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.

{ 85 comments… read them below or add one }

fiona

I have read the above posts and am myself feeling extremely stressed. I have a child from a previous relationship and am happily pregnant again but my partner has admitted to being under extreme financial stress and expects me to continue to pay for the baby and take off time then go back to work fairly quickly.

We live in different homes and he has made no plans to support me when Im not working. I know Ill have to work until the baby is due and will again return to work to support myself financially.I feel sick of the pressure I feel and he is a kind man but does not see the need to support our future little one. I struggle to sleep and have been unable to tell family as the situation I am in would be frowned upon and they feel they would be expected to assist as they have been since my first little lady was born. I know they will be resentful and angry to be honest.

My partner has two children from an earlier relationship and pandas to them and I find it disturbing. He and his kids have been on holiday with us over the past few years as a blended family twice but drove off after his kids complained leaving me to look after myself and my daughter.

I cry a lot as Im 6 months pregnant and know Ill have to tackle this alone when the time comes and I may not be able to return to work as my stress leaves me feeling sick most of the time. I wish life was not so hard but he is happy I will work tutoring immediately after our child is born. He says he likes that I work so hard.

I dont know what to do but I suppose thats life. I just dont want to collapse and I can feel this burden on my shoulders everyday.

Thankyou for creating this site. Ive not mentioned my lonliness to anyone as I love him but I dont know if I can juggle anymore once our son is due. I feel a little better for just writing this down on paper instead of bottling my fears.

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Isabel

Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something
enlightening to read?

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Miranda

I really needed to read this today. I am a mom of 2 very active young boys and my husband and I work full time. I have so many pressures to deal with each day and it’s comforting to know that I am not the only one who feels overwhelmed. Thanks for this. There aren’t enough hours in the day to be a perfect Superwoman and that’s ok :)

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SM

This is exactly what I needed tonight to know I’m not crazy. while I was pregnant with my 5 yr old all the way till he was 9 months I was working 2 on your feet jobs. ( physical therapy and bartering) My husband just bartends. I got married took on a stepson and had our own son. Since my husband works mostly night’s I am like a single parent over half the week. with one child fulltime I could handle this so then I got pregnant with our daughter 2 yrs later. The struggles of being a practically single mom during most of the work week is a lot. I don’t get off till 7:30pm and don’t get home with the kids till after 8pm. What’s more frusterating is my husband thinks I have it easy. There is nothing easy about picking up a tired5 and 2 yr old coming home, fighting at dinner and bed time and then shortly passing out or insomnia about feeling like a bad mom for being a good mom and getting your Kidd to bed on time/ or not. There’s no winning. Then my husband who has most of the day to himself half the week complains to me about not having anytime out.(although he hangs out for 2plus hours once a week with his friends) The past few months I’ve had anxiety, insomnia and feel like I just want out of this marriage but don’t for the kids. Feeling hopeless….

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Tera

I am in the same boat. Three young kids, new challenging career, supportive husband and family, but…I do not feel good or normal. So wore out, very stressed, horrible migraines almost daily, terrible time retaining info and just cant seem to get it together. Most days I feel as though I am treating water and barely keep my head above it. Has me feeling like a huge failure. My youngest is almost 2 so the excuse of pregnancy brain does makes sense anymore. I have been secretly miserable. My boss probably regrets hiring me and I cannot seem to make him happy, mostly because I am overwhelmed and still trying to learn our industry. I know I have too much on my plate but cannot give anything up. I have to work. I just want to feel like I can take control of my life and feel good/successful and be a great mom and wife on top of that. Has me feeling like a failure.

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Katie

I can’t even describe how Comforting to feel like I’m not alone. I am 31 years old with a 6 year old son and a 21 month old daughter. My husband and I work full-time and since returning to work in April 2013, I consistently feel like a faliure. I never have time and am always juggling. I would give anything To reduce my work hours and have more balance. I don’t like to even complain because I assume everyone else manages so why shouldn’t I? Thanks for sharing and for creating this space.

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Michal Stawicki

It’s not only US, it’s everywhere.
My wife lost her job a couple of months ago and I think it’s a blessing. With my 12 hours commuting and job our 3 kids were seeing us only in the evenings.
It’s a crazy world. We need to work more on our relationships and less on making money.

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Lesley Versprille

I only noticed up until a few days ago that I am really struggling with being a single working mam. It was always in the back of my mind, but I put it down to being weak, moany, ungrateful. I had to admit it to myself after getting in the car to drive my son to school and getting severe stomach cramps. So severe that I was unable to move and cried out of pain. My son was in the car with me and was crying, afraid something would happen to his mam. I feel so guilty about having him to see this. I try to cover up my anxiety as much as possible, but I do think that my son sometimes thinks that I am stressed because of him. I try to tell him over and over that he is my happiness in my life, and that it is nothing to do with him, but sometimes I do get cross with him too quickly without the need to. I feel that I walk around feeling guilty all the time, although nobody would ever think that I am. I fool myself sometimes by portraying an image where I am always happy, energetic, full of joy for life. People around me say I make being a single full-time working mam look easy. So why do I feel unable to cope sometimes?

I want to fill my son’s life with happiness, joy, activities, so that he doesn’t grow up with an image of a stressed mam/woman. I want him to see that women are strong, able to love, to work, to enjoy, to socialise, to … As a matter of fact to do everything. Everything embodied in one person. All my family is across the border, and although my ex-partner has recently increased his level of involvement enormously, it makes me feel even more unable to perform being a ‘perfect mother’. I never remember my own mother investing the same level as I do, although she was at home and wasn’t working. I guess she didn’t have all the propaganda throw on her of how to be this perfect woman. She took it easy, provided us with the basics, we grew up to find our own goals and desires. Yet the responsibility I lay on myself for being perfect in all aspects, with my son, at work, with my friends, with ‘boyfriends’, with my home, looking good, up-to-date with the latest news etc.

Is this the emancipation we have been fighting for? Is this feeling of never doing enough something we have to live with as part of that? Are we meant to be super humans, with no desire to have a state of mind that is relaxed?

I am rambling on. I love my son and I should be grateful. And I am, most of the time. Letting go of guilt is what we need to battle for. Seeing ourselves for the light that we are, the effort that we put, the love that we give; we actually are super humans and should be proud of ourselves….

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Dawn

I can really identify with a lot of the comments! I am 33 years old and the mother of an adorable 2-year old daughter, and I am 13 weeks pregnant. I am an attorney with my own law practice, and I regularly work 50 hours a week, if not more. I am actually sitting here on Sunday afternoon at my office trying to get ready for a hearing tomorrow, but can’t seem to force myself to do it. I have 100% financial responsibility for myself, my daughter, my husband, and the new baby. I am trying to pay all our regular bills (which are extensive due to student loans and medical debt), the new OBGYN bills, and save up enough money to be able to pay all of the household bills and the business bills while I take a few weeks off when the baby is born. I feel like I am drowning, and I’m wondering if I’ve made a huge mistake having another baby. I am so stressed out. My husband quit his job 18 months ago after experiencing an anxiety attack, and he has absolutely no interest in getting another job. I have asked him numerous times, and he always comes up with an excuse why he can’t. However, he doesn’t have any problem telling me that he thinks my business needs to be bringing in more money, and coming up with more work for me to do, even though I’m already working 8 am to 6 or 7pm most days. He does help do clerical work in my office 2 days per week. I can’t help but blame him for my stress. He recently came to me and told me that he had lost nearly 20 lbs since he quit his job, and that he thought it was due to a lack of stress. Funny, since that time, I have gained 17 lbs (before getting pregnant), and my doctor specifically said it was due to stress. It makes me so sad that I barely get to see my daughter, and when I do, I’m so tired. I just feel like I can’t take it anymore. Anyway, thanks for listening!

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EllenSG

I sometimes want to just leave and walk away.
Being financially independent as a single person is one thing but having to be a working mother who has to split half the house hold bills plus maintain herself without any support from the husband is a bloody torture.
Work is never ending. Housework is also a torture. Plus a4 year old who never stops asking why mummy why ia that mummy. … I haven’t had a night out since forever.
No body understands the sufferings of aa working mother. I wish I was a homemaker aka SAHM…. sadly that is my dream….

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Leslie

I am a full time working mom with a demanding career, a 2 year old daughter who has a rare intestinal disease, and a husband who travels in the spring and fall for about 90 days each… I have forgotten to pack lunches, forgotten shoes for my kids, forgotten my husbands birthday, etc… There has to be a way I can do all this… Well “I” can’t do all of it, but with the help of others I can stay sane. I find others mommies in my area who are just as stressed and spread thin and we try to console each other. It’s ok. :) and this too shall pass… Two of my favorites!!

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