By: Meika Rouda
When my son was two and a half, it seemed like a good idea to get a fulltime job. He was old enough, we needed the cash to pay for our new house, and well, I was a little bored from staying home. I wanted to feel important, like I was contributing to something bigger than just me and my family. So I took a job, a job I was promised would have flexible hours and be good for a mom like me. “There are several moms who work here,” the HR woman assured me, “we are very family friendly.” So I asked for an absurd salary to make it worth it for me and took the gig.
The first few weeks were a little hectic. I had to get my son fed, dressed, and relatively presentable for preschool and then get myself ready, feed the dog, deal with the bills and other household needs and then drive 15 minutes out of my way to drop him off at school, then drive 40 minutes to work where I would spill coffee on myself while listening to NPR’s FRESH AIR and fight for a good parking spot. My job was to diplomatically bridge the divide between pushy account managers and oversensitive creatives. I was a project manager, a semi-empowering name for basically a menial job. I spent my day putting out fires, finagling resources for projects, and avoiding the wrath of the account team who always had bad news from the client. “I told the client we couldn’t make changes but they absolutely need to change the entire homepage.” No apology, just a “you work it out” look on their faces.
I wasn’t out saving the world or adding to the greater good, instead I was working for an advertising agency on a major pharmaceutical account. I had twelve projects to manage, nine of which were in production concurrently. It was a full plate, a plate that didn’t allow for flexible hours or a family-friendly environment. It wasn’t what I expected. I tried bonding with some of the other working moms, who somehow had their hair perfectly coiffed and outfits coordinated. Most of them even found time in the morning to put on makeup before work. How do they do it? They seem so together, so on top it, while I am barely treading water.
Things at home started to unravel. My son stopped having baths everyday, didn’t always brush his teeth, and I totally gave up brushing his hair. “Kaden you have to brush your hair, it is a mess,” I would say and he would scream at the top of his lungs “No!” and stomp his foot while crossing his arms against his chest, a pose of complete defiance. He would look at me, waiting for me to insist or make some fun game out of brushing one’s hair but instead I would just say “OK” and put the brush down. I couldn’t handle the resistance, didn’t have the energy to coax him into a task. That wasn’t even close to the worst of it. I admit to having dropped him off to daycare with a wet diaper, had him eat pancakes for dinner, and regularly resorted to the TV as a babysitter for him when I needed to get things done. I yelled at him when he didn’t really deserve it and let him eat too much sugar before bed. Some nights I was too tired to read to him. Does this make me a bad mom? Other people seem to manage this just fine. Maybe it is just me.
After a month of 10-hour days I went to see my boss to find out if all of this was a ruse.
“I am working more hours than I expected, my work load is too much for me and I don’t think I can juggle everything.” It was unusual for me to admit that something was too much for me; usually I take on a challenge and work extra hard, go the extra mile to get everything done, but with a family, my priorities were different and I didn’t expect this much stress from this job. I wanted an easy job. The type that I could leave at the office at 5pm and not worry about until the next day. Not the job that kept me up at night writing emails or worrying a deadline was going to pass unfulfilled.
My boss sat in her beige office, she was a doctor which somehow meant she knew something about advertising but I never quite figured out what it was she knew. She tried to console me with “You will get the hang of it. That is the way it is here, a fast-paced environment. Besides, everyone likes you!”
Everyone likes you. That was her response to me saying I had too much work and couldn’t get everything done. To me complaining that I wasn’t getting any time with my son. That when I got home he was either asleep or cranky and unpleasant or worse, I was cranky and unpleasant and not able to give him the personal time he deserved.
A week later I told her that I had only picked up my son from school once since I started work, even though it was agreed when I took the job that I could leave by 5 to pick him up from school.
“Just leave then if you have to. You can work from home.” She seemed pleased with her solution, as if taking work home was viable with a toddler. She clearly didn’t have kids.
So I did. I left at 5pm when most of my coworkers left at 6pm. I started missing meetings, running out when people were waiting to talk to me, leaving before I sent the client the final comps. Now I was a better mom but I wasn’t a good worker. Where is this working mom line and how do I find it? Can you truly balance work and motherhood?
After four months and lots of talking with my husband, I quit my job. It just wasn’t worth it for our family even though the income was great. My husband had his own business that was very stressful with long hours. We didn’t need another parent with a challenging job. I still admire the women out there who are able to balance work with family seamlessly. I think they are pretty heroic. Now I work freelance on projects that allow me true flexibility, and while the income isn’t great, the time I get with my son and daughter is priceless.