The unspoken truths of mothers on top

Last week, in one of the highlights of my year (and okay, life), I was honored to sit down in a small group of New York-based writers over lattes and lemon pancakes, along with Anna Quindlen. She is only one of my all-time favorite writers, and possibly yours too, if you’re a parent who writes. As Lisa Belkin so aptly put it, Anna’s 1980’s New York Times column, Life in the 30’s was in a sense, the very first mom blog.

It was like one of those Chinese Food conversations–the kind where you ask a million questions, get a million answers, and no matter how much information you consume, you’re still hungry for more a moment later.  I could have gone on forever if the other women at the table didn’t have their own questions too, damn them.

We talked social media (Anna promised her children she’d never join Facebook). We talked women in the newsroom (there were none). We talked career accomplishments and Philadelphia accents and how great Lisa Belkin is; stay-at-home dads and the joys of public schools, the New York Times paywall (a good thing) and why teenagers aren’t so bad after all. And of course, we talked about her new novel Every Last One, which is, so far, exquisite. And then as we segued into the old life-work balance mythology conversation, I asked her about a topic that’s been on my mind for a while: entrepreneurial women.

Or specifically, female entrepreneurship when you are the primary earner of the family.

I have so so few people to talk about this with. And what can I say–Anna reminded me of my mom, in the best possible way. So I just sort of blurted it out. And it’s been on my mind ever since.

I am in a relatively unique situation. I’m not only doing my best to follow my bliss with my website, my writing career, and my advertising career, but I have to feed my family through it all. Nate brings a lot to the household, but a fat paycheck isn’t one of them. So when people ask me how I “do it all” (a misnomer If I ever heard one–I certainly don’t do it all. You see all the things I do, but you do not see all the things I don’t do. But that’s another post.) my first thought is often, well, what should I give up then?

Every day I struggle to find the balance, not just between work and home, but between work and fulfillment. Between security and passion. Between the bills I have to pay, and the whole living my dream thing that we daughters of feminists were promised in the 70’s.

As Anna pointed out, working mothers are acceptable and accepted today. In fact more mothers must continue working now because of the economy. One-third of all US households now have a woman as the primary earner. And yet, she reminded us, we still do more of the housework and household management. This is nothing you don’t know, my friends; we still send the thank you notes, manage the playdates, buy the birthday gifts, sign the permission slips, plan our own Mother’s Day brunches, kiss the boo-boos, attend the PTA meetings, redecorate the kids’ room, and fold the laundry, all while reassuring our husbands and partners that they’re valuable too.

(Okay, you got me. I don’t fold the laundry. A girl’s got to delegate something.)

In other words, one-third of us are bringing home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, then washing the pan, and earning the money to buy a new one when that caked-on crud simply won’t come off.

Every so often I find an advertising colleague in my boat, and we shut the door of my office and in hushed whispers, describe the fears and the burdens and the exhaustion and the secret, horrible anxiety of what ifs. But in the blogging world, women like this are either far and few between, or we’re simply not discussing it. Maybe because we’re so busy “doing it all?”

So I want to talk about it.

I want to say that it’s hard. 

I want to say that I’m tired. A lot.

I want to say that there are inherent challenges when women have more financial power in a relationship. Your partner either has to be wildly confident in himself not to resent you…or, well, he’ll resent you. I only know how it works in our household, and I’d say at times it’s a little of both.

I want to say that sometimes, I feel more in common with working dads than working moms. 

I want to say that mothers face the kind of parental guilt when they work through dinner or miss a ballet recital for a business trip that fathers will never know.

I want to say that I love the “you go girl” aspect of women in business, and I adore those women who push others to follow their dreams, do their thang, explore their passions, quit their dayjobs and write that book/start that website/build that app/launch that consultancy. But I want to hear from those women who did it as single moms. Or as women who didn’t happen to marry hedge fund managers. Or as women who don’t have rich families to fall back on should Plan A turn into Plans B, C and D.

I want to say that my mother was right when she said “Life is a series of choices.” And that you always give something up to get something else.

The best you can hope for is not to be the crane in that Aesop’s fable, the one with a mouthful of grapes who sees his reflection in the lake, then drops all his grapes in an effort to grab more.

I want to say that despite all this, I’d do it anyway. Because even though it’s counter to the old adage, what I do, in a lot of ways, is who I am. I’d imagine a lot of entrepreneurial women feel the same way.

This week, I’m thrilled to be honored at the Advertising Women of New York Game-Changers Luncheon. I’m going to be sitting side by side with captain-esses of industry who are going to share their accomplishments and encourage us to take risks, initiate change, and forge new paths. But I will be also quietly imagining what unspoken challenges they faced on the way up.

And I will sit back thinking of Anna Quindlen, and the other amazing, presumed do-it-all-er moms of the world, and wonder when we can sit down and really, really talk.


126 thoughts on “The unspoken truths of mothers on top”

  1. I have given up looking for that 'balance'. I'm a working mom, and I find it VERY hard. Mostly, the guilt of leaving my boys to go to work. However, I do need to work. My writing provides me only a small income, and even though it's my greater passion, I still have to head into the office every day to bring home the real money.
    Every time I see a mom with her kids out and about when I'm at work, I get depressed. Then again, come Sunday night… I'm sometimes ready to go back to work. Sigh.

  2. What a wonderful post. I'm lucky enough not to have to feed my family with my “salary” which is the ONLY reason I was able to stick with it long enough to start actually earning something. It's a whole different ballgame when you're the one bringing home the bacon, and I admire you for it.

  3. Thanks for this post – so many of your thoughts resonate with me. I'm in the same boat as the breadwinner in our household and it brings with it all sorts of issues that I didn't really imagine in beginning. I too get lots of comments/questions about “doing it all” and recently wrote a post that candidly talked about my work-at-home rhythms and then things I have learned along the way:

    And I love Anna Quindlen – how awesome to have a sit-down conversation with her. She's very inspirational.

  4. I think that the farther we move from the old furniture polish ads of the fifties, with women in heels and an apron with the finite needs of the household and their charges on their to-do list, the harder it is to find parallels that we can articulate.

    I used to complain that not having a tangible product or identifiable skill made it harder to take pride in what I did. Now I struggle with not being recognized as a business owner, not fitting in with stay-at-home moms, not fitting in with 40 hour a week work-outside-the-home moms and, not being able to say to my husband or my dearest friend that they really get where I am coming from.

    The liberty of creating form scratch a life—profession, family, passion definitely carries with it the expense of something else, a normalcy.

    I love hearing you say that it's hard, but there is another very real part of me that winces. Because this is hard and you do need to take a breath and let that out, but doing so translates to having to climb back up on that horse and get going again. And it is so damn hard, but then I think that it's the challenge that keeps us coming back.

  5. Thank you so much for your thoughts. I want to +1 them all over the place.

    Amanda, I think you nailed it. Forging new paths can be wildly fulfilling and horribly lonely at once. You all provide essential company.

  6. I'm with you too. I am a WAHM but also the primary bread winner as well as primary taker to swimming, doctor appointments and playdates. I have to travel for my job quarterly and luckily have a great support network that makes it all possible.

    That said, I've chosen a much less lucrative path than was possible with my JD, but one where I am present as much as I can be. Even though I love my choice, I still worry about money, balance, time and all the what ifs.

    I'm in a weird in between with few colleagues, but confident that this is the best choice for our family right now as odd and lonely as it can be. I love that there are others “here” that share my experience and thank you for rounding us up.

  7. I live this situation too. It comes with pressure and guilt, but I like it this way, particularly in comparison to the traditional marital dynamic I witnessed growing up. I believe that I'm setting a far better example for both my daughters and my son.

  8. Briliant post. Thank you for your honesty that this IS hard. You opened the door to a dialogue that needs to begin.

    I think it's also important to recognize the fact that there are so many women who leave steadfast careers behind, taking a risk to chase that dream (which may never come to fruition) who in turn, end up having to sacrifice along the way as well. Any way you slice it, being a working mom is the toughest job on the planet since we are in the midst of working to pay the bills, raising families, maintaining the home and trying to keep up with our own dreams.

  9. I hear you loud and clear. I knew the choice I was making when I married a ballroom dancer. I don't regret anything about our life, except the nagging suspicion my husband might feel he gave up a dream so we can build our life around my job. I am incredibly lucky to have a stay-at-home husband who is really good at parenting and house-ing. But it's a weird power balance, it just is, and while I feel proud and empowered to be the breadwinner, I also am acutely aware of that weird ancestral gender-based wiring that whispers from time to time: “this is not how it's supposed to be.”

  10. Thank you thank you thank you! My husband is a full-time student, and we have a 3 1/2 year old. I'm exhausted from working, keeping everyone happy, making sure they have food to eat, cleaning up after them, etc.

    My only saving grace is that in 2 years, he'll graduate and hopefully get a job that pays more than mine so that stressor will fall away.

  11. It's good to hear from others who are working as the primary breadwinners with a stay at home dad/partner. On the one hand, I've never worried about the kids at all while at work. I know they're getting the best possible care with their dad.

    But I do worry about balance, although in a different way. He does all the cleaning and most of the cooking too. I might work on the thank you notes, but he does pretty much everything else around the house. And I worry that I'm taking advantage sometimes.

    But a single working mom? I have no idea how they do it. None. I'm exhausted all the time and I don't do laundry or dishes. I'm in no way a “super mom”.

  12. For me, the thing that ends up getting short shrift is… me. And that's a weird thing to say when I created a career out of nothing, as a single mom, without a safety net. Shouldn't my success there be wildly fulfilling to me? Sure. It is. And it isn't. Because my friendships suffer in all sorts of easy-to-predict but also really-surprising kinds of ways, because there's only so much of me, and my kids/job/husband/house/etc. all come before me.

    HELL YES it's hard. Anyone who says differently is selling something or lying to themselves.

  13. Angela, I wonder if working dads feel guilty about not doing more around the home. I'd venture to guess not.

    And thanks Mir for bringing up the old “I come last” point which is so so true. Also for using my favorite Princess Bride quote.

  14. Yes, this is a great post because it is hard, really hard sometimes. My husband is pursuing his own business while I hold down role of breadwinner along with everything else. I often find myself wondering when it will be my “turn” to pursue something I love and not just make sure I earn enough and have medical benefits. I want to support his dream, of course, but I also want a chance for myself. But I am so busy with being a Mom on top of working that I don't even have time to figure out what my dream is.

  15. I am not the primary breadwinner in my house (not even close), but I do feel the same tugs of balance and the questions about 'doing it all' simply because I work and have 4 kids.

    But the income I am bringing in has changed the dynamics a lot in our house, and after 12 years as a stay at home mom, we are totally struggling to find the right balance now. It involves lots of sandwiches for dinner, and ignoring the piles of laundry right now.

    I have written about it on my blog because I literally get asked EVERY day about balance. I decided I don't believe in balance anymore and just throw myself at what is most important and the rest just falls aside. I do make time for the kids and the hubby first though-that's my only must.

    I would love to see a meme where we all list all the things we don't do. It would be insightful and hilarious I'm sure.

  16. You married a chef, Stephanie married a ballroom dancer and I married a musician turned freelance rock critic. I hear you that it's hard to find other women who are the primary breadwinners for their families, but we're out here, following our dreams and ambitions and worrying not only that our kids will regret us not playing room mom but that one day the ideas will stop coming and so will the paycheck.

  17. Long before we ever had kids we knew that I was the person in the relationship that had the higher earning potential. Thankfully my husband thinks that this is fantastic and has never had a problem with me earning more than him.

    After having my daughter and moving, I hit a rough patch in my career that just now seems to be leveling off. It was a big adjustment. While I still make more than my husband, it is not a lot more.

    I totally get where you are coming from when you talk about balance. That is why my tag line is, “Finding the balance. Mom. Work. Life.” Because I know that is something I will always be looking for as long as I'm a working mother. Something will always have to give. Right now it is my house. (I really am an atrocious housekeeper.) I'm lucky that I have a husband that is a huge help. But I've learned he helps because I ask, and then I stand back and let him do it. I don't expect him to adhere to my standards or do things the way I would. After learning that and accepting it things got easier.

    But all of that said, it is still really hard. Regardless of my job or my paycheck or my career or whatever you want to call it, I'm still the mom. And the mom is the one. I'm the one that is responsible for all of us. It is hard. And exhausting. And some days I feel all used up. But I keep going. Because that's just what moms do.

    But it is so nice to know I'm not alone. Thank you for bringing this subject up. I wish more people would talk about it.

  18. Oh Lord, yes, this is HARD!
    My partner of 14 years left me in a cloud of mental illness, paranoia and anger almost one year ago and, whilst I'd always been the primary earner (often the only earner, let's be honest), suddenly finding myself responsible for EVERYTHING is, slowly, killing me. I work one full time job from home and one part-time job teaching (so the hours fit around schools and stuff). I deal with everything to do with our home, cooking, cleaning, laundry, school stuff, homework, PTA, activities, playdates, birthday parties… EVERYTHING.
    I feel like “me” has totally disappeared: I have no social life – even when the girls (aged 9 and almost 7) are with their dad (afternoons, etc. never overnights because he lives in a bedsit) I tend to stay home, watch DVDs or sleep – no hope of finding “someone else”, more debt than you would ever believe and, as of a couple of months ago, the obligation to pay my ex 38,000 € or have to move. So yeah, this has been a HARD year.
    But I know I'm strong enough to get me and my daughters through to the other side. What scares me is that most likely what'll fall by the wayside indefinitely is “me”.
    Thank you for showing that there are many, many, many of us struggling like this

  19. This? This is hard. It is hard because I love my children and want to always be there for them when they celebrate achievement and when tummies hurt and only mom hugs will do.

    I work outside my home. So does my husband, (I am the higher earner). We enjoy being able to give so much to our children because of the salaries we receive for our work.

    Also? We actually really like our jobs. I love what I do. I love using my brain like this. I enjoy my work and the difference I am making to my community.

    How do I do it all? Well.. I don't. I can't. And yes, it is hard. And I am tired too.

    And some times I sit at my desk and cry, because my baby is sick and I have an important meeting to lead and so it is my husband's turn.

    But really? When I really think about it, my life is wonderful. My floors are dirty, there is clean laundry that needs to be put away and the clutter has taken over the dining room table… but I'm outside tossing a ball around after work with my kid. And I stopped feeling bad about it.

    For me? I just say I can't do it all and feel ok about just doing the best I can.

    1. Oh! You are my hero for saying all that. That’s exactly how I feel. My house is dirty and I ache to spend time with my son while i’m at work but the second I pick him up from daycare and he’s in my arms, all that junk melts away and I’m all his. I’m reading and sobbing over all these comments over a year after they’ve been written…

  20. This is an awesome post, Liz. There is so much I could say on this topic, but I won't because (1) it would make my comment as long as your post and (2) I'm at work, supposedly just taking a quick look at my RSS feeds before I dive into the crisis du jour.

    So I'll have to come back later and read the comments and maybe say more.

    Right now I'll just say- YES. I make more than my husband, and while his income is nothing to sneeze at, we rely on mine to the extent that although I'd love to make some changes in my career, I can't do that without figuring out the finances.

    Sometimes I want to scream- “OK, I'll put my dreams on the slow track and squeeze them in around my 'real' work, parenting, housework, and all that jazz- but could I at least get a solid night's sleep while I do all that?”

    And the answer to that is, “NO.”

  21. I wish I could remember where I recently read the opinion that asking “how do you do it all?” was one of the rudest questions you could ask a working mother.

    She's either going to have to say something self-deprecating or something that implies the asker doesn't measure up. Either way it puts her in an awkward situation.

    There are quite a few challenging things about parenting or working while parenting that we should be able to talk about without being accused of whining or being told to suck it up (or worse that our choices were wrong).

    I'm lucky that I really like the company I work for. I don't feel guilty about working, but I do sometimes feel unable to do anything outside of work/parenting. I have an ill friend I owe a visit to, but I just can't make the trip down to CT for a day, because it will take too much time away from my kids. That's the kind of stuff I feel guilty about.

  22. I own a small business and I have two small children. One of my children has developmental issues. Also, I have spent the last two years losing 150 lbs or more. To say I am tired at the end of the day would be an understatement. Sometimes I feel like I can't do it all. I try not to give in to those feelings because at the end of the day my life is what it is. I can't change it. I can't change that very few people care if I am tired, sick, hungry or sad. I still have to do what I have to do. I can't change that when my children need me I am often not there. It helps that I have friends that do understand that are also working mothers. It helps that my husband allows me to be the control freak that I MUST BE in order to keep it all going. It helps that I have the knowledge that I am doing the right things for my entire family. When I am too tired to read “one more story” with my little girl NOTHING helps. I go to bed feeling guilty nearly every night of my life.

  23. Liz – This post really resonated with me, especially the about the inherent challenges when women have more financial power in a relationship. And how because I am in this role in my family, I too feel like a working “dad” sometimes more than feels normal. I am so glad that you raised this, it's so true, and it's something that rears its head in my own relationship, sometimes more in an unspoken way. -Alexandra

  24. Being a stay at home mom is hard. Being a working mom is harder. I am a stay at home mom. My son is going to be 2 this month and my daughter is 7 months old. I can't imagine doing everything I do at home and working a full time job on top of everything else. All of you moms who do it are incredible to me.

  25. Lisse, THANK YOU for that.

    Recently, on a panel, I was asked that question and it was horribly uncomfortable. I mumbled through something self-deprecating followed by an “it takes a village” reference.


  26. In my short marriage (3.5 years), I've always been the top earner; and for all but the last 10 months, the only earner. Things let up some last year when my son was born and I was being paid via maternity leave EI, so not actually having to leave the home. Recently, shortly after I found out I was pregnant again, my husband and I separated, and he first wasn't capable of contributing to our family income, and now hasn't made an effort to contribute. This change in our relationship had me returning from maternity leave early and now I am one of those things I swore I'd never be: a single, pregnant mom working full-time. I wake my darling son up early every weekday morning and cart him off to daycare, where somebody else gets to enjoy his enchanting little self all day. It's HARD. Not that my work is that difficult, not that I don't enjoy my job, but it's totally different being at work when you're a mother and you leave your baby with someone else, then when you just go to work. And while my money-earning job ends at 4:30, my mothering job begins then – there's still supper, laundry, cleaning, walking the dog, bathtime, bedtime, up a couple times at night….

    I'm not sure if this is what you were looking for and I'm not complaining because I feel this is my lot in life for this time of my life and I'm blessed to have the opportunities that I DO have. But sometimes it's good to be able to let somebody know what I do, to make this work, to take care of my son and unborn child, to make the best of what I have. It's nice to have someone recognize that there are women like me out there, struggling along and making what little happiness we can, for ourselves and for our children.

    1. Larita, you wrote this so long ago but you moved me and I’m compelled to say I hear you and well done.

  27. I love this! As a brand new solo practicing attorney and a single parent, finding that mythical balance is next to impossible. I'm blessed to be able to control my schedule, but that means I'm also my own hardest taskmaster. Right now, I network during the day while my daughter is at school, read, research, and seek out guidance and clients. At night, I put her to bed and then start my work up again.

    What I have found regarding balance is that it is a seesaw rather than a steady line. Some weeks I'm working long hours, some weeks there is a lull in activity.

    The essential element to my success through law school and up to now has been the unflagging support of my family–parents, siblings, aunts, and cousins–who are always there for us. I shudder to think how much more stress we both would have if they were not close by. I am frequently asked by acquaintances and strangers, “how do you do it?” in amazed tones. My response is always, “I just do. I have no other option than to press on.” That little girl relies on me and has complete trust in me that we will be OK.

  28. this is a great post. I'm not a mom but I have looked at these issues from a public policy perspective for many years and I can say this: we really do very little to support entrepreneurship in this country. we do even less to support women entrepreneurs. we do still less to support mom entrepreneurs. I think that's a shame.

    I think you deserve a lot of credit for raising such an obviously sensitive issue.

  29. Your written unspoken truths of mothers dissects the complex world of life refreshingly. This living thing is not easy for anyone, yet alone for women seeking and saddled with numerous roles.

    I enjoy your voice. Keep up your energy and irreverence.

  30. I can't even begin to tell you how nice it was to read your post. I work full time outside of the home and it's hard. It's so hard. My son is 1 year old and I hate every morning that I have to drop him off at daycare. I never feel like there's enough time on the weekends.

    The worst of all of it is both my husband and I want to have another child sometime very soon but something has to give in order for that to happen for us. I would give almost all of my salary to child care if I had to pay for two kids and it would just suck even more than it sucks now. Something needs to change for us but I'm kind of afraid of that and don't know how to make it happen.

  31. Thank you for this post. I often shake my head in amazement at how hostile the conditions are for juggling the reproductive and productive parts of our lives. When I was sitting in my university class 20 years ago learning about class/gender/race inequalities, I really had high hopes for the future. Now here I am in the future and I am saddened, NO, change that — ANGRY — that not much has changed. Yes, let's talk more about these unspoken topics.

  32. This is great. I am a single mother on a middle class income. If I had any sort of financial support at all, it would be great, but I don't, so I teach classes, I write sponsored posts, I do whatever I have to do to make sure I can pay for daycare (more than my housing expenses!), clothes, foods, and fun stuff like tumbling classes!

    I'm up at night working when my daughter is asleep writing because that is my passion. I realize it's important for me to keep myself inspired in order to be able to inspire my daughter. It does get hard. REALLY, really hard. But, I'm a mom. Making things happen is what we do.

  33. Although I am not exactly on the same boat, thank you for writing this post! I quit my advertising job to raise kids full-time. Losing the paycheck caused an identity crisis. So much so, that I began working from home because I needed to balance my choice with finding “fulfillment.” I'm not the primary breadwinner, but I still feel like I'm trying to do it all.
    Hats off to all the wonderful “mothers on top.” I admire each one of you.

  34. Thanks for giving me this post … today, of all days. I feel like the “dad” in our family. I bring home the bacon, but my DH does most of the nurturing work, such as cooking or bathtimes. This kind of gender role-switching can often make me feel inadequate or guilty. And yet, I can't see us living our lives any differently. It's nice to talk about it though. So, yeah, thanks.

  35. This was a great post Liz.

    Sometimes I think the idea of balance is just that, an idea. I know I'm missing something. Maybe lots of somethings.

    My situation is different than yours, although I used to be in the same one as you. I always feel like I'm missing things. I always feel like I'm just barely making it. Like my entire life is passing before me, while I work. My house is livable but never clean. My laundry is clean, yet never put away. My children think grilled cheese is a home cooked meal. I too, am always tired.


    Each night (whether they are with me, or with their dad) I know my children are happy. I know they are healthy and bright. They are so loved.

    Maybe that's what's important. That we do the best we can and we make the time we have count. Not that we can do it all, but that we do the best we can.

  36. I'm a working single mom. I work in a somewhat high-level corporate position with a Fortune 100 company. This post resonated so deeply, I took an early lunch hour (which typically, I never take) so I could just go sit in my car and cry. You hit it dead on. Adding to the fact that all I want to do is be a writer, and I spend as much of my 'free' time writing as possible… but with kids in elementary, middle and high school, all actively involved in academics, music and athletics… free time is a painful misnomer. Free time is spent following up on doctor's appointments, paying bills, running to the vet's office, folding laundry, cooking dinner, etc., etc., ad nauseum, ad infinitum. The point is, working mothers, whether primary breadwinners or not, still do a majority of the work at home in addition to their careers. And it can be lonely, hard and frustrating… and I don't think that is dependent on your marital status.
    Thank you for giving voice to what so many of us live, day-to-day.

  37. I really love this. My husband got laid off when I was pregnant. Even though he had unemployment, I was obviously significantly out-earning him and that's still the case. The odd thing? I kind of resent him sometimes. Because he's totally cool with it. And of course he is! I pay for our insurance, I pay for daycare, I buy all the baby clothes and incidentals. I have to say, having that responsibility means I am also responsible for MANAGING those bills, keeping them manageable. And it's just EXHAUSTING! Kudos to you for writing this and starting a meaningful dialogue.

  38. So glad you are not only talking about this, but getting to talk to other women who understand, and being honored for your incredible work…and self.

  39. What @zoesmom said. My husband makes more money, but since it's his own practice, he doesn't get paid time off, sick days, or employee-provided health benefits. So I'm back working full time, paying through the nose for daycare. I don't want to be a full-time SAHM — I want to work part time. Why isn't that an option in corporate America??

  40. Oh yes. Just yes. It is so hard. And we don't talk about it. For me, because I feel like by talking about how I make more money, do more housework and child care would somehow be disloyal to my husband. I know he “wants” to make more money, to be the man that provides more than enough for his family – he just doesn't, so I work and have the better paying job. And that's OK because he's the one to come home at lunch and see our kids, while I use lunchtime to pay bills, go to meetings or the grocery store.

    It's not equal. It's not easy. But it is what it is. I can't do less – can't work less, do less with the kids or less around the house – because then my kids would suffer, my husband and marriage would suffer and I would suffer. So, I keep going… day after day, thinking that that's just what big girls do. We do what we have to do so that our families thrive.

    But it would be nice to get some credit for it. As all mothers should – not just those bringing home a paycheck, because you're right… every decision for something is a decision to give something else up. Moms who stay at home or work part time are giving up something too.

    And now that I've left you a long, rambling comment, I'll just say again that I loved this post. And I'm so glad to see someone with the guts to say it outloud.

  41. Thank you all so much for honoring me with your stories.

    I agree Krista – a lot of us don't talk about it because it seems disparaging somehow to our husbands or partners.

    Mercedes, thanks for sharing that with me. Hang in there. I think single moms are the heroes of the world.

  42. Liz, I totally hear you on this — now that Jon has left corporate, we are more balanced than your and N's income arrangement, though I definitely feel the pressure to step up my earning, particularly since J has gone the poorly paid mental health counselor route and ideally wants to start leading retreats in remote yurts…

    But anyway. I think there are a lot of unspoken truths on both sides of the fence due to the judgment factor that comes in either way. I think here particularly of my mom, who has always been a very strange mix of super traditional (she took housekeeping to new heights by ironing my dad's boxer shorts) and modern (she did all the “man” things that my dad did not — such as driving the family car, handling all the finances, etc., while caring for 7 children). I love my mom tremendously but I feel judgment for working too much (because, you know, it cuts into the ironing of the boxer shorts time…) yet I think if I was not working, she (or someone else) no doubt would cast some judgment.

    I suspect the best we can due to break down these barriers is to keep talking (or writing excellent posts such as this one) and admitting when we are depleted. The other day, after squeezing in billable work whenever Violet was sleeping, giving Laurel her one on one time as soon as Jon came home, tidying the house, and making dinner, when it was time to “go to sleep” (in quotes because I currently am bedding with a 3 week old) and I was dreading nursing off my left boob because of bad latch issues, I finally broke down sobbing and let Jon see how goddamned spent I was.

    In my ideal, all is well world I would have liked to be superwoman there and hold my shit together, but the next day, he took the girls so I could sleep in and made me a latte as soon as I woke up. I can't speak enough to how those small gestures helped.

    Point being: no one will make kind gestures unless we show the cracks in our armor.

  43. Thanks for this post, Liz. I have nobody in real life to discuss these issues with and refreshing to see some discussion on the topic.

  44. I wish I had something more insightful to say, but I too am tired. And scared. Starting in July, I'm stepping my career up and meeting my husband in salary. I will no longer be able to pinch hit for the team the way I have been for the last 5 years. And I'm not sure that he knows how. So where exactly does that leave things? How exactly do we do it?

  45. AMAZING POST LIZ! As the sole money-maker in my house… I loved reading this. Thank you for putting this out there. My husband works his ass off in many other ways and he is the sole reason I'm still able to do this b/c he provided for us when I was trying to build something out of nothing. I applaud this post!

  46. Liz, I don't really have anything else to add to the conversation except to say that Anna Quindlen is also one of my all-time favorite writers. Her column “Life in the 30s” was one of the reasons I started my blog. I missed my opportunity to be a columnist because, well, life happens (marriage, a business venture/failure, two kids, a divorce, single motherhood, a remarriage, two more kids, and so it goes). I hope my daughter has an easier time achieving that balance that we all strive for.

  47. @Lisee: the article you're thinking of was written by Tina Fey in The New Yorker about 2 months ago. When I used to get asked how I did it “all,” I would say something along the lines of “I don't; what makes you think I do?” Or I'd ask the person to define “it all.” But I like a side of snark. I think it's more insulting to ask people if they're having more kids.

    I think balance is relative; my balance is probably not the same as anyone else's. I used to work full time because even though my husband earns much more than me, he's self-employed and has no benefits or health insurance. So I did the corporate thing, commuting and everything, to have healthcare and tax deductions. And I used to cry every time my son came home from preschool and said “So-and-so's mommy came to school today. When are you coming?”

    Then I lost my job in November, mostly because my boss got tired of me, and now I'm an accidental stay-at-home mom. The scale has tipped in the other direction because now I can volunteer at school, pick my son up at 3 instead of sending him to aftercare, make dinner, etc. But while I do not miss THAT job at all, my brain is slowing melting away while I try to figure out what to do next. So much for balance.

    I think the worst part of it for me is that my former boss was a WOMAN, who had worked fulltime herself while raising kids years ago. And instead of being supportive, or at least empathetic, she chose the attitude of “I made it work; you have to figure it out.” The low point came when I realized that my daycare at the time was no longer safe, and I ran out the door to get him out of there. She sent me an email later in the day telling me she was “uncomfortable with my lack of a Plan B.”

    Me too, lady. Me too.

    It's ALL hard. But we can make things easier on each other.

  48. Great post Liz! So many of us moms could not do what we do, if it weren't for great dads at home (me included). As the sole money-maker in my house it is a contstant struggle trying to balance it all and making sure my husband feels valued and appreciated too. Thanks for a terrific article.

  49. I feel like you stepped into my head with this post. My husband is an artist & freelance graphic designer. He stays home with our son, while I go off and do the professional woman thing. My job used to be my passion but sometimes it's an albatross–I don't feel like I can EVER let it slip even when it's not fulfilling me because I'm 85% of our income, and ALL of our insurance. The pressure that that brings is insane sometimes–I feel like I can't complain about a bad day at work or how frustrated I am by anything because it's not like I can “quit to follow my bliss” as one friend suggested.
    My husband feels the pressure of staying home and not having the time to devote to his art and also feeling like HE can't complain because I'm the one going out every day to the “real” job.
    I don't think “balance” in the way it's always discussed is possible. But I do hope my son won't feel the weight of my pressure on him–I can handle the guilt and the stress for myself, but I hope I don't translate that to him as he grows up. If I can keep him from feeling the pressure then I'll feel like I've got the best balance possible.

  50. Love this – thanks for saying what I think EVERY DAY!

    My only variation is that I don't love what I do. But I love where we live and our community, and to stay there, I need to keep bringing in this nice paycheck (which is higher than my husbands by 50%).

    We go round and round, and create 5 year plans and do all this crazy stuff. But in the end, my kids are happy with life, thriving and we love our life. Would I love to work part time, or be in a different job? Definitely, but for now, this works.

    I'll never be able to stay home full time, and it wouldn't be good for us to make that happen. But hopefully, when our youngest moves into K, I can start to stop worrying about the daycare bills and start looking to get into my passions.

    Thank you for writing this and helping express what is so hard for many of us.

  51. I'm in a different situation than you – I live in a small town and stay home with my girls, not earning a single cent.

    But the beauty of your point of view, of this post, of every single post of yours I've read, is that I relate to everything you wrote. I am grateful for your honesty and your eloquence. Our situations may be different but so many truths are universal and it helps me so much to understand, especially on a bad day when I think I should “just” get a job, that no one has the perfect balance, the perfect solution and we're all just doing our best to find a balance that works for our families.

  52. Wow, talk about 'nail on the head'. I'm a mom of two young kids, work in a corporation, am just finishing my MBA and hoping to be able to start my own business this fall. Which will need to support all of us. YIKES! Of all the great ideas out there, I keep waffling hoping it will make us at least enough to live comfortably, while still providing some sense of personal fulfillment that I don't currently feel. And then I feel wildly guilty that perhaps I'm being selfish by taking this risk.
    And it seems that there is NO ONE who thinks the same way I do about such things. Glad you wrote this.

  53. @Lisse and @Anonymous: Tina Fey wrote about the insult of the question “how do you do it all?” in an article in the New Yorker which I did not read but read about (since I'm one of those moms who can't do it all, include read more than RSS feeds on my phone while I nurse my son or on the train to/from work). She also touched on it when she hosted SNL last year (the very special Justin Beiber episode) and she touches on it in her book Bossypants which I am somehow managing to read (on my phone while nursing my son or on the train to/from work).

    IN ANY CASE, the main thing about mothers on top and how we do it all is that no one ever ever ever asks a working father how they do it all. In our world, it is expected that men work and most of them above a certain age are fathers but this role is almost always secondary to their day job. Have you ever heard a guy referred to as a working father? Yet women who work outside of the home are called working mothers? There's even a Working Mother magazine!

    (Unlike men, we are expected to identify first with the role of motherhood, career a very distant second. Even being an adult married person is not given the same status as mother. For example, think of yourself before you had children but after you had married or partnered up – when someone ask you to introduce yourself or say what you did, did you say, “Well, I'm a wife to Todd” or did you say, “I'm an accountant.” Now that you have kids you probably say, “I have two kids and I'm an accountant.”)

    Now a lot of the whole “doing it all” thing is my fault because I try to do too much. I'm simply not used to the reality that I'm not 25 anymore. I overcommit way too often which is why I have three jobs.

    When people ask me how I do it all, I say that I don't do it all and that I am always neglecting to do something very important at any given time. And that I try to make my husband do as much as possible because I'm very good at delegating and that's a quality of a very good leader.

  54. Several comments resonate w/ me. I am in a situation sort of like “Sarah's,” and I must aspire to her statement:
    “We go round and round, and create 5 year plans and do all this crazy stuff. But in the end, my kids are happy with life, thriving and we love our life. Would I love to work part time, or be in a different job? Definitely, but for now, this works.”

    I struggle to have this attitude. And to have understanding for my husband, who also probably feels that he “can't complain” as another poster said. “Probably?” Yes, another thing that's been neglected lately – communication with the hubs that is not extremely co-dependent.

    It's good to hear from you all.

  55. This post is the EXACT thing that has been on my mind lately. I'm a single mother, who has a full-time job, makes decent money, photographer on the side and manages to not loose my shit daily. I had boyfriend who left me because I was more successful (in a nutshell) than him. I was shocked and saddened. I imagine that this happens all the time. However, I will be damned to let my daughter believe that she has to be less successful than a man to be in a relationship.

  56. Thank you for this post – throughout most of our marriage, my husband and I both worked outside the home earning about the same amounts, but in the past two years he lost his full-time job (and hasn't been able to find another) and the freelance work has all but dried up as well. So now I'm continuing to work full time and he's home with our baby daughter and taking our son to and from preschool. Even harder than figuring out how to live on such a reduced income has been the mental adjustment of him learning to be the primary parent and me learning to LET him. It's hard, like you say.

  57. wow Liz! I'm speechless. Well not entirely as I'm about to write a comment here. I'm speechless in the 'you took my breath away' with your writing and your honesty. I live for posts like this that really, really talk about what's happening.
    I cannot chime in on the mom side of things, but I can chime in on what it feels like to run my own business and be the bread winner in my family. However, even as the bread winner, we still try to share all of our combined expenses down the middle – we both suffer from extreme 'fairness and integrity' syndrome. Even with that most of the stress we face as a couple boils down to financial, partly because neither one of us has a consistent paycheck that we can count on. That's challenging for a couple living in Los Angeles.
    As a female entrepreneur without kids, I get asked all the time “how do I do it all? and I say 'survival' combined with I love my work and I am inspired. When you have to rely upon you and only you to meet your expenses every month – you find a way. But the stress that can accompany that is not pleasant.

    I cannot imagine all of the female entrepreneur pressures + parenting. I really salute all of you mamas out there. Really, really.

    Every day we try to make peace with the inconsistency and remember that a sense of security is within us. Perception is key as well as appreciating all that we do have and continue to build independently, and together.

    In our recent dinner together, I was one of those people who asked you “how do you do it all?” because I genuinely want to know. You inspire me.

  58. Breadwinner here. No family riches whatsoever. I have nodded my head in agreement/empathy through much of your post and the comments.

    However, on the chance there is some woman reading this who has not yet embarked on the motherhood train, I do feel like I want to say, while it’s challenging and “having it all” IS a misnomer, there are working moms out there who are at an *ok* place with it all. Who don’t daily think of the challenges that fall on them just because they are women or mothers. Who aren’t wracked with guilt about their choices. Granted, my perspective could be skewed by working in the federal government where I think they make every effort to turn a blind eye to gender in hiring/promotion situations and where 40 hour work weeks are the norm and overtime is the exception. I have generally found nothing but a supportive environment of men and women at work. I’ve never thought I couldn’t do something in my career just because I was a woman or a mother. I have seen women rise to the top who have raised children along the way and I wouldn’t necessarily call them workaholics. And on the homefront, although I am the one to handle RSVPs, gifts, and making doctor appointments, I rarely do dishes or yardwork. It’s nearly impossible to make everything “equal” in a partnership, but I think we’ve found something we’re comfortable with that typically (I can’t ever seeing getting to 100% all the time) avoids resentment (nice goal, isn’t it? – do whatever you need to avoid resentment ). And since the kids are now in school, there is less time to feel guilt for not being with them and frankly, I think I’d make a crappy stay-at-home mom regardless.

    With that said, life will never be perfect and I do agree that it seems something has to give. After school activities/sports are a killer when you add that to a full work day. Besides the fact we will never win any housekeeping awards, I feel that the *something* that gives ends up being our marriage. It’s so easy to get sucked into the minutiae of everyday life. The days of being head over heels with each other seems like a lifetime ago and I find myself rolling my eyes with cynicism at young lovebirds. At the end of the day, when the kids are in bed, I just want some time all by myself. Wow, now I feel sad! Hopefully it's not an unspoken truth of most (and it's not one I'd necessarily correlate with working moms)!

  59. I'll first confess that I'm reading this at my desk, hoping that IT doesn't come sauntering u behind me. I wish that I could drop my “real” work and read each & every comment. So much about this post resonates. Between my 9-5, my freelance work, raising teens, and managing a household (I don't do the laundry either) – I don't know where my real job ends & my real life begins. It is all very, very hard.

  60. The fact is that no one does it all. It is literally impossible. When I am working, someone else is taking care of my kids. When I am home full-time, I am doing everything for them and someone else in my family is picking up the financial slack. So as a temporary SAHM, I find that question put to working moms frustrating as well, because it implies that I am not doing as much as they are, when we all know that pretty much all the mothers are working their butts off all the time.
    My husband does feel guilty at doing less of the housework, but he doesn't feel one-tenth the guilt I do if I miss some important kid-thing or milestone. I think that is the tougher part about being the mom, whether it's something innate or cultural or both.
    All that being said, I so value your perspective and that of the many other working moms who comment here. We definitely don't do enough to support two-career families, even as the numbers of them grow and grow. And now we're giving rich people tax break and cutting even more programs that would help families. But that's another rant for another time.
    Thank you for always being so honest. I wish I could send you a nap instead of just this comment.

  61. Very insightful post! Lots of moms I know that write online also have consulting or salaried jobs as well. I think it is a tough balance – and every time you think you have it figured out a new challenge appears.

    I think it is important to have this discussion, nice to share in that feeling of being tired and wondering how to create balance. So I – like some of the other comments – have given up on balance and am just trying to take one day at a time. And hug my kids lots when I can.

  62. I am the only earner in my household of four. I am a freelance editor, social media consultant, entrepreneur, business partner, writer and full-time parent. I work 60 to 80 hours a week and we are barely afloat.

    It scares the crap out of me and this post made me weep with recognition and thankfulness.

    Thank you, Liz. I don't feel alone anymore.

  63. Such a great post. Reading it was like walking through the woods with a flashlight, and happening upon someone else. I was a little afraid at first to see what you'd say,lest you be a psycho, and then relieved to recognize that all the things you were saying were familiar.

    I didn't marry a ballroom dancer or an artist. Though self employed, for many years my husband earned a fantastic living and I was quite at my leisure to puzzle about what my dreams really were, where my passion might lead me and what my life's true goals were. Also to plan lavish birthday parties and lay out perfect outfits for my many children. And document that.

    And then the economy dealt my husband's profession a harsh blow. Close to two years of unemployment shifted the balance of our household and removed the luxury of dabbling for me.

    I became a breadwinner out of sheer necessity, not by choice. I cannot pretend that it didn't change me. I too fear the crane and wring my hands over decisions in ways that my more financially free pals never will. I never won't, again. I can't. I won't ever be the same. I've fought hard to hang onto everything, but in the process, I've let so much of what I used to think was important, go. Turns out the lavish birthday parties were not so important after all. I hope.

    Even if our situation reverts back to how it once was (which it soon may) *I* can't go back. Being the breadwinner aged and changed me, but in a good way. It gave me wisdom, depth and clarity, amidst the confusion that comes with. I am grateful. Tired. But grateful.

  64. I think this is true not only for working moms who are the primary breadwinners, but for all working moms whose families can't make it without their paychecks- there is still the nagging fear of the future, as well as the sense of resentment for working full-time but STILL doing the majority of the household duties.

    I also that women feel much more guilt about missing milestones and events than men do. When my husband can't make it to our daughters' school assemblies or performances, he feels badly but is able to shrug it off and say, “Well, what can I do? She'll understand”, but I feel guilty for days and question my parenting priorities. What is also frustrating is that our daughters DO understand much more when my husband misses things than when I do- why is that? Are there higher expectations by children for mothers than for fathers?

    Great post! I am not familiar with Anna Quindlen, but I will be very soon!

  65. I think if you are a person with lots of interests and ideas and goals there is never enough time in the day to do all you want to do. When you have children this takes on a more desperate edge because you don't want to miss any of that. Everyone has to cut out something, or at least put it off for awhile. It's not possible to do everything all the time.

    My husband is the stay at home parent, and I work at our violin store, but we make sure I get some days home with the kids and that he gets a break from time to time. My husband and I are a team in raising our kids. Neither of us has time for all the personal projects we'd like to do, but that will come. I don't think of it as cutting things out so much as putting them on the back burner. My kids will only be little once. The other things can wait.

  66. Fab, fab fab fab fab post. You write exactly the reasons I think — and the reasons that I started The Founding Moms. Everywhere around the world, it seems, women who run their own businesses and have kiddos seem to want to connect, or at least discuss this stuff with folks in the same situations.

    Off to send this post everywhere…thanks for this.

  67. Great article and my wife can totally relate and I understand where you all come from.
    One thing to keep in mind and my wife would agree is that strong willing women (which I presume you are…as is my wife) like to feel in control of all aspects….so that is the real reason why you feel the weight on your shoulders. You should trust you partner and perhaps lean on him to guide the way sometimes.

    All the best

  68. Oh my god, yes. I don't talk about it, but I'm working a full-time job from home, freelancing another 15-20 hours, and my kids stay home with me, too. Hubby works, but I easily make 2-3 times what he does. He has cut back on hours so he can come home and help. But it's still not enough (the “help”). So yeah, I really do get it, even though our situations aren't exactly the same.


  69. Liz, I know we've spoken about this on more than one occasion and it's so interesting to hear the statistic of 1/3 because I can't tell you how many of my friends are in the same situation as I am where they are the main bread winner and although I'm proud of my accomplishments as are my friends, and we love and appreciate our spouses and all they they bring to the table (I know that personally I could NOT do my job the way it needs to be done if I did not have a supportive spouse who could handle what I would be doing if the shoe was on the other foot. It IS a full time job in an of itself and I know I am one of the lucky ones). I often think about single parent households who don't have that 2-parent luxury support system and I'm in awe.

    As much as I love what I do, I think I'd be lying if I didn't secretly dream of NOT having it all on my shoulders and NOT having to hustle and stay in constant motion so that it doesn't all fall apart. Secretly, I dream of: A 2-hour workout? Why yes! Facials & lunch with the girls during the week? Absolutely! Work for that charity event? No question! Nanny to take the children to activities after school while I meet with the interior designer about my new kitchen remodel? Indeed! Ha ha, then again, I think all moms, working or not, may have some of these dreams…

    Thanks for starting (or continuing) the conversation. Maybe we should come up with a secret handshake or something…

  70. I could have written so much of that post. I'm the main bread winner. My husband finally makes okay money, but for the first 15 years we were together (it is 17 this year) he did not. I have birthed two children, worked full time, gotten my BA and then an MA and now I've applied to law school. I have drive and desire that my husband does not. Like you, I don't do it all, but I do the most.

    In part I blame being poor when growing up, being homeless, etc. It has made me very afraid of EVER being that again. It's a struggle to find balance when also dealing with inner demons.

    My husband works nights. I'm basically a single parent Monday through Friday. I don't have free time or a lot of me time. I struggle with balance every single stinkin day. But I want my daughters (19, 14 and 11) to see what they can accomplish and what they can be when the grow up.

    I hear you and I'm right there with you. Thank you for saying it out loud.

  71. Provocative post!

    Yes, because of changes in our civilization, over which we have no control, we men and women both are having to take on untraditional roles.

    But survival as a species takes precedence over culture–so we have to adapt.

  72. I'm not in the same position – I earn only a little more than my husband, and he does a little more of the childcare than me. But one phrase I've given up is “work life balance.” It's not balance. The best I can work on right now is “work life integration.”

    Another note – if we want to let our partners really be partners, we have to stop believing and propagating the belief that “only MOM hugs/kisses/approval will do.” I see that a lot from women who write about how their husbands don't do as much as they do. Some men do let down their partners, but many are fully up to the job, if we would let them. Just my two cents.

  73. OOOf. Yes. Just yes, agrees this female breadwinner who works full-time and has 3 boys under 10, and a home with a mortgage payment and 2 car payments and a husband who also works full-time but hates his job and doesn't nearly make enough…and wavers between being resentful of me and my great job and being thankful for my job and then there's the pressure of me knowing that I have to HAVE my job in order for us to survive and ugh, when is there ever time to just breathe?!
    Would love to talk *real* about this.

  74. I don't work outside the home, but I have been earning at least half our family's income for years, and it's exhausting–physically sometimes but more often, mentally. I'm lucky (or unlucky?) in that my husband is also self employed, so we are able to ping-pong between months/years where he earns more and months/years where I earn more.

    During the times when I'm bringing home 70% or more of the bacon, I have predictable cycle: at first I'm kind of high on it all, riding the waves of female power, excited about the opportunities coming my way, and frankly, loving that the big checks coming to the house have my name on them. I work harder and harder, delegating more and more and becoming more skillful at dealing with the guilt.

    Then I hit a wall and suddenly I'm tired out, emotionally spent, miss my kids, miss spending time puttering around the house, and want to scrap the whole thing to become a full-on SAHM even if it means we have to move into a two-bedroom apartment to get by.

    That's usually when I start pulling back from work for a breather. I'm lucky in that I can usually (not always) do that, given the type of work I do; but there's still always that doubt hanging over my head: what if this is the time that I give myself a break and NEVER MANAGE TO EARN AGAIN?

    I still wouldn't trade it. I'd still rather have both my career and my kids than to have to choose, even with all the conflict. But yeah, it's tiring. I can only imagine how much more tiring it must be when you don't have the option of pulling back.

  75. I've been living through a shift in balance that I turned out much differently than I expected. Through the early years of our relationship and marriage my husband had a startup, meaning he was the last to be paid, and often wasn't. I hesitate to say it out loud but that business failing was one of the best things that ever happened. He got a dream job with a dream company, doing what he loves and being well-compensated for it. He would work 24 hours a day if he could. My job was eliminated when I was 6 months pregnant with my second child. I stayed home for 17 months, then returned to my company in a similar position at a much lower salary. Total shift in balance. My husband gets a lot more vacation time so he does handle many of the kids' days off from school but otherwise, I'm responsible for getting the kids where they need to be. I'm completely burnt out from doing the same thing professionally for nearly 25 years, along with handling the bulk of the household responsibilities. If not for having the kids in private school, I would have quit working months ago. What we're doing now is not sustainable, at least not for me. I'm tired of doing a lousy job at everything (parent, spouse, employee), and just plain tired.

  76. I went to sleep last night thinking of all the women/mothers I know who have achieved something amazing while raising children. In some instances raising them alone. Many, like my husband's mother, are professors, others are scientists and VPs at banks. But some are also working in menial jobs, doing the best they can to get by every day. I can't not see these women as woven from the same fabric. The ones who volunteer to help other people's children in the classrooms when schools cut funding, or the ones who are running quality day care centers – are inspirational, too.

    I think the real problem is not finding balance as much as it is comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves wanting. That's the struggle I find myself fighting.

  77. Loved your post. It is always so refreshing to hear other Moms talk about how hard parenting is–no matter what the situation. I'm a totally single, full time working, Momma and have been since day one, which translates to “I usually have bags under my eyes, carry a huge amount a guilt, and constantly worry that I might not be able to manage everything on my own.” But I do. I have now for 19 months and I am so so so proud of the life I provide for my son. We have an awesome little life together.

    I think two parents definitely are an advantage (especially in the ability to take a break department), I even think two non-married parents is an advantage, but I secretly often love that it is just me and my son–no one to compete with for attention, no one to disappoint when we have take out for dinner again or when the laundry piles up. Every situations has its up and downs…at the end of the day, being a Momma is the hardest job I've ever had. But the job I love the most (as long as I still get to go back to work on Monday for a “break”).

  78. I want to say that mothers face the kind of parental guilt when they work through dinner or miss a ballet recital for a business trip that fathers will never know.

    Sorry Liz that is simply unfair and in many cases inaccurate. I speak based upon my experience and many of my friends.

    It is not any easier for fathers to miss out on things with our kids than it is for mothers.

    I have worked to move heaven and earth not to miss things with the kids.

    They spent two weeks last summer traveling without me and it hurt.

    They would call and say “daddy, you should have seen XYZ” or “why can't you fly out for a few days to spend time with us.”

    That sucks. Parents fight a lot of battles. I can't tell you what it means to be a mother because I am not one- but I have more than a decade of learning by fire what it means to be a father.

    We love our kids just like their mothers do. It is not a competition and I am not saying that you said it was.

    Just felt the need to share that.

  79. Jack, please know I'm in no way diminshing the love or obligation fathers have. Nate is often home for more dinners than I am because he is so committed to the idea that one of us should be. But women's guilt comes from both internal and external pressure that fathers will never know.

    Men do not go to work and answer questions every day about who stays home with the kids while they are there. They are not grilled about whether they will return to work after paternity leave is over. They are not judged by their male friends for missing pediatrician appointments or PTA meetings the same way.

    It's just…different.

  80. Thank you for writing this. I heard every word. My husband works full time, but I work part time out of the house, part time at home, manage the house, do all the cooking, cleaning and all the worrying that my soon to be 5 year old with go to kindergarten not already reading. I hear “give yourself a break” quite often. “You can't do everything at 100%.” But I will always feel that I should be able to no matter what and I will hate myself when things aren't done well. And I also must maintain my size 4 pants while doing everything else. Ba ha ahahahaha

  81. OMG I left a long comment but Google deleted it.

    In short: love this post. It IS my life.

  82. Here's an interesting thing my husband has noticed. He's been a dad for almost 14 years, and we used to joke about how much he would get off the hook for absolutely EVERYTHING (“Oh, didn't you know school starts at 8:30? It's okay, isn't it nice that you're helping your wife this morning!” kind of stuff)

    But now he says, it's not as easy to get away with stuff. He said just as often it's other dads at dropoff and pickup, with their kids at the park, at the store. He does not “get a pass” automatically the way he used to just because he's a dad.

    It's still different…way different…for him and for me, but I wonder if we are going to see those expectations shift and balance out by the time our children are having children?

  83. Great post!

    As the only breadwinner in my family, I had to learn to let my husband run the house and the kid's life. It's a lot, I mean A LOT of letting go. Letting go of what I think a mom should do. Letting go of taking my son to the doctor because I know my husband won't ask the right questions. Letting go of how the onions are diced, the counter is wiped and what our son is wearing/eating/doing for fun. It's hard but in the end, gives me more room to breathe.

  84. Yes. This. It is SO hard to talk about this, because it goes to all the weirdness around motherhood and sacrifice and what we should be doing and feeling and how we need to be 'good' mothers by conventional definition no matter what our household structure and not slight our partners, ETC. It is hard. Thank you for saying it out loud.

  85. Wow. “I want to say that mothers face the kind of parental guilt when they work through dinner or miss a ballet recital for a business trip that fathers will never know.” nailed it right on the head. This resonated with me so completely…thank you.

    It is so helpful to know I am not alone in feeling the guilt and the difficulty in balancing this entire act. Being the primary breadwinner as the mom is so very different from the dad serving in that role. Not bad, not worse or better…just…different.

  86. the perspective you have is rare. as rare as your lunch dates. congrats to you for realizing your gift, your position, and the role you and your family plays.

    And you had lunch with Anna Quindlen! fuck yeah!

  87. It is hard for dads as well and definitely less accepted. A couple of years ago I told my boss I wouldn't travel over Father's Day and he freaked out.

    My ex was the primary breadwinner and I was a SAHD for a while. When people asked her how she did it all I remember thinking “she doesn't”. I shopped, cooked, took care of the kids, and did nearly everything at home. There was definitely resentment on both sides and external pressures made it much worse. It's not so much balance as it is keeping the plates spinning. In the end it was too much for her.

    I've been a full-time single dad of twins for 2 years (as the sole earner now) and it's definitely hard work keeping those plates on the sticks.

  88. I can't even tell you how much this post means to me, especially after the past couple of months!

    My husband and I own and manage a work at home business which we purchased 7 years ago. Between the renovations and 8-midnight hours, there wasn't much time for anything else, however things have become difficult because of the economy and I've taken writing on full-time to help.

    My husband has since taken on many of the household chores whilst running the business and watching the kids while I write not an easy task. Is it ideal – no, but what is? Would I like to be spending every moment with my kids, sure, but the fact that I'm able to do this from home is a blessing in itself.

    I have struggled on a daily basis with guilt. Guilt that was mostly planted when I was a child as both of my parents don't believe women should work. They aren't supportive and have put down my mothering capabilities BECAUSE I work which hasn't helped things.

    I refuse to feel overly guilty about it anymore because the reality is, I'm incredibly grateful. I'm grateful to be working considering so many people are unemployed now thanks to our crappy economy. I'm grateful to be doing something that I actually enjoy, something that has challenged me and given me a confidence that I never had before. And most of all I'm grateful to have met such amazing people in the process. People who have and continue to, inspire me and change me in ways I never thought possible.

    You are setting an incredible example for your kids with everything you do. Everyday you show them what hard work, ambition and drive means – by example. That Liz, in itself is priceless.

  89. I want to eat this post up with a spoon & sprinkles & then take a bath in it. That's how much I freakin' love it.

    Yes, it's hard. Yes, I'm tired.

    Thank you for letting me say that without facing judgment.

  90. A friend once said to me “He works.” I love my husband dearly and was complaining (aka letting off steam) one afternoon about how I feel as though I “do it all”…work, cook, semi clean, doc appts, play dates, etc. My friend just looked at me and said, “Remember. He works.” She was just poking fun at how most men are the best a multitasking. So now, whenever I start getting annoyed and feeling overwhelmed…. I remember that conversation and move on. 🙂

  91. This is so very true. And it's so hard to make everything run smoothly, keep your sanity, meet your deadlines, and still have time to just be… you.

    Thank you for just being honest.

  92. I'm somewhere in the middle of all this, because I'm a working mom who mainly works at home. And that is a bitch. I chose it so I could be available for the kids, but it is hellish. I am never away from home and never away from work. Focusing on either is imfreakinpossible. My desk taunts me when I'm not at it, and when I'm at my desk, my dirty laundry, dirty kitchen, unpaid bill, unwalked dogs… all this crap just taunts me. “You suck,” they all seem to say. “Hire someone who'll do it right,” they seem to say. It is exhausting. I downsized my career (I was a screenwriter/director working in tv and film in L.A.) from working non-stop on tv shows to being more freelance and working more in films so I could spend more time with my kids. But that immediately sent a signal: uh-oh, woman who isn't fully committed to her work because she wants to be with her kids! (gasp! how dare she? this is L.A. where what we do is more important than anything else!) This meant I had to work even harder to try to get assignments. But… assignments have been waning, and so I've taken to blogging of late. But what no one seems to understand is that, as much as I love being here for my kids (most of the time, because often they are very challenging creatures), I feel lost and sad without the creative challenges of a career that I loved and was passionate about. When my husband can't believe that my depression is really “just about missing the work” I stare at him like: Are you f*cking kidding me? (sometimes I even say that to him, too. more than sometimes, truthfully). I say to him: If I were a man who no longer had the career he loved, would you be questioning this at all? To a huge degree, I am my career. And I see nothing wrong with that. I love what I do/did. But I wasn't sure I could live with never seeing my kids, which is essentially what that career demands. And so I've felt empty and lost, a big part of me is sad, and as much as being a mom fulfills me, I am more than just a mom. And the non-mom part of me sometimes feels like it's dying. If I had a penis, this would all sound normal. But because I don't, people (translation: men, or women who have never cared much for a career) think I need medication. For those of us who find fulfillment in our work, who truly get off on it and not just do it for the paycheck, it is like a small death to have to give that up in order to devote more time to the family. No, you can't do it all. And sometimes, that seems to mean you can't fully be yourself, either. Now if only more people would understand…

  93. Oh Minka, you are so right. Having worked from home a lot it really does have its own set of challenges. At least when you work out of the home you have a good excuse for the sinkful of dishes.

    Here's hoping things get better for you.

  94. Your writing is its best when you wax poetic on these posts. Liz, I can't imagine the pressure you live with day to day to do it all. I certainly wouldn't have the sense of humor that you possess through it all.

    Thanks for the reminder that some working moms don't have the capacity to dream in the same way. As the breadwinner, you've got to make harder decisions that I do. But you also get to set the pace and tone of your family. I squeeze in career–you get to put yours first. A blessing and a curse?

  95. Great great post! I don't travel as much as I used to, but otherwise, I'm there with you. I love that my husband enjoys bragging that I bring home more $ than he does. But, when I look at my college girlfriends, who are ALL SAHM, I wonder if I'm the weird one. And maybe I am. I still wouldn't give up my life. I love the example I'm setting for my girls.

  96. New to your blog & absolutely love this! I'm one of those single moms. Since 3 months pregnant. Now more than 10 years! I'm the primary earner & 24/7 parent. And most years of my career I have made more than most men my age. Which is not the point- except that the ego-issues you point out are very real. And there is not one single day that I do it ALL! Too much, not enough, never quite right….. it all blends together after a while. Today: awake at 3:45 a.m. because my mind can't let go of a stressful project. Dishes piled in the sink tonight- which is weird considering I had to get take-out as there was no time to cook! Shifts, ups & downs, phases come & go. It has brilliant moments and brilliantly hard moments. Thank you for the humor & reality of your writing!

  97. Wow, this really generated a LOT of great discussion. Here's my two cents worth. I am a full time working mother IN UTAH, yes the home of the stay at home Mom. I am nearly the only woman on my block who works at all, and certainly the only one who has what could be called a career. I have 20 years in at my company and I figured it out last week. That adds up to nine HUNDRED weeks of full-time, nearly non-stop employment. And that's just at THIS job. And I wonder why I'm tired? Plus I run a home business besides. Yeah, that's the Adrian's Crazy Life bit.

    I love it, but I have to admit I get jealous sometimes. Just to have the freedom to control my own day sounds wonderful. But I've been the primary breadwinner since I was 25 and that isn't going to change any time soon. Like Tim Gunn says, I make it work but only because I go without sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, cleaning my house, or completing my education.

    Is it worth it? Hell, I don't know. The good news is that my marriage is still hanging together after 27 years, my sons are awesome young men and we have a roof over our head and a bit in the bank for a rainy day. That's good enough for me.

  98. Thank you so much for writing this piece. I am a working mother who has been in corporate America for 20 years. In the beginning all I wanted to do was stay home with my children but the reality was my income was essential. As the demands of my career grew so did my salary but I also felt that strong pull toward wanting to be “Mother of the Year”. What I've learned and now teach is balance and time management. I have no regrets but I wish I'd known how to simplify and manage my time better when it all first started. Thanks for sharing this very powerful piece.

  99. Thank you for writing this. I struggle with finding common ground amoungst the bloggers I speak to regularily because many of them stay home with their children. Although this is a very very hard job itself it doesn't carry the same guilt that a working mothers role does. I am also the one who makes the largest amount in the family, pays the bills, ensures all of the money is in the accounts, etc.
    This post really is relatable.

  100. I wish I could remember who it was on the web who said “a stay-at-home Dad is a saint, but a SAHM is just… mom.” Or words to that effect. Roles have changed, some rules have been re-written, but the unwritten paradigms for “mommy” still exist–and with those paradigms comes that second shift–the after-work, after-the-kids-are-in-bed treadmill of laundry, dishes, permission slips, organizing babysitter/nanny/play-date…
    Great post. And CONGRATS, btw, on being honored – and on getting to hang with Anna Q.

  101. I'm new to your blog also and this post has come at the perfect time in my life/marriage/career. I really, truly needed to hear that other moms are tired, that there are other moms out there like me. Granted, I'm not exactly the main breadwinner, at least not all the time. My husband is a Union painter and when there's work, he makes great money. Problem is, there hasn't been much work for three years now.

    In that time, I've started a company. I work from home. And there is no separation of home and work anymore. People don't understand that just because I'm at home doesn't mean I have time to do all the household chores. Bleah, done ranting.

    I look forward to reading the archives of your blog and keeping current. This blog post helped a tired and emotional mom tonight.

  102. This was beautifully said. Thank you. It bothers me that in our area, where stay-at-home mothers are the majority, people assume I am depressed because I'm not home with my kids during the day. I do miss my kids, and I think they would benefit in some ways if I was home, but they are benefiting from their time in preschool as well. No one ever tells my husband, “I think it's so sad you can't be home with your kids. You must miss them so much.” I hear it all the time.

  103. “I want to say that sometimes, I feel more in common with working dads than working moms.”

    In an interesting way, it seems so discounted when working dads have this same conversation. When we talk about balancing work/family, we can practically see the rolled eyebrows and hear the whispered snickering. Why is that? Because men shouldn't be complaining about how tough it can sometimes be? I'm not sure.

    Anyway, as always, Liz, this was a great post. We'll have to discuss it more next time over beers.

    And congrats on the Game-Changers honor. Very, very, very well-deserved.

  104. I have been on both sides of this, and it's not easy. I've been the primary wage-earner, and now I'm not. But you know what? Either way, it's hard. As soon as you're trying to balance the obligation to raise kids with the obligation to feed them, it's hard.

    I agree – we should be talking about it more. I think there's a lot of work to do here, still. Motherhood is where my feminist rubber hits the road.

  105. I am superfucking mom, and I am superfucking tired, and often on the verge of tossing husband out the door, because I am exhuasted with exceeding expectations (well I don't dust and I lost my iron some years ago) and I don't really want to have to be all powerful to keep this all going. As breadwinner, mother, elife-guide for a special needs child, and the only one who knows what a calendar is, I am in charge of everything. And it is really not OK. Great post, again.

  106. As one of your commenters mentioned, I think one of hardest things about being the breadwinner is not the guilt or societal expectations, it’s that you can’t even get credit for it. I can’t boast about my achievements because it seems to hurt my husband’s manhood and how others view him. I even lie about work he’s doing to make it seem like he contributes more financially. Until we can take credit w/o somehow taking away from our husbands, society has a long way to go.

  107. This was so spot on I couldn’t get over it: In other words, one-third of us are bringing home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, then washing the pan, and earning the money to buy a new one when that caked-on crud simply won’t come off.

    I blogged once about being the CHO (Chief Household Officer) because that’s what it feels like. You’re at work all day, and then you come home and a lot of times its more work. Somehow you’re expected to stay on top of when the recycling goes out, what activity is next, what’s for dinner, when the last time someone cut the dogs nails or vacuumed was. And usually you’re expected to do it. I have no intention to be all “woe is me” about it. I have an amazing husband that does a ton (that I remind him to do) and I’m very lucky in that respect.

    All I want is the acknowledgment for someone. Society? Men? My male co-workers? That I do a lot. And maybe its not always great (usually not) but its my best.

  108. I love everything about this post – most especially the honesty. I think the reason we don’t hear more about this in social media is that it is generally not helpful to one’s career to wring hands in public about how hard it is. I have recently started both a blog and a job search, and I question the wisdom in this. But, this is exactly the conversation we need to be having. I know I could not survive working motherhood – the first business trip, first nanny, first mommy tracked moment, without my working mom friends. We need to support each other – Thank you for your writing!

  109. The book Equally Shared Parenting (which I first learned about from Lisa Belkin’s column) has really changed how my husband & I delegate/manage household responsibilities and childcare duties. Yes, I somestimes still need to “remind” him 3 times to take something out for dinner on a night that is his turn, but I feel a lot less like the world is riding on my shoulders. I can’t recommend the book enough!

  110. Hi,
    I stumbled on this while reading the top 100 mom blogs on Babble and…wow. I really needed to read this. Just to know that there are others in the same boat as I am. I had my second child last year, 10 years after the first, and three years since my husband lost his job. I was scared at first but I prayed a lot and found reassurance and comfort in my faith that it would all work out. So I gladly took on the extra responsibility of earning more and saving more for our children while my husband would stay at home and look after them. Along the way I started to realize what I really wanted to do (lots of things apparently) and started building towards the dream. Things were turning out well, I had successes here and there, and I was closer to my family than before. I was really happy this past year and half.

    And then my husband and I had a talk recently and I realized that he resents me. A lot. And that he feels worthless and inadequate. And that our life right now is so frightening to him he doesn’t want another child. And it explained a lot — the moodiness, how he didn’t acknowledge or celebrate my successes, the silence. I reassured him as much as I could and told him how much I value and appreciate him and how important he is. But then the happiness and contentment I’d been feeling these 18 months suddenly came crashing down, and there was no one there to comfort me.

    Sorry for spilling my guts like this, I just…no one’s captured what I’ve been feeling right now quite like this post.

    1. Oh Katrina, I’m so sorry. I hear this story so often. It takes a really strong man to be able to be truly happy for a more successful woman, especially when he’s not feeling good about his own position. Isn’t it funny how women still feel guilty if they’re not the primary caregivers, and how men feel guilty if they’re not the primary earners?

      We’d have so much to talk about over coffee!

      Thanks so much for stopping by. Spill any time.

      1. Thanks so much. It’s great to have support, even online! It *does* make me feel like having coffee with like-minded people. I love reading your blog and I’m adding it to my links. I’m sure I’ll chime in again soon!

  111. I bring home half the bacon – almost exactly half, actually – and it’s hard and I’m tired and I hate that when I admit to that, people’s response is “It’s your choice!” and “Think about what you’re doing to your family!” and so on. I want to scream, no, for us, it’s not a choice, it’s reality – or could I choose not to bring in the money necessary to keep my house? And as for what I’m doing to my family, I’m feeding it, clothing it, keeping it safe and happy and warm in winter. Feels pretty good, actually, even if I’m falling asleep as I write this!

    1. I don’t know why we can’t be both satisfied with our jobs and tired? We can be both professionally fulfilled and worn out. It’s not a contradiction and it’s not necessarily a problem that needs fixing. It just…is.

  112. I’m a full time working mom and mother. I even have a second job on call. I’ve been doing this for twenty years. I am exhausted I feel like I sold myself for a buck. If I had a chance to do it over I would never work a full time job with children only part time. I feel it’s fair because I could provide equal value to both. I enjoyed your article.

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