him with me.”
Needless to say that didn’t happen, and like the rest of us she had to figure out how to continue her work and be a mom. She found out soon that she could not bring her son with her when propelling from helicopters into war zones. You may laugh that she even considered this, but I thought I would be at least a part-time working mom. Well, let’s just say my work hours were few and far between and there were some years I didn’t work at all. Even now with a school-aged child, I only work when my child is in school. Writing and a lively child do not mix. I learned the hard way that if I tried to be a superstar mom like Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in the movie, I Don’t Know How She Does It, I ended up being a bad freelancer and a poor mom. It did not work.
One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou reads, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I know I made people feel less important when I decided to try interviewing them while taking care of my child. I recall one interview where I sat with my work laptop at my home desk with my phone on speaker. My child began crying and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop the tears. The person I was interviewing laughed, but I can’t help but think they were despondent being asked to interview with a distracting baby present. To make matters worse, the only thing that helped was handing my baby my laptop and trying to memorize what was being said for my assignment.
It didn’t go well. It was pretty soul crushing.
Moreover, as my child grew and I ended up trying to finish a project with her present, I became frustrated at her and irritated that she couldn’t occupy herself for ten more minutes.
I know I made her feel like a burden. Making her feel bad about my inability to balance work and life made me feel bad as a mom.
One of my favorite Vlogs features the amazingly talented Casey Neistat. In his Vlog he talks a lot about work and life balance. He describes his early years with his son and how he missed out on so much because he worked all the time. Despite his hefty workload, he always managed to carve out time to spend with his son because he says, “There is nothing in life that highlights just how fast life passes like watching your kids grow up.”
When I first became a mom I remember one of the best lines of advice I received, “Don’t go back to work. Be poor. You will never get your child’s early years back.”
Because of the wise words of this woman and of Neistat I’ve made the choice to focus on being a mom. While, I still occasionally make mistakes and sometimes parenting and freelancing butt up against each other, I’m doing a better job of balancing work and parenting every day.
I won’t get the time with my child back. Eventually she will grow up and spread her wings and fly into the world to do her own work. Then, I’ll have the time I need to to do whatever freelance project comes my way. My nest will be empty and my plate will be full. Right now my nest is full and my plate is half empty. And that’s okay, because I’ll be working until my body gives out.
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Featured Image by Carl Heyerdahl via Unsplash.