I doubt that when Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown coined the much-evoked, much-loathed phrase "having it all" she spent her evenings weeping into her nursing bra over a cheese sandwich.
But halfway through my first week at a new job after a 14-month maternity leave, I was doing just that.
Despite my best intentions, supportive managers and obliging traffic, I still found myself once again rushing to my son's daycare to pick him up about 20 minutes late. I burst through the door of the infant room just in time to see the teacher place him in a highchair.
"We were about to serve him dinner," she said, gesturing pointedly at the clock. "He's pretty hungry, so here's a snack for the road."
Then she handed my one-year-old son a cheese sandwich.
I responded as anyone in my situation would: with full-scale panic.
Was it the fact that I didn't know my own son could eat a cheese sandwich without choking to death?
He'd never eaten a proper sandwich before, at least, not as far as I knew. I was still cutting all his food into small pieces since he tended to eagerly cram anything he could get his hands on into his mouth by the fistful, and I didn't actually want those baby CPR classes to pay for themselves if I could help it.
Before I could slap the sandwich away and bolt to the car while mentally penning my resignation letter — "Dear new boss, we had a good run, but my baby needs me to stay home and cut up his food until he's 25." — my son grinned at the teacher, took a proper bite, then swallowed it and took another.
Was it the fact that I didn't know my own son could eat a cheese sandwich without choking to death? The fact that — despite the weekend I'd spent batch cooking stews while swearing under my breath about the patriarchy — I couldn't manage to get my child home in time for dinner? Or the fact that I'd still left my office earlier than most of my co-workers?
Whatever the culprit, I spent the entire 20 minutes when I nurse my son before bed blubbering apologies to him, and trying to explain (in between verses of "You Are My Sunshine") that a lot of mamas work outside the home, but that doesn't mean they love their babies any less.
Women now represent nearly half of the Canadian workforce, a 30 per cent increase over the last 40 years, according to Statistics Canada. But they still take on the bulk of household chores and child-care responsibilities.
Add to that the never-ending mom guilt; studies showing that children who attend daycare tend to be more aggressive and defiant; opinion pieces that shame working moms; and a constant flow of "helpful tips" for mothers (such as coordinating an elaborate family calendar with the precision and timing of a military operation) — and trying to achieve that elusive work-life balance suddenly feels like more work than work or life itself.
A lot of mamas work outside the home, but that doesn't mean they love their babies any less.
It's no wonder that a quarter of working moms cry at least once a week due to the stress of "having it all."
I've always been a bit of a zealous workaholic. Former co-workers still like to remind me of the cold Red Bull, sweet candy and salty language that got me through the late nights, early mornings and off-the-clock events that so often come with the territory of my industry.
But after a year of focusing all that energy into keeping a tiny human alive (Red Bull might have helped, in hindsight), my major concerns with returning to work weren't "How will I succeed?" but "How will I succeed, get out the door on time without looking homeless, feed my child nutritious meals so that he won't get rickets, not live in utter squalor, and still spend time with my son before he realizes I'm not, nor have I ever been, cool?"
I posted the question in my ever-sage Facebook mom group, and it turns out that on top of keeping their jobs and raising their babies, my fellow working moms spend their evenings and weekends putting in overtime at a third job: attempting to achieve work-life balance.
Their "free time" is spent cooking and freezing food for the week ahead, laying out five days of clothes for the entire family in hanging organizers, waking up an hour before their kids just so they can shower and dress (my baby wakes up at 5:45 a.m. most days, for reference), and doing just enough house cleaning that their kids aren't seized by protective services.
As I spend yet another weekend pre-cooking stews that my son will probably just whip at the cat because he's too tired to eat by the time I get him home in the evenings, I remind myself that at least he'll grow up in a household that exemplifies a successful working woman and a supportive working husband.
Surely that will be good for him.
Maybe even as good as a cheese sandwich.
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