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She eclipsed everything when she was born. Though I still did a small amount of work during my maternity leave, when that two-month grace period came to an end, I no longer minded the idea of scaling back on things that had previously been non-negotiable parts of my life; the manuscript on which I was working. The essays I was submitting. The yoga classes I was teaching.
Maybe writing just won't be my thing anymore, I thought to myself. Maybe mothering will be enough.
But nine months in as the default parent, I wanted to reclaim those parts of my identity. I didn't want my work to be an afterthought, the thing I squeezed in at the edges of everything else. I didn't want my husband to be the only one making money, or the only one progressing in his field. And more importantly, I wanted to revive the manuscript I'd put to the side around the time I'd gotten pregnant. Once upon a time, it had been my dream to write and publish a book. I didn't want to let that go.
But it felt so hard to do this when I was also doing the laundry, scooping shit out of the litter box, unloading the dishwasher, going to the supermarket, and cooking dinner. It seemed impossible when I was managing Twitter for one client, blogging for another, and interviewing 10+ people a month in order to write up multiple academic articles. And then there was Emily. Her feedings. Her diaper changes. The guilt I felt every time I ignored her to do work. How could I do something that was just for me when so many other people were relying upon me?
I was nervous when I approached my husband about applying for a yoga and writing retreat up in Newport, Rhode Island. I told him he'd have to work from home for two days so he could watch Em.
"When would you be gone?" he asked me.
"I'd leave to head up there on a Thursday afternoon," I told him. "I'd be back on Sunday."
And so I fumble my way through a life that requires me to do it all, but which makes it impossible for me to excel at any of it.
He tapped a finger against his lips. Took a few moments to think. "I'll just take those days off," he finally said, taking his phone out of his pocket in order to text his boss. "I can't focus on Emily when I have my employer to answer to."
And that's when my head began to spin and I began speaking in tongues and I projectile vomited all over the kitchen floor and my husband had to call someone in to perform an exorcism.
Because no one had offered me the option of taking the next 18 years off to focus on our daughter.
On the other hand, when my husband left for Napa Valley on a business trip that saw him gone from early on a Monday morning to late on a Thursday night, I was still expected to do it all, this time without the reprieve I usually got when my husband arrived home from work and handled Em's bedtime routine. I became so frustrated by this relentless juggling act that, by the end of the third day, I was in tears. "Good night Em. I love you," I whispered as I lay her gently down in her crib and flicked on her nightlight and clenched my fists, my hands shaking.
The income disparity between myself and my husband has always made me feel undervalued, as if the work I do is not nearly as important. What I consider to be my biggest accomplishments have never been my biggest paychecks, and it hurts to know that my husband only considers me successful now because of the extent to which my income has increased.
Life as a mother has only thrown this dynamic into sharp relief. What is worth less? My role as a freelance writer or my role as the mother of our child? When it's taken for granted that I will parent at the expense of my work, but that he will not parent at the expense of his, the answer seems clear: my work is nothing; my daughter is everything.
But if I somehow manage to lose my grip on the headway I've made as a professional—if I let any of those balls drop for even an instant—I become worth even less.
And so I fumble my way through a life that requires me to do it all, but which makes it impossible for me to excel at any of it. I take seven hours to write a single blog post. I take weeks to write a single chapter.
Who am I if I am not a successful writer? Who am I if I am not the perfect mother?