Embracing the Mess - On motherhood, writing, and the struggle to do it all
I am a mother and I am a writer. It’s kind of a mess.
It seems like no matter how much experience I get, when it comes to creative writing and motherhood, it’s always a bit of a chaotic jumble. To be fair, these are both inherently messy roles lacking clear guidelines or paths to success, and brimming with pressure to be perfect. Perhaps this is why finding balance after motherhood never worked for me.
But it doesn’t really matter what your career is—after you have children, “doing it all” translates to slapping on your superhuman cape and functioning exceptionally well on very broken sleep (enter limitless caffeine intake) and very little self-care. Some do it with ostensible finesse, some trudge along and make it work, and some, like myself, surrender to the unyielding love (and insanity) of staying home with small children.
That’s right: I simply couldn’t “do it all.” Once my second child was born, I no longer felt the physical or emotional space to take on anything else. I quit my job and decided to stay home full time. I was trading in all prior titles to just be Mom.
While I was exceedingly grateful to be able to stay home, it wasn’t without a heavy handful of guilt: guilt that I wasn’t showing my children how strong and capable moms can be by pursuing their dreams outside of the home; guilt that my husband now carried the financial weight of our family; and guilt that I didn’t feel happy 100% of the time. I also felt this nagging sense that I was never doing enough, even when I was doing so much.
A few months after I stopped working and the newness had worn off, I remember loading up the newborn and toddler—no small feat—and heading to Starbucks for a desperately-needed coffee (and outing). Once there, I did the uncoordinated dance of trying to open a heavy door while pushing a double stroller.
As I walked in, a well-dressed, laser-focused woman shuffled past me and got in line. She was doing important things: in a rush and on her way to a meeting, where she was saving the world and making really big decisions (this was just the narrative I had constructed in my head; I didn’t even speak to this woman).
What was I doing?
I don’t know if it’s societal pressure or just internal insecurity (maybe both), but it felt wrong to be only doing motherhood—like in order to be a complete human and prove my worth, I needed to balance fifty plates on my head.
It’s not that I don’t believe in having balance in my life, but more that I could not and did not want to try when my kids were babies (and I was admittedly lucky enough to have the choice). It’s great to have high expectations but this notion that we’re doing something wrong if we don’t live up to some crazy standard is crushing us. Instead, let’s understand that priorities shift and give ourselves the grace to find peace with that.
When my youngest turned one-and-a-half, I started feeling that working itch again. It wasn’t exactly graceful, but it started when I began to create space in my life for more self-care.
My husband and I would bicker over how to find that elusive harmony between family/couple/solo time, but we eventually found our groove. I was able to fill my cup enough to feel like I could take on more.
I had secretly always considered myself a writer. It was a career that I dreamed of but never thought I could make a reality. I love working with words, manipulating, shaping, and creating different ways to describe a product, event, or feeling—and I had been copywriting for years. I decided to join the freelance world and call myself a writer (out loud!).
I had no idea if anyone would hire me with such a big gap in my resume but I got one client. I should have been jumping for joy but instead I panicked.
How would I manage childcare and freelance writing demands? Am I even a good writer anymore?
It felt absurd to worry about such things when all around me exist female leaders and entrepreneurs who are changing the world and changing diapers at the same time. I had to start somewhere though.
I fumbled (and continue to fumble) on both the motherhood part and the writing part. They are complicated roles because no matter how many parenting books I read or writing projects I complete, I’m basically starting each new day or new assignment with a blank page. But I choose to embrace the challenge.
With time and practice, I have gotten better at managing both positions in my life. I work after the kids are tucked in, write in the very early mornings, and carve out spaces of time. It’s certainly not perfect or easy, but I love being the one to pick up my kids from school. I love to see their smiling faces, feel their sweet hugs, and listen to them talk about their days in that innocent way that only young kids do.
The other day my five-year-old was sitting at his little desk, copying the words from the cover of one of his books onto a piece of paper (a new hobby). I was next to him, finishing up some work on my computer.
“Looks like we’re both working hard on our writing skills, Mommy.”
He was right.
Through all of this, I can’t say that I ever feel balanced. I do my best to stay sane (coffee, wine, exercise), channel my creativity, and remain present for these precious years in my kids’ lives. Perhaps this is just the freelance world, or maybe all mothers feel this daily scale tilting heavily in different directions.
Yesterday, I saw a woman come through the door with two young children strapped into a double stroller. She looked overwhelmed carrying an overflowing diaper bag, and trying to calm a fussy baby. I could feel the exhaustion emanating from her body.
She is doing more than enough. And so am I.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jamie is a seasoned professional with over a decade of experience in copywriting, editing, and marketing. She has a diverse portfolio of clients, ranging from large multi-million dollar corporations like Disney and Marvel to nonprofits and globally-conscious branding houses.
An English major, Jamie began her writing career in college, when she was hired as a ghostwriter for a children’s novel. She went on to work for an ad agency, literary agency, PR firm, and some major toy corporations. Her passion for writing, coupled with her experience in these varied industries, gives her a unique client-focused perspective.
A native Angelino, Jamie is a major coffee and Pilates enthusiast and enjoys spending time with her husband and two young children at their home in Los Angeles, California.