“You can’t have it all”. These words were said to me by a well-meaning and respected supervisor at the agency I worked for when I became a new mother. I had reluctantly returned to work part-time when my baby was 3 months old. I know she was trying to help me feel better; to connect with me as a mother who had “been there, done that”. But the phrase hit me in a way I am sure she did not intend. I felt isolated, alone, full of despair, and resentful.
Back in those early motherhood days while I was at the office, my baby went to work with my husband because the nature of my work did not allow me to have a baby with me at work and be able to effectively do my job.
I was so grateful that my baby could go to work and bond with his daddy. I pumped between seeing clients to stock up on breastmilk for my baby while I was away from him. I tried to believe that this was what I wanted. I tried to believe that it was good for me to stay working in the career I had built for myself over 11 years before I became a mother. I tried so hard to hold on to that old professional identity and embrace the new role of being a working mother.
Truthfully, it was not physically difficult to juggle the job, pumping, and packing him up with his daddy for the day. But it was very emotionally difficult to be away from him and concentrate on my job. It was difficult to envision him being cared for by strangers at the day care we had reserved for him to attend after 6 months of age when he would no longer be allowed to go to work with my husband.
I lasted about 2 weeks. Every day I had to go to the office, I felt sick and missed my baby all day. I thought about him while I was supposed to be helping clients. I thought about him while I was writing up my session notes. I thought about him while I pumped. I thought about him when I drove like a woman newly freed from jail to pick him up from my husbands’ office or meet them back at home. I knew I did not want to do this at all. I wanted to be at home with my baby.
You can’t have it all. Those words repeated themselves in my mind. What does ‘have it all” mean anyways? You can’t have the time you want with your child AND have a career? You have to choose one or the other? Who says you can’t have it all? Who defines what “have it all” means? I do. I define what “have it all” means for me. I just needed to figure out my definition.
I decided that “having it all” meant being happy. It meant doing what felt right for me and my family. With my definition outlined, the path ahead was clear.
Making the decision to leave my position at the agency was the easy part. My husband showed his solid support, which was both surprising and exhilarating and made it even easier. My need to be the one to care for my baby full time trumped any love or loyalty I had for my career.
It was trickier to figure out the financial part of losing one income, but we figured it out. It was difficult to put in my notice of leaving to my employer, who had kindly worked with me to reduce my hours to ensure my stay with the agency, but I did it and felt instant relief. Figuring out how to step out into private practice on my own so I could continue to make a small income while primarily staying at home was risky, but with sheer determination and the help of some friends already there, I was able to make it happen.
It took me a while to change some long held beliefs that no longer resonated in my heart; some misled thoughts and attitudes about the kind of women who chose family over career. I was becoming what I had somewhat disfavoured in my pre-baby days; someone I did not understand until I met my own baby. As I went through this transition, I sent out a silent sincere apology to all the women I had previously looked down on for choosing motherhood over career. Going through my own transformation was a humbling reminder to never judge another person’s path through life; it is their path, not yours to judge or understand. I get it now. I struggled internally with accepting my new role and choice to put my career on the very back burner. It was truly so foreign to me, but I was more passionate about it than I could remember being about anything else in my life. I was confused, but I was following my heart – straight home to be with my baby.
You can’t have it all? It’s been 6 years and I have absolutely no regrets. I dug deep and listened inward instead of outward for a definition of “having it all”. I am content being home with my 2 children. I work very little in my practice – only a few days a month. I have enjoyed watching my kids grow and helping them learn. I have all the time I want with my family, I still have a toe in my career, and I am finding new things to get involved with all the time – both on my own and with my family. If I had to define my life today, I would say that I do indeed “have it all”.
Having it all hasn’t been exactly easy. There have been times I worried significantly about our financial situation. There have been times I struggled with re-prioritizing and making sacrifices. There have been days I felt I might lose my sanity amongst all the dirty diapers, messes throughout the house, and incessant questioning that comes with curious kids. There have been days I felt utterly lacking in my mothering skills. Those are just the bad days that luckily occur only every once in a while. It has been hard work, but it has been that much more satisfying to make it happen on my own terms and by my own definition.
I do have it all. Maybe not by the way someone else would define having it all, but that does not matter because it is the way I define it and that has made all the difference.