The Working Mom’s Dilemma

Ed. Note – this is a guest post from Karianne Wilkins, the owner of Earlybird Education, LLC.  She and I are swapping blogs today, since we thought it would be cool to provide our respective audiences the other gender’s point of view.  You can head over to her site to see my article on being a dad.

Juggling ResponsibilitiesI had a sneaking suspicion that having children would alter my life. Of course I had no way to wrap my mind around what those changes would be like until it happened. Simply put, being a mother is a level of exhaustion mixed with a level of joy I never imagined possible. However, what I didn’t expect is that the emotional desire to stay-at-home with my children mixed with the inner desire to have a successful career would result in varying degrees of guilt.

I knew from the time I was a young child that I wanted to grow up and be a mom. Since having my first daughter, I have been fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom. There was a six month time period when I worked full time to get us through a financial rough patch, but otherwise I have been able to be home to see all the first milestones. I am able to guide my daughters and lay an educational foundation for their future. It is a challenging job, but rewarding and extremely important to me. I know this is where I am supposed to be and what I am meant to do. But then there is this little whisper in the back of my mind that says, what about MY personal aspirations?

Back in college I quickly found the career path I wanted to follow. I am now fortunate enough to absolutely love what I do for a living, knowing that not many people are able to say the same thing. After my first daughter was born I started using sign language with her and was amazed with all of the language and communication benefits it provides to a hearing child. This experience sparked inside me the desire to create a new business focused on teaching baby sign language classes to other parents so they can experience the joy and benefits of signing with their children. I decided then that I would start my own company and felt I would be letting myself down if I didn’t at least make an attempt at achieving this goal.

During that time period when I went back to work full time for six months, I was emotionally distraught most of the time because I felt like I should be home with my daughter. And truthfully, that’s where I wanted to be. I am so fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom, but then I think about the company I want to start up and how I might regret it in the future if I don’t follow through. I go back and forth between feeling guilty for not following my career aspirations and for not spending enough time with my children if I do start a business.

I don’t think I am alone in this feeling of guilt and know some women don’t even have the same level of choice as me. Some women have no choice but to work to support their family and as much as they want to, are not able to be home with their children. Then there are other women at home with their children feeling guilty for wanting to go back to a career they love, but are not able to because it does not make financial sense to pay more in daycare expenses than the second income would provide. The million dollar question is, what are we supposed to do?

The only answer I can come up with for reducing the guilt is to try to find balance between the two parts of our selves. What this may look like is:

  • Being okay with less than 100%. I know it sounds counterintuitive but what I mean is that if you are juggling several areas in your life, then don’t expect to be able to give 100% to everything. You may have a great career, but in order to spend quality time with your children you may have to sacrifice climbing to the top of the ladder. Or you may be a stay-at-home mom wanting to start a new business, but in order to do this it means sacrificing some time with your children. It is a matter of deciding what being successful looks like to you. Maybe being happy and successful is having a little bit of everything, rather than 100% of one thing.
  • Setting personal limits. In order to create a balance between work and our children, it means being able to say where these areas start and stop. For example, with work it may mean not working on a project over the weekend in order to spend quality time with your kids. Or it may mean that as a stay-at-home mom, you negotiate a schedule with your husband where he will watch the kids so you are able to put time into an activity or work that is important to you.
  • Asking for help. Speaking for myself, as much as I like to believe and even try to do it all, it simply is not possible. There is no way that I am able to work, play with my children, keep the house clean, cook dinners, run errands, and drive to children’s activities in the course of a week and maintain my sanity. The only way it is possible is to ask for help from my husband, family, and friends.

I have to believe that the whispers in my mind mean something, and my business is something I need to pursue. I also feel strongly in my heart that I need to be the center of my children’s lives so I can get them started off on the right path in life. So while still being a stay-at-home mom, I took the plunge and started working hard to get my business up and running. There have been tears (my own!) along the way because I feel like my children aren’t getting the level of attention I would like to give them at all times. Fortunately my husband is around to remind me that the girls are anything but neglected, and that much of my time has to be invested up front in getting the business started. In the end I have to believe that my daughters will be better off having a role model of a woman who is happy she has pursued her dreams, rather than a woman living with regret for one reason or another.

The balance between personal aspirations and children is different for each woman, but we each have inner whispers and desires that will fulfill us as a mother and as an individual. I still struggle daily to find the balance between my girls and my new business, and continue to work on all three areas I mentioned above. I find my new mantra is “Something’s gotta give.” Usually it’s the housework, and I can live with that.

So, ladies, do you feel the same way?  How have you handled the tension between doing something professionally fulfilling, and the emotional gratification you get from raising your kids?  What trade-offs have you been willing to make, and where do you draw the line?  Let us know in the comments

Karianne Wilkins is a speech-language pathologist, homeschooling, signing mother of two who writes for her blog at EarlytoLearn.com. She writes 2-3 posts per week about sign language, early learning, homeschooling, speech therapy, and anything else she finds value in. Please stop by and subscribe to her blog updates…or visit the new EarlytoLearn discussion forum and introduce yourself!


5 thoughts on “The Working Mom’s Dilemma”

  1. Enjoyed your blog here today Karianne. It never ceases to amaze me what innovative ideas people will come up with for a business model. I trust you will be successful in pursuing your dual-dream of successful parenting and business-building.

  2. Exactly! I was a stay-at-home mom for 8 years. Last year I rejoined the work force (as a programmer analyst), fortunately right before the market downturn. My husband is currently laid off and now he is pursuing his own business while herding the kids – now in their teens.

    You only get one shot at raising your kids, and most people change jobs / careers 5 times.
    Good blog!

  3. Thank you for your kind comments DilBert and K. Soniat! My children will always remain my first priority and if for some reason the cost starts to become too high then I will cut back on the business. I believe that teaching parents how to communicate with their babies and toddlers will be very rewarding and make this all worthwhile.

    K. Soniat- You are awesome for going back to work to support your family. I had very mixed emotions about it, although logically it was the best thing I could do for my family. I guess the picture I had in my head of how it was supposed to be was different than reality. I hope your husband does well with his own business. Hard to get up and running, but worth all the sweat and tears in the end (I'm hoping anyway!) 🙂

  4. Great post Karianne, I left a comment over on your blog too. You ARE an inspiration to stay at home parents everywhere. (I was a house-husband for a few years and wish we had had a computer and people like you around in the late 80's, early 90's!!) If ANYTHING ever turns out like the picture you had in your head, please let me know because that NEVER seems to happen!!

  5. I don't have children of my own yet, but I still struggle with creating balance in my life. We each play so many roles in life that it can all be exhausting at times.

    That's why I like your advice! I especially like your reminder to be okay with less than 100% — any effort, large or small, is always better than nothing at all 🙂

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