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.

{ 101 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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Sandy

I’m so glad I found this blog. I feel better at least knowing I’m not alone but then that makes me sad that other people are suffering too. Maybe we can help each other by just being here for support. It’s like torture to continue this way of life. I dream of being a stay at home Mom too. There has to be something we as working Moms can do to change this. I wish I knew what it was.

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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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MarySue

I NEEDED this today. I have one- just one- child, but I work full time and have barely gotten any sleep while my daughter (almost 2) has been waking up again 4-5 times per night for the last week and a half. I have a supportive husband and a comfortable (if not steady) job, but I feel like I’m just surviving, not living. It’s all I can do to keep up with basic hygiene and home responsibilities.

This morning, I was so frustrated with my little Grump that I wanted to hit her. I didn’t….but I felt like shit that I wanted to. I still feel terrible about it. It’s days like today that a not-small part of me wishes I could un-do the last two years. Days like today, it’s so hard to feel like it’s worth it. I’m just too tired to feel much of anything but frustration and anger. I can’t imagine doing this with more than one kid.

I don’t feel like I can say this to any of my other Mom-friends. I’m just so tired of everything that it takes just to make it through the day.

Thanks for creating a space where we can vent these feelings.

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Les Légendaires

Have you ever considered publishing an ebbook or guest authhoring on other blogs?
I have a blog based upon on the same subjects you discuss
and would really like tto have you share some stories/information.

I know my subscribers would appreciate your work.
If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

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Julie

I am a working mom and have a 2.5 year-old-boy whom I love dearly. My husband is amazing and most days I do love my job. But over the past month, I feel burnt out and have desire to try to make it all go smoothly. I’m feeling depressed and rundown and have very little time to simply put my feet up. I am adding to this blog because I am interested in connecting with other mothers who struggle daily like me. I wish I could simply quit and make changes but financially it is impossible.

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Sandy

Yeah I feel the same way. Why is it so difficult to raise our children? It doesn’t make sense. I’m overwhelmed and frustrated a lot because I just get so run down. I feel guilty too because I wish I could spend more time with my daughter. It breaks my heart to have to leave her and go to work.

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Kisha

I came across the blog tonight and it describes exactly how I am feeling. I am 33 yrs old, a mother, wife, full time employee and a full time student. I also have my mother I worry about and my step mom who has brain cancer. Every day is a struggle to get moving. I’m mad all the time. My daughter is my life and my husband is awesome. But for the last year or so it’s been really hard to show any love. I want to hug my daughter, I want show her and my husband how much I love them both. But it’s too hard. Every night after every one is asleep I cry until I vomit. Sometimes I think everyone would be better off the with out me. I don’t know how make things easier to deal with. I don’t want to lose my husband and I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking I didn’t love her. Every little thing makes me angry. I just wanted to make the feelings go away. Every day life is hard too hard to deal with…

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Scarlett

Wow. It is at least comforting to know I am not alone. I make more money than my wonderful husband and the pressure of keeping up with the workload and taking care of our two young children has worn me down. My job is based on a production system so when I fall behind I have to work nights and weekends to get back on track. My relationship with my husband is suffering. He is patient with me but doesn’t know what to do. I am on the verge of just quitting. If we can’t pay the mortgage oh well. I sympathize with feeling like everyone would be better off without me too. I have thought about medication to help but can’t bring myself to go that route. I also sympathize with working so hard to get the college degree and live “the life” and now I am working a boring job and can’t seem to find the energy to engage my kids when they are home and my poor husband gets no time. His mistress is video games.

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Sandy

OMG I know….it’s so insanely hard. I don’t know why or how we are expected to keep this up. This is not how God intended this to be….that’s what I believe anyway. There has to be a better way. I cry some nights and sometimes I even cry during the day. I have had so much weight to carry around for years….I have paid most of the bills and expenses for our family and am finally truly fed up. I don’t know how to muster up more energy or a positive attitude anymore. We have to find a way though for our kids. I try to stay positive and at least be there for my daughter when I can and always feel so guilty because I have to work and then do housework and dishes and stuff too…..hang in there. Hopefully something will let up and improve soon. We have to have hope and just try the best we can to do the best for our children. Luv ya!

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Sandy

Thank you so much for your blog. I feel like I’m going crazy. I was working 60+ hours a week and trying to manage taking care of my sweet little girl who was at the time 1 year old. I wanted to stay with her and quit work as soon as I had her pretty much but that wasn’t an option for me. My husband was fired from his job when our daughter was only 1 month old. I went back to work full time when she was 2 months old and I hated being away from my baby. It’s grueling and heartbreaking to have to leave your child when you don’t want to. I wish I was one of the lucky ones who can stay home and be with their babies. After working about a year of too many hours…..I finally broke down….at work because they wanted the employees to work more hours….I started crying uncontrollably. I explained that my daughter at the time was suffering from eczema and not sleeping well at night. My boss and I felt it was the best decision for me to take leave and then work part time. That was the best decision I made. The only problem was that my husband still hadn’t found work, which was another huge frustration. I started resenting him for being able to stay home with our daughter and I was forced to work. He was studying for an exam to get a better job….that was 2 years ago and he is still studying because he still hasn’t passed. He is working full-time now but it takes both of our salaries to pay all of our living expenses. Why do we have to live this way? Why are we forced as Moms to go to work and leave our children???It makes me furious. I’m very sad because my husband said for a long time that we couldn’t afford to have another child. That broke my heart. I desperately wanted my daughter to have a sibling. Now that I’m 38 he has agreed to another one but now I feel like I’m too old. We tried for a while with no luck and now I’m on Birth control pills for two months because supposedly that’s supposed to help some women conceive. I wish things were different and it wasn’t so difficult to raise children these days. It SHOULD NOT BE THIS WAY!!! There must be a better way.

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Erica

I know this post was created some 4 years ago, but it rings true to for so many EVERY SINGLE DAY. I really identify with everyone here. I had no idea so many women are as frazzled / depressed / anxious / tortured / ruined as I am. I just assumed the pristine homes and cute kids of my colleagues proved that I AM THE FAILURE–NOT THEM. Apparently not. They are the exceptions, or they are getting gobs of help.

I am at my wits’ end and have now made a stupid, emotional decision to move the kids and me out of town to an easier employment situation while my husband remains in another state, waiting to be hired into his dream job. BTW, his dream job may not materialize for another 3-5 years! I will still be supporting all of us–now 2 households worth of bills–while we await this dream job. When will this ever end?!? Something has to give in this country. Women cannot expect to have it all. And, the cost of an education is so ridiculous that we remain forever tied to our jobs just to stay afloat after college.

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Leah

Hi Katrina,
Thanks for your honest and challenging words. I just came across your TED talk and then looked up your blog, and so strongly identify with much of what you’ve said and written. I also, when at a crisis point, recently started a blog – one that explores the intersection of motherhood, faith, and depression. It’s interesting to think about how career/vocation/calling/work fits into the picture, and I’ve recently written a few posts about that as well, since I struggle with it daily. (I’m a part-time-work-from-home-full-time-primary-care-provider mom of two.) Anyway, wanted to say thanks and that I feel like I’ve found a(nother) kindred spirit in this difficult journey. — Leah

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april

I struggled for years to do everything with a smile on my face so everyone else felt comfortable. cant do it anymore. poor kid got ripped off because we got screwed and all i can do is work and wait to die. it will all be over soon, and I didnt do the one thing I wanted to do, be a good mom. I used to be, was even proud of myself for it, bit Im not anymore. stress, depression, isolation and zero support wore me out. good luck to you all.

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Jan

Thank you for sharing this post. I am a full time working mum with a very demanding job- being the specialist responsible for an entire geographical area of patients , many of whom are critically ill. I leave home at 6.30 , returning late many days, and still having to tutor 2 out of 3 of my young children. To make it all seem worse, I am also doing a part – time degree. I have come to the realizaton that I cannot do ‘all things’ , and I handed my notice in today. I am going on vacation, and yet I am so very stressed.
I am however looking toward the light at the end of the tunnel , and hoping that I feel better in a few months’ time, when I eventually leave.
I have decided that I will live my life the way I orchestrate it and now how a job demands me to , and I aim to go into private tutoring , and online retailing.

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