Dear reader,

Today’s post is an exercise in extremes, pulling back the curtain and offering a glimpse at the ugly emotions that creep in sometimes: anger, jealousy, selfishness, and guilt. However, I hope it brings you comfort to know that another mom feels some of the same mixed emotions you do.

Maybe there’s a spit-up stain on your new blouse, and maybe you are running a few minutes late because it was a rough morning, but overall, you’re living the dream: you have a successful career and a family. Lucky you.

To the world, you are a power mom. You take pride in your work. You enjoy the chance to tackle problems and excel at projects. You proudly earn promotions and raises and willingly accept new challenges and responsibilities.

But I see through that exterior. I know it’s not all roses.

You sit at your desk each day in a cloud, fighting the fatigue of the latest sleep regression, or the braindead feeling you feel whenever you hook up to the breast pump, or the sadness only you can know of having a piece of your heart miles away at daycare without you.

toddler at preschool

The world sees a woman “determined” to have it all. Maybe you, too, assumed it would always be that way. But deep down, you know the current truth: the only reason you sit behind that desk every day is for the money or, sadly, the health insurance. Whatever the reason, some financial tipping point keeps you behind your desk each day, but barely.

I see you shrink, wither, or fume at the well-intentioned words of strangers or – worse – loved ones whose goal is to help you make peace with your choice. You bristle because the reasoning others employ makes it sound like the universe is doing you a favor.

They tell you that you should be thankful you get a break each day. You’re no stranger to hard work; you’ve never shied away from it. You know that staying home is no picnic, but you’d willingly trade places in a heartbeat. No amount of platitudes, however well-intended, will make you feel better for leaving your home and progeny to serve someone else’s needs. Even if you love your job and coworkers dearly, they are not family, and you know that serving your growing family is your true calling at this stage in your life. You carry the darkness of a dream left unfulfilled each day as you smile and nod and tackle that next deadline.

woman with glasses

The world sees a brilliant career woman, and those close to you smile knowingly and conclude that you’d likely be bored if you stayed home all day. They assume that’s why you went back to work. These caring individuals may think they know you, but they are not you. You know your days would be far from boring with your little one. They’d be filled with play dates and trips to the library and the park. Naptimes spent researching new learning games. Charity work. Hobbies. Boredom is in the eye of the beholder, and the hours drag by slowly when you’d rather be taking walks, collecting leaves, or finger painting.

toddler walking

Deep down, you feel like you are being punished for being what society considers smart, for having a few academic and career accomplishments under your belt. Like this somehow excludes you from the ranks of other stay-at-home moms. If you were able to stay home, those close to you would, inevitably, look at you and see a woman “squandering” her talents. But you know what an unfair analysis that is. It implies that you gained nothing out of the process of going to school, challenging yourself, and learning new things if you do not continue to use that little piece of paper you received when you graduated.

The notion that you would “squander” your talents at home also implies that being a stay at home mom does not require smarts, when in reality it takes smarts for scheduling and planning and researching child development. Just because you are caring for a child does not mean you yourself will regress to the level of a child. You know that raising your child is mentally and physically challenging — even more so when you feel caught in limbo.

You smile for the world to see, but you get sad, angry, or jealous whenever you see friends post a photo of what they are doing with their child(ren) while you are at work. You feel a knot in your gut each time daycare sends you a note or a photo – bittersweet pangs of regret that you weren’t there to share in whatever new experience your baby had while you were away.

Like it or not, you remain stuck in your role as a working mother. And so every day you fight an invisible battle with yourself, knowing your place is at home, but knowing that it would place undue hardships on your family. You know you have to find some way to make peace with your circumstances, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I invite you to share your own thoughts and struggles as you make peace with the desire to be with your child vs. the need to work. If you’re comfortable doing so, I would love for you to email me with your own story. I will publish any feedback I get anonymously as a follow up to this entry. And of course, I plan on publishing a companion entry exploring some of the gratitude that balances out this darkness, too.