I’ll be making a return to full time work in the fall. As the last few months of maternity leave slip away, I am filled with conflicting emotions of excitement, sadness and fear. As much as I have loved this past year of being home with my kids, watching them grow, I am eagerly anticipating the return to work. Work that I am both good at and proud of. As for many women, there exists in me an itch for alternative purpose – to feel skilled at something else, to be of service to others. Yet, I’m sad in a grieving sort of way for how quickly this year went by and how fast my children are growing up. And the fear? It’s an anxiety that stems from the nagging question, “Are you going to be able to handle it all?”. Am I going to be able to add one more role to my existing repertoire?
There are days now where I feel like I am in a million places at once. Doing a one-woman stage performance, playing numerous roles, just barely managing the costume changes and making the theatrical cues for the next act. Adding another role will shake up the entire performance. It will mean shifting schedules, additional preparation, extra planning to make sure I’m fitting all of my priorities into my day. Where will the workouts go? The bedtime stories? Grocery shopping? When will I have time to be with my friends? To floss?
As a woman, how many roles do you have in your life? Maybe you’re a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, and/or a colleague?
The expectations of what women “should” be capable of has shifted so much in the last 50-100 years. As women have paved the way to establish gender equality and recognition, our roles have increased, expanded and evolved. Society has changed. Feminism has changed. What hasn’t changed is that women continue this stubborn mission of doing and having it all while carrying a sense of guilt and inadequacy for the things that didn’t do to the highest standard or just plain didn’t get done. There is this persistent undercurrent of needing to be better and of never quite being enough in a world demanding more.
I remember watching a commercial where a family is sitting at the table, the little boy is rambling on and on about his friend’s mom who does this and that. Then he says to his mother “Timmy’s mom” makes the BEST DINNER EVER too. The commercial pans to the mother’s face which crumbles in utter defeat. You can FEEL her sense of failure over not having delivered to her family something as good as “Timmy’s mom”.
Okay, first, I’m not even going to tell you what I would have done to that kid if he was mine. Secondly, WTF? This is OUR mentality?! That, as women, we are never quite measuring up to “Timmy’s mom”? That we need to be BETTER in some way? Even an ad company knew to make a play at the maternal guilt issue. And the worst part is, as women, we are contributing to and allowing this by choosing to not believe that we are enough.
The expectation is that we give each and every role in our life exceptional time, attention and effort – and if we aren’t capable of doing that, then eliminate or drop back in one of the roles. Some women, however, are not afforded this option and some wouldn’t elect it even if it was offered to them. There seems to be an overall limiting belief that women can’t have it all – a powerful career, a powerful role in their household, relationships, and with their children, an individual sense of self AND a strong feeling of self-worth and accomplishment.
But, rather than succumb to defeat, many of us tap into a stubborn willpower and a refusal to surrender. We fight, we run the rat race, filling the day with productive pursuits only to end the day feeling insufficient, as we fall into bed exhausted, but still going over the lists of things we didn’t accomplish that day…
Which begs the question…
WHY are we doing this to ourselves?
In Shonda Rhimes’ Darmouth commencement speech, she states that “Lesson #3”, is that anyone who tells you they are doing it all and doing it perfectly is a liar. She explains that when interviewers ask her how she does it all – balance being a powerful working woman and a powerful mother – she says, she doesn’t. That whenever she is succeeding in one area of her life, she is inevitable failing at another but that this is the Faustian bargain women make because with these two great responsibilities comes a constant feeling of ineptitude, guilt, and never really knowing how to navigate making everyone happy.
Now I love Shonda. LOVE HER. She is in my top 5 women whom I admire and hope to have wine night with one day. But I am going to challenge this notion of failure. Why are we allowing ourselves to feel incompetent and guilty? If you are a mother, you know this feeling I am talking about. Hell, I’VE CERTAINLY FELT IT. I’ve ran like crazy person, trying to be in a million places at once, be the BEST at everything – the best nurse, the best wife, the best mother, the best hostess, the best cook, grow some vegetables, make cookies from scratch, keep the floors clean and then pretend it was easy. HA! Get real.
I am one person. I don’t bake unless it’s Christmas. Plants shrink away from me at the store because they know I won’t be good to them. Some nights, Emmett’s dinner consists of Pringles and ketchup. Sometimes it takes a ridiculous amount of coffee to get through the day…and let’s face it, my floors are a lost cause. I’m pretty sure every single time I put the mop and bucket away, a sticky beverage proceeds to be spilled across a ten-by-ten-foot radius…it’s literally a predictable event.
On the other hand, I am an awesome planner. I kill it in my workouts 99% of the time. No, scratch that, I kill it 100% of the time because I show up and I do the work. When my friends come over, I give them my undivided attention and I do my best to make sure they leave having received something. I dance and laugh with my kids daily. I have compassion, intuition and intelligence that all make me an excellent nurse and I am phenomenal at starting IV’s. I have a genuine interest in life and for the ideas that inspire flourishing happiness and adventure. Those are some great qualities. Those are the best successes in my life right now.
Shauna Niequist writes, “it’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about, what’s hard is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.” Shauna says she sat and made two lists. One was the list of things she did do, the things she wanted her life to be about. Then the second, the more important of the two, was the things she doesn’t do in order to do the list of things she believes in. This has stuck with me. Every time I get an inadequate feeling creeping up on me, I ask myself if what I am worrying about is part of the list of things I DO in my life or is it on the list of things I DON’T DO. And if I determine that it’s on the DON’T DO list, it’s time to let it go. The beauty about these lists, is that they are not life sentences. Someday, gardening and baking cookies from scratch might make it to the “Things I Do” list, but not today friends. Not today.
So, what I would like to challenge about the idea of failure, is rather than view success in some areas as consequent failings in other areas, why not pat ourselves on the back for all that we are getting after on our “Things I Do” lists. Why not give credit to the multitude of roles we are fulfilling and doing well and decide to let the other stuff go.
I KNOW that I will handle this transition back to work like I have handled every other change this past year…
LIKE A MOTHA’ F%^&* BOSS, THAT’S HOW.
I will take it one momentary challenge, one morning, one day, one week at a time until we slip into a rhythm that feels natural and seamless. There may be days where I don’t always feel like I am winning, or where certain things fall to the wayside. That is when I am going to listen to my inner boss that says, “Pfft…girl, you got this.” And with some grace, a whole lot of compassion and a focus on all of the things I am doing well, completely nail it.
I am going to leave you with a quote from the end of Shonda’s speech that I love so much…
“I want my daughters to know and see me as a woman who works. In their world mothers’ own companies and run Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. And I am a better mother for it. That woman is a better person, a better woman, because that woman is happy. That woman is whole, that woman is fulfilled.”