‘I felt like a complete fake. Do people really think I can do it all and be so carefree?’ Mom’s guilt over juggling career and kids

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“Ten years ago a dear friend gave me a personalized coffee mug for my birthday. On it was a woman dressed fabulously for a business meeting holding a soccer ball and a briefcase with a carefree smile on her perfectly made up face with perfectly styled hair — below her was written, ‘Tracy – I can do it all!’ Clearly my friend meant this as a compliment as this mug was meant to represent me and all that I do. I can’t describe the emotions that coffee mug stirred in me – wow, I CAN do it all – career, family, style, happiness… or at least it appears that way. At the same time I felt like a complete fake. Do people really think I can do it all and be so carefree? Does one of my closest friends not see through me – the self-doubt, the anxiety, the frazzled nerves, the guilt, the struggle to do it all? Am I fooling people into thinking ‘it’s all good’ when I’m really feeling like the house of cards of To Do lists, schedules and deadlines will fall apart at any moment? In reality shouldn’t this woman on the mug be missing one shoe, have a toddler around her leg and dark circles under her eyes? Honestly, it also made me feel a bit sad because I so wanted to be that girl on the mug, and I felt like I was so far from it. I was trying to do it all, and truthfully I did try to make it look easy because I didn’t want my decision to take on so much to burden those around me.

As moms we wrestle with our choices – the ones we make for ourselves and our families. We do the best we can but we second guess those decisions, then we feel bad if we let anyone down. Hell, sometimes we even feel bad for the things we take on when we didn’t have a choice. For years (many more than I’d like to admit) I felt guilty for having a career.  I won’t get side-tracked here because that topic has books written about it and many different (and strong) opinions. Suffice it to say that I love my career, but sometimes it impacted my family (both positively and negatively) and when the impact was negative it really got to me. Whatever the reason, we tend to take on a lot – and sometimes we don’t know our limits so we keep running and smiling and saying ‘It’s fine. I’m good. I’ve got this.’ The image of the swimming duck comes to mind… The view from above — calmly gliding across the water. The view from under the water – those little two legs paddling like crazy!

Tracy Hargen

One afternoon I came back to my home office after a day of client meetings to find a sticky note on my desk written in my son’s handwriting which read, ‘Thank you for working so hard Mom.’ I have no idea what made him write this note on this day but it was such a boost for me – it’s amazing what a dose of appreciation can do for your spirit. Another time there was a note saying, ‘Thanks for cleaning my shower curtain – it really needed it!’ These unexpected, occasional notes were so important to me that I’ve held onto them all these years. We don’t mind working hard, so when someone recognizes our efforts or achievements, we take them to heart. We hear a lot of negative comments and they can stick with us – some come from other people but much of it comes from our own thoughts. Those things we say to ourselves, about ourselves, that we would never say to someone else (nor we would tolerate someone else saying to them to us). Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why do we hold ourselves to standards that no one can attain? For me it’s because I do want to do it all – with ease. Moms sometimes have a hard time saying no to things we know to be important to ourselves and our families – volunteering, cooking, cleaning, playing, and working. It took years for me to be okay with asking for help. I had to learn that it’s not a sign of weakness, and allowing others to help is good for everyone. A little heartfelt acknowledgement of gratitude never hurts either – giving it and receiving it is tremendous.

A former boss told me – ‘You have to ‘Link and Label.’ Sometimes you have to tell people you’ve just done something for them and what you’ve done.’ (‘That raise you asked for? I got it approved because you’ve earned it, and I was able to make a strong business case with the management team.’) She was right – this was effective at both work and home. Realizing this I tried something with my two boys. When they asked me nicely to do something for them (get them a snack or retrieve a lone shoe from the other room), I would always say, ‘OK but only because you said ‘please’ and because I’m the best Mom in the whole world.’ You could say I was brain washing them to a degree – I say I was just trying to remind them that I have a choice to help them or not and I chose to help. I wasn’t going to be taken for granted and, I wanted them to think I was the best mom in the whole world. After a time I would ask – ‘Who’s the best Mom in the whole world?’ ‘You are,’ was the enthusiastic reply. I realize they didn’t have a lot to compare me to, but I wasn’t taking any chances! I had to laugh one day when my son, home visiting from college, said, ‘Hey Mom, since you are the best Mom in the whole world, would you mind doing my laundry?’ Maybe they were on to me – how could I say no?!

Over the years I’ve changed my view on what ‘doing it all’ means – I don’t literally try to do everything all alone anymore, nor do I try to act like I’m perfectly fine all the time. I do my best, ask for help when needed, give appreciation generously and receive it gracefully in return. Even if you can’t literally do it all by yourself, and even if you’re a bit frazzled and harried while you try, it’s worth it. Moms are multi-taskers – by nature and necessity. We recognize that in each other and sometimes when you see a Mom giving it her all, it never hurts to say – ‘You go girl – do it all!’ and maybe add ‘But if you need some help, just ask, I’m right here.'”

Tracy Hargen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tracy Hargen of Georgia. She is a blogger who often features stories about motherhood and having grown children who’ve flown the coop. You can read more of her work below:

10 things that helped when my son told me he had depression

‘Everything Will Be OK’: Woman gets awe-inspiring sign after husband’s ‘serious cancer scare’

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