The “mental load” of a working mom is not limited to your mom job but your “day” job as well – the planning and scheduling of both jobs merge into one megaton of remembering and brain juice juggling.
According to Google, there is a scholarly definition for what happens when a working mom, even a full-time working mom, gets home and that is the “second shift”. This is all the work that greets us when we get home from work – cooking, bathing, homework, cleaning, you get the picture.
My friend who is a single mom shared the perfect example of this, in explaining her “second shift” routine, she admitted that at the end this shift she never manages to get undressed for bed, so now she just unclips her bra and she’s done.
This notion of a “second shift” is an interesting one, because what happens when you add this notion to a pre-existing mom condition? A condition that all moms – the omnipresent, multi-layered, often contradictory, always sucky GUILT.
“Mom guilt” is a term that became popular in the 21st century, mainly because, the 21st century is when women in work became ubiquitous and therefore it is felt most acutely by working moms who feel they are compromising their kids for their career and their career for their kids.
As with the exhaustion, all moms experience guilt. But Annabel Crabb explains this guilt in working mom terms perfectly in her book, The Wife Drought, “The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.”.
This expectation, guilt and self-inflicted pressure lead working moms often to overachieve, hiding the M word in case someone at work thinks they are not as committed to their job as a non-breeder might be. We stay longer than we ought to, we say yes to meetings we have no time for, we take calls when we have no hands to and we use any spare time we have to answer emails in the middle of the night. Sorry mom, no time to poop for you.
And this is where the guilt and the “second shift” collide, because a mom feeling guilty for compromising her family time for work, will make sure that she shows up hard for her “second shift. At 2 am in the morning we are baking elaborate birthday ring cupcakes, with fondant sculpted Minions and starburst piped icing, we make our own organic yoghurt from scratch (that the kid probably won’t even eat cause there’s no sugar in it), we create (I mean help make) the most incredibly baking soda volcano the world has ever seen and we put on an elaborate one-woman puppet show cabaret to both entertain and minimize screen time.
Working moms are always worried and guilt-ridden that they are not doing either job well enough. And if we are going, to be honest, the truth is you probably aren’t. In the end, after trying to do it all, be it all, keep those balls in the air, both jobs inevitably suffer and the only loser is you – the working mom. We are the ones that feel inadequate, we are the ones that feel judged on all fronts, we are the ones that feel we are constantly letting the side down, we are the ones who beat ourselves up.
The only way to survive is to accept that somedays one job will suffer at the expense of the other.
To accept that balls will be dropped, important moments (both professional and personal) may be missed, help will be needed, lots of it, and to realise that actually more often than not the only person who notices your mess-ups are you.
I think that work-life balance is not about balancing time and making everyone happy simultaneously, I think it is actually making sure that when you comprise one job for the other – compromise it 100%. When you have to leave work early for your kids’ soccer game, don’t waste that time and moment worrying about your “day” job and the time it lost. And conversely, when you have to work late on a big client presentation, don’t blow energy worrying and regretting the time at home you lost when that energy is used effectively could make the output of your “day” job exceptional. Be the best you can be at the job you are doing in that moment because that’s actually all you can do, tackle one thing at a time and take comfort in knowing that each job will have its turn to have you 100% when it needs you.
Otherwise, if you can’t manage this compartmentalization and you are determined to succeed professionally but without compromising your children having a parent around, Annabel Crabb has another solution. She urges women to do what men do in these situations – men get wives. In the traditional societal structure, a wife, who was often a stay-at-home-mom or part-time working mom, is what has allowed men to succeed professionally without needing to worry that their families were being neglected or harmed by his long hours. Men were left to climb the corporate ladder without so much as a second thought as to the daily well-being of their family – that was the wife’s job. This also meant that when a man got home, his jobs were done, he had done his part, he was now firmly off the clock – no second shift for him.
But today, this is not quite the deal anymore. Men still get wives, and for the most part, do not have a “second shift” but their wives are not employed solely in raising the family and taking care of the home – they have jobs during the day, leaving them to take care of their other job – the family – after hours.
So, working mothers, that’s what you will have to get too – a wife, or a mife – a man-wife. Otherwise known as a stay-at-home dad. And this leads me back to my point that something always has to give, nobody can do it all, and if you do not want to give up your career, then maybe he must.
Leigh Tayler is a writer, a Leo, a feminist, a fan of The Walking Dead, a lover of all things unicorn and nearly succumbs to rage strokes on the daily. Oh, and she also happens to be a mother to one small feral child. She wears her heart on her sleeve and invariably tells it like it is, the good the bad and the ugly. She juggles her writing, her family, her sanity in-between a demanding career in advertising. She has no shame in sharing her harebrained and high-strung anecdotes on her experience of motherhood, no sugar coating, no gloss, just her blunt truth with a healthy side order of sarcasm. Find her on her blog, The Ugly Truth of Being a Mom.
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