‘If I did good at work, I felt like I was failing at home. Fighting between the two worlds broke my heart. I put on a mask of perfection. I felt like I was drowning and couldn’t come up for air.’

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“[Beep. Beep. Beep]. It was time to get up. ‘4:30’ the clock read. I reluctantly jumped into the routine I had been doing five days a week for the past seven years: shower, straighten hair and put on makeup, throw on heels, a skirt, and a blouse, eat breakfast, and rush out the door by 7:15. Recently, however, we added waking up, feeding, and dressing our two babies into the mix. Did I have our routine down to a science? Yes. Was it predictable and safe? Yes. Did the weekends taste as sweet as cheesecake? Yes. Did it bring me joy? No!

On the outside, I put on a mask of perfection. But on the inside, I felt like I was drowning and could barely come up for air. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders (and I wasn’t even doing it alone like many single mom friends).

Courtesy of Charlsey Childers

On that particular morning, our daughter woke up sobbing and couldn’t stop. Again. It had been going on for almost a month. She screamed from the time I put my hand on her chest and said, ‘Good morning, honey’ to the moment we rushed out the door to spend the next 30 minutes driving to daycare. It was so unlike her to cry like that. We chalked it up to being some weird nightmare toddler phase. But something was different about that day that made me realize something wasn’t right. The pain in her voice let me know it was something deeper. It was like she was crying out for help. As much as my heart told me to stay and tend to her, my mind knew I was already late for work and that we needed to leave. Fighting between those two worlds broke my heart, and I began sobbing.

I thought about me as a little girl, sitting alone at the table watching my daycare teacher prep the classroom when all I really wanted was to be at home eating breakfast with my mom. I thought about how I watched kids leave one by day at the end of each day with their moms and dads, and how I helped out in the daycare baby room when I was 12 because there weren’t any other kids there my age. And then I remembered Saturday’s. While my friends played soccer or went to gymnastics practice, I watched my mom clean, and then we ran errands together. Every single Saturday. It’s one of the main memories I have from my childhood. I hated Saturday’s back then. It was the worst day of the week. I never understood why someone wanted to dedicate her Saturday to cleaning. But as I’ve gotten older, our Saturday’s together have become my favorite memory because I now understand why.

As a single mom, the world fell on her shoulders and she carried it like a champ. She worked 60 hours a week. Her career came first. It had to because our lives depended on it. That also meant our time together revolved around her work hours. She did what she had to do, but I know she left her heart with me each day she left for work. Complaining wasn’t in her vocabulary, and she somehow managed to go above and beyond in everything she did (like the time she cleared out the living room for me and 15 of my girlfriends to have a slumber party for the 7th birthday or the time she brought me flowers at school on my 16th birthday). I don’t know how she felt, but all I saw in her was perfection.

Most of my friend’s mom’s stayed home and were there when they got home from school. There were a few mom’s like mine: they worked during the day and spent time with their kids at night. Since my mom wore high heels, a skirt, and a fancy blouse, went to work every day, and kept our house clean Saturday through Wednesday, I assumed that was the definition of a good mom. I dreamed of following in her footsteps.

My definition was abruptly challenged when I saw my baby girl cry like that. It gave me a glimpse into all the sacrifices my mom made, and I suddenly became really furious. Why did she have to choose between her career and her family? Why was she expected to work 60 hours each week in order to do a great job, and then devote the remaining hours to raising her child?

What really ticked me off was wondering why I was torn between being a career mom or a stay-at-home mom 30 years later? Why did they have to be in a contest with each other? Why did it feel like if I was doing good at work, I felt like I was failing at home, and if I felt like I was doing a good job at home, why did I feel like I was failing at work? I wanted to be good at both! I was tired of feeling like I had to choose every day. I wanted a successful, fulfilling career. To be fully present for my family, and make an impact in this world. More importantly, I wanted to show my daughter she could have it too.

Courtesy of Charlsey Childers

Perhaps I was wanting too much. Perhaps I wanted my cake and to eat it too. But there had to be a way that I could give my daughter the time my mom wishes she could have given me while also satisfying the desires of my heart… right? How could a model that worked 30 years ago still work today?

So, I did the only thing I knew how to do: pray feverishly to the Lord. I wish I could tell you everything was fine the next day, that my feelings resolved themselves, or that my prayers were magically delivered to my doorstep. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The more steps I took toward the life I thought I should live, the harder it got to ignore the feelings inside. Early morning cries in the closet on my praying knees and mid-afternoon cries during lunch in my car became a thing. I continued going in one direction, but everything in me yelled for me to go in another. At last, I surrendered to the fact that the life I grew up admiring, the one I spent years going to school for, and the one I thought would make me happy, actually made me miserable. The feelings inside were so strong that I felt like I had to at least explore them.

Three years later, life looks a lot different. I have been a stay-at-home mom for two of those years, which means I start each day eating breakfast with my kids and spend the rest of the day going to the park or library, or having pillow fights in my bed. When the kids nap though, I turn into a nap-time ninja as I put on my entrepreneur hat.

Following my desire for more lead to the birth of my passion: inspiring women to own who they are. I do this by encouraging women to love the skin they’re in through my skincare business and through ‘Always Her,’ a community I created that empowers women to be unapologetically themselves. It’s something my mom could have benefited from and something all women need. Being unapologetically ourselves is our superpower.

Now I understand that it wasn’t my mom’s perfectly done hair and makeup or whether or not she went to work every day that made her a good mom. What made her a good mom was how she taught me that there’s no force more powerful than a woman’s determination, believing in yourself is the foundation on which life is built on, and you are capable and worthy of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.”

Photo credit: Jasmin Hejazi
Photo credit: Jasmin Hejazi

This story was written by Charlsey Childers of Charlotte, North Carolina. You can follow her on Instagram here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our free newsletter for our best stories.

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