Hello SOTGC community,
I’m excited and terrified to write about this topic. When someone suggested I write about managing equilibrium between my work leading a growing nonprofit and my role mothering a growing toddler, I was initially eager to share. Moments later, it occurred to me that, in order to candidly speak about this balancing act, I would have to disclose the ways in which I fail. But, I am grateful for this exercise, and there’s a good ending.
My job requires that I spend a lot of time conducting business in Africa. We construct clean water systems for people who have no water, and we are fortunate to have several staff and volunteers both here in Austin, Texas, and in Kenya. I sometimes have an intense workload, but I do enjoy flexibility in my schedule. That’s usually wonderful for my time with my two-year-old, Violet, but sometimes it’s not. I occasionally have very long workdays, and I am responsible for everything that happens in the organization. I’m the firefighter and the peacemaker, and I find myself doing a lot of juggling. As a result, unfortunately, my daughter is sometimes one of the balls in the air.
It must appear as though I’m doing alright as a working mommy, though. I have a remarkable support network, and I am regularly reassured that I’m managing quite well and that Violet is blossoming beautifully (actually, she is pretty amazing).
But, I’m notoriously hard on myself, and I was fully convinced I was a pretty subpar parent until recently. I spent hours upon hours reading about how to help my toddler develop her language, what musical instruments were the best for her brain, which swim and dance classes got the best ratings in the area, and how to have the best application to compete in the fight for a spot at Montessori. I would spend too much money on the perfect, healthiest snacks for her preschool days, and I would have a minor panic attack while reading some new article about how milk or cartoons or something else was going to poison or otherwise ruin my child.
I would often be up all night on phone calls to Kenya, only to wake a couple hours later feeling like a zombie but pushing myself, still, to have my daughter’s hair in perfect pig tails and a diaper bag full of creative and thought-provoking activities for the day.
I was cranky and impatient a lot of the time. I was always disappointed in myself. And, I was exhausted.
I was so depleted of energy from a long day of fundraising one night that I could hardly keep my balance through dinner clean-up. Then, bedtime came, and I realized it wasn’t going to be an easy one. I couldn’t seem to get her to settle down and be ready for sleep, so I accepted final defeat and handed her the closest electronic device. I put on Finding Nemo, collapsed next to her, and fell fast asleep. I woke up an hour or so later to find my sweet, sleeping baby girl cuddling an iPad, and I felt shame and disappointment in myself in a way I have never before. I was the mother I had been disapproving of for years. I cried myself back to sleep, and vowed to be a better mother.
But, I woke up the next morning and decided something else. I wasn’t going to strive for flawless parenting. I was going to accept that I’m never going to be a perfect mother. And, I didn’t want to be. I thought about the times I had given myself a break – when Violet and I skipped some class she was scheduled to attend because we wanted to just go to the park instead; or when I lacked the will to fight to keep her out of puddles in the back yard and just watched as she had a glorious time covering herself, head to toe, in mulch and mud – and I realized those times were special. I wasn’t really failing. All of this was okay. All of this was actually really good.
I also thought keenly about my work with mothers who live on so little and frequently work all day for basic survival. They are still good mothers and providers, and their children have happiness and love. And, isn’t that the bottom line? Health, happiness, and love. Violet and I have so much of each of those things to be grateful for.
I’ve surprised myself with how much patience I have now with my tornado toddler while also keeping up with my professional life. Letting go of my attachment to perfection was the best thing I could ever do for the both of us. We’re not always on time for dance class, and some days we eat breakfast for every meal (who doesn’t love bacon for every meal?). And, sometimes, we both watch Finding Nemo to settle in at night if we’ve had a rough day.
I’m certainly still a work in progress, and balancing a demanding job with a force-of-nature toddler is a moving target to put it lightly. But, I forgive myself a lot and take time to breathe. I also have amazing friends, colleagues and family who help tremendously and encourage me to breathe, too.
So, to sum it up, I’m far from perfect. But, once I let go of parenting perfection, I became a better parent. Go figure.
I’d love to hear back from you on how you balance work and being an involved mother. Please share your comments and lend support to working mothers everwhere.
I want to also credit Kyle Mercer with The Garden Company for his coaching. He finally convinced me that cutting myself some slack is the best thing I can do for my baby girl.