Why are we here?

by Katrina on March 8, 2010

“How do you do it all?”

I used to get that a lot. From other moms at my son’s preschool. From parents at the Y where my daughter took swim lessons. From coworkers at the web consulting agency where I managed a team of designers. From the editor at the publishing company that offered me a contract to write a design book. Even from my husband.

I was a 37-year-old mother of three* and somehow, my kids, my marriage, and my career were all thriving.

Then, one Saturday afternoon in the spring of 2009, while driving to Target to buy diapers, I broke down. Not my car. Me.

photo by Natasha Mileshina

I pulled over to the side of the road, my hands shaking, barely able to breathe. I called my husband and sobbed, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Thus ended my career, and thus began a journey into crippling depression, anxiety, and insomnia; medication, meditation, and therapy. As I learned to heal my body and my mind, I searched for answers to one question: What the hell happened to me?

At first, I thought there was something wrong with me. After all, I had a loving husband, a supportive boss, healthy kids, a good income. If I couldn’t manage a career and a family then how were other women doing it, women who didn’t have all those advantages?

I started talking to my friends, my relatives, my housekeeper, my doctor, my babysitter. I wanted to know how were they managing it. Guess what? They weren’t. They suffered from panic attacks and depression, heart palpitations and hives, migraines and mysterious coughs that won’t go away. Some of them took anti-depressants. Others took anti-anxiety medications. Most of them fantasized about quitting their jobs. They were barely getting by. I had no idea. Like me, they had been putting a brave face on their suffering. Like me, they all assumed there was something wrong with them.

There are dozens of self-help books telling women they can do it all—succeed in demanding careers and still be good parents, good partners, and even happy, fulfilled people. But my experience and that of the women I know tells a different story.

I decided to start this blog as a place where I could organize my thoughts and connect with others who are thinking deeply about this issue. And so, dear reader, we find ourselves here, on an auspicious day, International Women’s Day, at the beginning of what I hope will be a fruitful conversation about why raising kids in the U.S. is so ridiculously, head-achingly, heart-breakingly hard, and what we can do about it.

If you have a story about raising kids and working or watching other people do it, I want to hear about it. If you’re a researcher or a policy maker and care about this issue, let’s talk. If you have a wild or brilliant idea for how to make this better, I want to hear about that, too.

Leave your comment here, or email me privately at katrina@workingmomsbreak.com.

*NOTE: I have two kids of my own and a stepdaughter on the weekends. I never know if I should say I have two kids or three. I usually say three because there are three children I love and care for on a regular basis.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather

I work almost full time night shift in trauma surgery, I go to school almost full time as well, and a single mother of three busy boys which the older two are in boy scouts which is a huge time commitment a lot of the time.
I don’t know how I do it or handle it honestly, but I try to regularly at least once to twice a week find time to join the free yoga in the park on the weekends. I meditate and ground myself every morning before I go to sleep to help me sleep or nap before my classes. I have had a nervous breakdown. I also have been dating a man for three years, because we both have such nutter schedules it works the best for now and he is ultra supportive of me and everything I’m doing just as much as I am supportive of his crazy schedule. I plan myself mini holidays six months to a year in advance with a best friend or even the guy I’ve been dating forever. It gives me a mini mental health break and I have the boys all situated with my ex husband or his family or even mine (depends on where I am traveling to). Taking a small amount of time just for yourself is absolutely essential. And I realize that I have an ex husband and his family- trust me, the majority of the time my boys are with me as he feels he is too busy with his life to have them longer than an hour after they wake up in the mornings and about two hours before they go to sleep on my work nights.
We all have to find something that works for us, even if its medications and therapy. We all have a breaking point and we all have to find a healthy way to cope. We can do it!

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Rachelle Loera

Do you have a fb page?

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Diamond

I’m mother of two and married for 15yrs im 36 yrs old I work overnight as s respiratory therapist. This year I have been breaking down feeling like I’m drifting away. I have been experiencing panic attacks, anxiety, coughing and headaches. I find my self repeatedly say this can’t be life Im the only one that cooks clean attend teacher conferences basically everything….. My husband is a pharmacist so we both make pretty good our kids are smart welled manner my friends swear I have the perfect life but little do they know I’m falling apart .where is the balance the happiness the real me not this fix it handle it she will do it me

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Jessie

I am glad to know I’m not the worst wife and mother on earth. I work very full time as a funeral director so I’m on call every evening and work monday-Friday and every other weekend. I only have a 2 year old and I do everything for her from baths meals laundry etc. I do all housework. My husband usually cooks dinner but that’s it. There’s no such thing as me time. Not showers not even while going to restroom. I love my daughter to death but sometimes my patience is spread thin. Almost once a week I feel like I’m having a nervous breakdown. Headache shortness of breath hands shaking. I wish there was some law to make it easier on working moms. I’m failing at the most important jobecause of my life being a good mother.

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Nichole

I am a mother of four and work full time. I feel overwhelmed and sometimes wonder if I exist as a person anymore. I love my kids but it am sick of being stressed, tired, and angry. I snap at my kids and I hate myself later. My husband works full time and then some so he is not home much. I am so tired and wish I could go on field trips and do bake sales but it I don’t have the time or energy. I am overwhelmed.u need the money for them but man I sometimes do t k ow how I can survive like this. I take it a day at a time and never make solid plans because I am never sure what my life will bring. It’s good to know I am not alone:(

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Jana

I am a full time working mom with a career, a 11 month old baby and my husband. We are not married but I don’t know how else to call him, boyfriend sounds so casual and teenage like and partner gives an automatic oh she has a lesbian partner impression(at least here in NJ where it is very common). I am a strong type A personality. It was never a problem until I became a mom. I am a control freak and I am failing because i am no longer in control. When it was just me or just me and my husband , everything was peachy. We have a beautiful child, she is the love of our lives , we are the perfect family people would say. Well, I am falling apart on the side line. I dont get sleep at night, spend hours rocking my baby some nights- its like a box of chocolates, you never know what u gonna get. Some nights are good, some are not. Not knowing gives me anxiety. I cant fully relax. I take it out on my husband/ the sweetest, sexiest man in the world, my love, my best friend and I hate myself for it and I resent him because she only wants me at night, daddy is for happy play time, mommy is for sleepless nights. Trust me I m well aware of all my flaws, I feel like I never knew who I was until motherhood uncovered the ugliest, the rawest, the most vulnerable me and also uncovered the most selfless, the most loving me I ever knew. Motherhood challenges me in ways no one ever and nothing ever did. It requires patience, the one thing I always struggled with. I feel so lonely , waking up million times a night checking the baby monitor even when my baby is having a good night . I m doing it to myself. I am obsessed with my childs well being. I need to know when she ate, what she ate, how long she napped, did she poop, I need a full report when i return from work. I micromanage everyone involved in her care. I feel guilt for not being with her- i am her mother after all. I feel like I am in a losing battle because when i can be with her i don’t fully enjoy her a lot of times because i think of cleaning and laundry and cooking and grocery shopping or im just so burnt out from work. Oh and i am a worrier. I always worry. I worry about baby and i worry about hubby. I love them too much. I want to protect them so they live forever- thats my super crazy unrealistic goal in life. I cant have a drink and have fun because i need to wake up at night to care for her, i cant go out because i need to get up with her. Im just a shadow. In the early hours of the day I am up putting on my makeup, dressing up putting my heels on while my child is asking for attention and play and I try to do it all but its a lost battle. I walk out of the door like a boss, but inside I am a mother who is new to all this and I m overwhelmed. And my relationship with my hubby? I get mean, I get cranky, I get short and snappy, I get irritated, and I hate myself for it. I love him, I miss him, I need him, I am just exhausted, chronically. And I keep saying I am sorry but feel that of i say it so much and so often it will lose its meaning to him. I dont want him to give up on me. We always pull through but i dont want to lose us, or our relationship to weaken. I see how disappointed he is in me at times when I am just not nice. I want to change that, thats not who I want to be. We dont even hug much anymore, we used to spend every second together hugging. I miss intimacy. Being a working mom with a career is freaking hard. I am torn. I am failing. I want to be better. I want to be able to relax, and enjoy things again. I doubt myself. I need to find a balance. And I need my hubby to understand, and be patient with me as I am figuring this thing out. Some moms make it look so easy, making me feel like a loser that I am struggling. I read something about a burn out with constant interruptions of REM sleep cycles and somethings about hormonal imbalance. I think I am going through this. I m hoping there are good angles of me that hopefully outweigh my negatives, otherwise I am screwed. For all the struggling mothers out there, we deserve a hug. We do it all, we put everyone else first, we are the heart of the home, and we are amazing. We just need to start believing that and take a chill pill. “There’s scarcely any happiness, passion or success without struggle. Life is a constant climb, but the journey is rewarding and the view is great. It’s just a matter of pushing forward when the going gets tough.”

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HP

Your post is me in a nut shell except with an 8 month old. I felt like I was reading what I wanted to write. I am glad I am not alone.

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Megan

Tears are trickling down my cheeks right now as I finish reading your post. Thank you for writing this. I have never found a way to describe this feeling and you nailed it. I had a complete meltdown driving my three year old to daycare today. We are STILL working on potty training and its… its just not clicking. I blame myself every day for not being able to be home with her. Maybe if I was home and not at work all day, she would have been fully potty trained by now. Regardless, I hope you know that you are not alone. I wish you the best of luck. <3

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Jessica

I’m happy to hear that my blog helped you out. I would like to respond to the potty training dilemma. It’s not your fault! Kids do this at there own age and will. I’m sure that daycare works on this too. My question to you is, this could the strategies at home the exact same as day care? This could be significant.

We all have guilt, that’s what makes us good mothers. My son (7) has gone through the daycare routine his entire life so far. To date, he even goes before his school days begin. He was a happy boy who loved spending time with me. I felt guilty but no worries. Three years ago I was promoted. It was a gradual change in family dynamic and my children. Behaviors changed, over tired kids because of how early they have to get up (5:15 am). We have an appropriate bedtime but that limits evening time for homework, dinner etc. My daughter (3) not too long ago was laying in bed. As we were hugging each other she said “Mama I want to keep you”.

So my husband and I did some research and planning financially. He are in a position that out Health Care for the family is carried through my husband. We can’t have the same life style as we do now. Drastic change! It will be very tough but it was a deduction that I knew was in a sense, easy to make. My husband will probably have to pick up a second job part time. If there is a will, there is a way.

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Kelly

I’m married, I work full time, my husband works away, I have a two year old and I’m crying as I write this. My little boy is going through a ‘daddy’ phase, well I hope it’s a phase although it’s been going on for months. He doesn’t want anything to do with me, won’t let me pick him up and all he wants is his daddy, it’s hard when I am on my own so much with him. Some days all I want is cuddle but I don’t get it. I’m successful in my job and I love it and am the most senior female at my company but having to rush out the door at 5.30pm I’m missing out on being involved in important decisions. I also feel like a lot of the staff look at me differently because I can’t work late, but like you say what they don’t see is me logging on to my laptop as soon as Lucas is in bed. I feel like I’m losing me and I’m failing at everything, I’m so tired all the time. My friends don’t understand as they are all stay at home mums and I can’t talk to family as they never thought it was right that I went back to work in the first place. I don’t know what to do.

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Someone

I can’t even post under my name.

Re-married mom of two. Ex is a paranoid bipolar who keeps threatening to try to get custody of my kids. I work full time, but it’s not a career. I am a second shift office clerk. Meaning I spend all the time my kids are home from school working in an office full of windows catering to production workers. They sneak up on the windows and basically act like animals. The job is so detail oriented that it’s impossible for days to go by without feeling like a failure. The money is awful, so I’m really only working for the health insurance benefits. Which I need because I also have MS. Meaning that when I have nervous breakdowns – my nerves literally break down. My hands have been numb for seven months. Office work is a challenge. Did I mention it’s fast-paced?

My husband is great. Takes the kids to scouts and soccer. He’s supportive. My ex-husband complains about that, too.

I recently became certified to be a teaching assistant. Since I have zero experience I can’t get placement. So, this year, I’m on he sub list to better my odds. So some days I’ll be working from 7AM until midnight.

I don’t know how I’m going top survive this.

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Amanda

I’m a 34 year old mom to boy/girl twins who’ll be 3 in December and I work full time (1/2 day in the office 1/2 day from home) as an in house attorney. And I am losing my mind. I am already on anxiety meds and anti depressants, and if I had any time at all in life, I’d be doing yoga too. I still feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown or run away to a deserted island or something. It is just positively overwhelming. I wake up, getting everyone ready, throw myself together in about 4 minutes, race them to school, take calls on the way to the office, race around the office half the day, race back to school to race home to take more calls, this time with screaming children and a barking dog in the background, attempting a dance of muting my phone and unmuting at the exact moment I need to speak which may–if it’s a really good day–line up with a moment of quiet in be background. My husband is awesome and helps as much as he can (makes lunch, helps during the night and will take them to school once or twice a week), but even still I’m overwhelmed. My kids are also very clingy, especially right now since they just started preschool. The house is a mess, constantly, I can never stay on top of laundry or dishes, even with some help. I can’t quit as we need the double income to support the expense of twins. Also, I really do have a great boss who does take good care of his people, (despite being a very busy environment) so it’s as ideal a working situation as I could hope for. That said, I truly, truly don’t know how my body will continue to bear the stress I’ve done to it physically and mentally. I love my family and have and when it’s the best, it’s the best, but the balancing act during the week is chipping away at my soul, one business day at a time. Any advice outside of “make more time for yourself” or “get more help!” would be greatly appreciated!

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single dad

It isn’t just Mom’s although that’s the majority. There are single Dad’s struggling with this too whose kids Mom is definitely not nearly as competent as you. America is broke. We are in difficult economic times and everyone is pressured to do more past their limits. Policymakers in Washington never get anything done locked in partisan debates. We can’t as a people continue to be like this. You can’t have two rock star parents in a dual income house and raise a good family and all the other stuff, it’s just TOO MUCH. Throw in taking care of elderly parents and you have a recipe for wanting to just jump off a cliff.

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Heather

I agree there is Dad’s that do this everyday. It is growing my brother is trying to get full custody of my nephew because the Mom is off her rocker. He works and has side jobs.
I will say it is overwhelming for a parent no matter married, single, separated. Unfortunately one parent is the one that is scraping to make it. Families should come together. We are here for our children, our future.
Thank you single dad

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Jessica

I agree. I never believed this before as a young woman and young mother. Now that I have almost a decade under my belt, I know now one of the biggest social changes that have negatively impacted our society is there is no longer a “stay at home parent”. It doesn’t matter if it’s mom or dad. Even if you have the best nanny, it’s still not mom or dad.

I was raised in a middle to upper class family with both parents working full time. That was my normal. When I had my kids I never thought anything different, just thought that is what we (parents do). Yikes! What a mess.

There is a significant reason why many households can’t have a stay at home parent….Washington…wake up! How many billions are we going to pour in to programs to support kids? How about being proactive and pay the Anerican parent what is needed for a quality of life that can afford a parent to raise their own child.

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bobbyjo

Please help hi I am a 26 year old mom with a 14 month old daughter and 7 year old son I work full time just starting off a s self employed business owner. I clean houses do everything from laundry dishes clean I no etc. So my day starts with getting the kids up and dressed fed breakfast etc. Feed animals get myself ready in 5 minutes get my son off to school and my daughter either goes to family daycare or comes with me to work. After woek go gwt my daughter Get home clean house get son off bus do homework start dinner kids play a little then baths and bed. Then bk to cleaning laundry prep for nxt day. I feel like I’m going crazy I have no patience o snap easily I’m just not happy. My boyfriend kids dad works alot and helps with well not much. I honestly want to run away. Plus I have crohns diease so I try not to stress out cuz I don’t want to end up very sick again. Any suggestions would b great.

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Jessica

Have you ever kept a log of what you are doing every 3-5 minutes? You are probably thinking “no way there is time to do that”! Try it. You’ll be amazed. Collect the actual information first. Then analyze and reflect. Then write a formal schedule. Allow 30 minutes of duty free and personal time. I know, 30 minutes is impossible. So break it up. Schedule in three 10 minute breaks. The break has to be quiet without distraction. The most difficult part of this is keeping a daily log for 1-2 weeks before beginning this strategy.

If the time is impossible to fit in, then make it something that your kids can join in on and leave you alone at the same time.

White noise- Lay or sit with eyes closed- if kids have to be with you have them do the same thing. They can’t touch you though. Try 5 minutes at a time depending on age of kids.

You may have to get creative and put pictures on the ceiling for the kids if they won’t be able to sit for a few minutes without your attention.

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Jessica

Quick summary:
35 yrs, mom of two (ages 7 & 3), married 10 yrs

Started career off strong and successful. Had baby number one. Took short time off and back to work because in this century most often middle class families HAVE to have two incomes. Going back to work was emotionally difficult. I got over it. Working mom (check), healthy child and husband (check), time and energy left for family (check).

Then baby number two. Took short time off. COULD NOT WAIT TI GO BACK TO WORK!

Career was good, time was decreasing, energy was running lower. Then the big promotion. My career goal, at a young age.

No more babies in the house but two fun and active kids. Time, time, time, energy….dwindling away at a slow rate.

Now, fast forward two years (to present). I love my job, love my kids, can tolerate my husband (most of the time). Kids doing well in school and then meltdowns, problems, sleep problems and more with the kids. My husband is very involved, beyond 50/50. Very nurturing and structured. Actually, the perfect parent and supporting husband who supports all decisions I make about life and career. So what’s the problem? He’s simply not “mom”.

No Dad bashing here at all but, in nature women are instinctly different to the male parent. It’s biology.

I am currently in the logistics stage of resigning completely to stay home and not only raise my kids the way I believe is best, but to have the satisfaction that I am able to provide calmer environment to live. It doesn’t matter how well my husband and I parent, but time you can not alter. Our children and we were stuffing from “chronic rushed syndrome”- yes, I just made that up.

I know that I’m doing what is best for my family because I’m able to walk away from my dream job with ease and a sense of calmness.

No more paying for someone else to raise and teach my kids, no more paying for a house keeper who cleans, and dies laundry. Yes, that affords me time, but that’s not what I want my children to know and experience.

Is the career woman/mom achievable?- certainly
Is it easier for some than others?- certainly

There is no right or wrong. It’s about the message and environment that you value for your family.

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Tooba

I am glad I found this website and I hope it will answer my questions. Iam a working mom age 35. I am a high school teacher works from 7 30 am to 3 pm. I have 3 kids age 6.5, 3.5 and 1.5. After school my brain is extremely tired and iam unable to give quality time to my kids. I have become irritated, short temper and no patience at all to anything which tries to ruin my routine. I implement after school routine effectively but iam never ready for anything which can delay or spoil it. I have been asking myself a question if staying at home and giving them quality time and education is important or earning a respectable income for our present or future well being is important? Iam swinging in between and I need help to resolve this. Please help me.

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Lindsey

I Googled “working mom tired and sick” and wound up here. I’m sitting at my desk unable to focus on work anymore. I am a new mom with a 6 month old baby. I love him more than anything, but stress constantly about not being enough for him. He started daycare 2 months ago and reverse cycle feeds so I am lucky if I get more than an hour sleep at a time each night. I try to go to bed with him around 9:30 and get up for the day at 5:30. I have been sick, just cold-like symptoms for about 10 days, but each day I feel more and more worn out and feel like a collapse/breaking point is near. I don’t know how much more working and not sleeping I can handle. My husband loves our baby, but is having a hard time adjusting to a new life schedule and is dealing with some other stressful issues due to my crazy mother in law, so pretty much all baby and house responsibility falls to me. I spend all my waking time feeling ovewherlmingly guilty; guilty about not being a good enough mom because it’s obvious from the changed feeding pattern that my baby wants to be home with me, but we need two incomes, guilty because I am desperate to make my time with my baby count, so I neglect household chores, personal care and my husband, who I know feels neglected, but I don’t what to do, and guilty for honestly being a low productivity employee since I’m so tired and consumed by stress about everything else. I don’t know why I’m randomly typing all of this here, but it feels good to write it down. Basically, I’m over-tired, I don’t feel good, I feel like I’m drowning in guilt, and I don’t know how to fix it.

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Laura

I am right there with you. Working mom with a 1 year old at home. I got to this site from a Google search as well because I feel extremely anxious, unhealthy and like I’m on verge of a breakdown. Leaving a kid with daycare or nanny is extremely tough for starters, let alone trying to be fully functional at work when you’re lacking sleep & highly stressed & limited on time.

I feel guilty for wanting a break. I feel like a failure for not finding time for me or my husband like how it used to be. I feel guilty for trying to wrap up work stuff when I’m home instead of fully dedicating myself to my baby. I feel In a black hole with debt with no escape, and how will I ever get to stay home and save for a college fund? At the same time hubby wants to try for baby #2. Ironically I want that too but HOW!? I get scared that I will have a full on breakdown soon.

I know my response is no answer for you, but you are not alone. Thank you for this website and comments. There’s got to be help somewhere for all of us…

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Lindsey

Thanks for the reply. It is helpful to know we’re not alone, even if there doesn’t seem to be any great answers. I feel you on the debt too, I’ve got a chunk of student loans that may never go away. I want to want another kid, mostly because I want my son to have siblings, but I have no idea how we’d handle it.

Good luck and God bless.

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Araceli

I’m a child care worker and a mother of three. Living on one income is tough so I have found myself having to suck it up every time I have the urge to quit. I guess things wouldn’t be so bad if my husband didn’t think that my jod both in and out of the home was a walk in the park. Yes I know his job is hard yes I know he comes home exhausted and still manages to get a few chorse around the house done. I just feel that despite all I do things just aren’t good enough for him. He’s hinted about me getting a part time to on the weekends which I refuse to do because it’s the only time I get to spend with my children. I feel like absolute crap any time I take a moment for myself because I already feel inadequate enough. I just want to be able to find peace in knowing that I am enough that I am appreciated and that what I do matters.

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