on having it all

I've been a SAHM for about five years. Now I have childcare a few days a week for a few hours and during that time I leave the house, my children in good hands, and I work.

But when people ask what I do, I don't really know how to answer. I wish we could all just say "I work" and leave it at that. Yeah, all of us, mothers or not, gainfully employed or not, because life is work. I wish that a work title wasn't just another way for people to gauge each other's worth because we're all worth the same whether that makes some of us uncomfortable or not.

So anyway. I'm working on things, a number of things, writing and editing and creating things. The thing is, only one of these gigs pays me (currently)...and only a little. So all this work can feel less valid, I mean, if I put the pressure of what I think people think of me on myself anyway. (Which is always silly.)

I need to return emails, I'll say. SO MANY EMAILS. (And then I feel like I'm supposed to put my hand to my forehead to make the point that I'm very busy with my WORK.) I need to do some editing. SO MUCH READING TO DO! (Swings other hand to forehead.) I have this post in me that's just begging to be written-how shall I find the time? (Fans self.)

See? It sounds pretty stupid.

I've said a million times that being a part of the online world, as a blogger and editor and speaker and friend (there! there are some titles! So nice of them to come along and make me feel better!), has been such a beautiful thing for me. I know many many people who are making their dreams come true largely because of how social media has benefited them, how they've found their creative footing and had great successes. And so often, people want to know HOW, HOW did that work? How did those people DO that? What is that called?

And I could try to help people understand by saying something like, Well, they had a well-read really cool blog and they tweeted a lot and they had a lot of fans on their facebook page and so people knew who they were and then they did this other thing and people were paying attention. You know, because of their klout score.

Yeah, I could say all of that and it would be sort of true, but I think the simple answer is that the person had "it" already. "It"--a talent or charisma, a drive and a knowledge and creative spirit--and the Internet was simply an avenue to doors that were shut without all the voices of social media shouting loudly the praises of that talent. But people don't really want that to be the answer I give them. They want a formula, maybe for their own road to success, or maybe just to have it all make concrete sense.

But it doesn't.

So I do my best to believe that I have "it" too and I sit with my words and my creative ideas and I work at them and I reach out to the brilliant people I've come to know because I'm here and then together we work toward bringing these ideas to life and I love it. I get to write words here when they strike me and I tuck other words away for a book and yes, there's always a busy inbox. So I'm working. And I'm believing that this is all headed somewhere because it already has and maybe that "somewhere" will have more of a title, but for right now it just doesn't. It's just work.

Dreams can come to be a reality in millions of different ways and the road is almost always longer than we'd like. The Internet makes us want the success now now now...but it takes time and it takes work. So on the days I have childcare, I say that I'm working, and now I'm working on saying that with confidence. And on the days that I feel like I must be taking something from my children by taking some time away, I say it to myself, I'm working, and then I try really hard to believe that it matters enough to be worth that time away. Because it does.

I'm riding this. I have no guarantees. I have not even close to an enormous paycheck or even a title. But I'm moving forward every day with these dreams that keep popping up, I'm daring to put myself out there and I'm taking risks. It makes me feel more alive than I have in a long time and I know my children feel that too. I still get to hang out with Miles and Asher so much of the time, and I get to have a baby girl who will enter this crazy mix while I do my creative thing on the side. So I wonder sometimes, how I could be so lucky, to land in this online space, a place that makes it possible to have the best of both worlds? They say that you can't have it all, not all at once, and I used to believe that to be true, but now I'm thinking maybe I was wrong.

I am a wife and mother and I'm a writer and a blogger and I'm even a creator, in so many ways. This is all work. I love my work. (wipes eyes)


This post was written largely to me. I've up and had an idea that's become a project that's become a team creative endeavor and man it is WORK. Hopefully I can tell you all about it soon. Today I just needed to think through things out loud. I actually have been feeling peaceful about "doing it all," more peaceful than I ever have in the past. In the past, I was convinced that if I was a SAHM, there was just no way to find time to respond to my creative ideas, my dreams, my goals...that's simply changing for me. And who knows, maybe it will change back? I think that happens to we mothers all the time...

If you're a mom, how does all of this feel for you? Where are you with the 'having it all' conundrum. I don't think there's a right answer. I just love to talk about it.

42 clicked right here to comment:

Kaycee said...

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just say things like you did with: "together we work toward bringing these ideas to life and I love it." and have that be enough? Shouldn't it be enough for everyone else that we LOVE it, whatever "it" is that we do? I wish it was.

Ashleigh (Heart and Home) said...

This. This. THIS.

I pay for childcare so I can work. And people ask what I do and I stumble over words. But my heart knows what their eyes can't yet see - there's a dream tucked deep in there and it's sprouting and growing and shooting up faster than I expected and I know that soonsoonsoon it'll all make sense. My children come home and we snuggle on the couch and we talk about their dreams and my dreams and how we always work to make those dreams a reality for us, for them. They giggle and I giggle and I know that this all a good thing. A Very Good Thing.

(and then I look at the number in the inbox again and I choke. the end.)

heather of the eo said...

YES. What you said. I truly believe (thanks to wise words from my friend Lee) that we have to do what feeds our souls. Our kids benefit from that too. And I think that if being home and NOT working on other things is the thing that feeds someone's soul, THAT should be respected to. Just saying.

Ashleigh - I'm glad this resonated, lady. And also, you crack me up. :)

Katherine @ Postpartum Progress said...

Clearly you, Meagan Francis and I are channeling the same thoughts. http://www.parentdish.com/2011/02/09/do-todays-have-it-all-moms-regret-having-so-many-choices/

I know exactly what you mean. My children are off all this week on Winter Break. I've gotten NOTHING done. Right now my chest feels tight just thinking about it, because there's so much I want to do and accomplish. I'm not willing to quit trying, but I do feel the pressure.

Can't wait to see your new idea!

Anonymous said...

i tracked back from ashleigh's tweet and i'm so glad i did.





i have to say that this also applies to women without children who don't have the opportunity to stay at home because they have to pay their own bills.

my dreams far extend the confines of my dumb ol' office and i also 'get to' find time to pursue those things in my heart when i'm not doing things like running dumb ol' errands or filing things. blah.

love all that you said. i could relate in every way, even though i'm not a wife or a mom.


MamaBear said...

This is such an interesting topic Heather! I'm constantly thinking about my role as a mother and as the sole breadwinner in our family. I can't do it all, but I have to....somehow. I feel like I put 110% of my creativity into my Blog Book business and end up with so little left to give my kids. I don't think they know what they are missing (they LOVE LOVE playing with their Daddy all day long!) But I know.

You are an inspiration to me in that you can still give so much to your kids AND be creative in your work!

One Crafty Mother said...

Thank you for writing this. My head has been churning with all the same thoughts (as you know) and I've tried over and over to put it down in words. I struggle with it, though, and I read your post just nodding my head thinking "yes. THAT. and also THAT."

I'm simply trying to do my best and let go of the outcome... in all areas of my life. I get so stuck in that storyline I have in my head.. that "I'm not good enough at everything" plotline that is so tiring, so counterproductive and - let's face it- so WRONG.

Words like yours help me see the goodness and creativity in all that I do.

I treasure you.


Melissa said...

Oh this post rings true for me. I stay at home and work one or two evenings a week as a nurse. And I am trying to work it out so that my kids get the best of me, my patients get the best of me, and the few people who check out my blog get the best of what I put out there. But it's HARD. Some days I feel like: YES! This day was GOOD! then the next day I'm exhausted and frustrated and not so much. It's up and down, and I just gotta keep juggling it so that my boys get what's best for them. But I find myself judging myself -I "should" work more hours, I "should" stop blogging and clean the house, should, should, should.
You rock, Heather - I'm glad your balance is working for you right now - I hope it continues to do so, because your work here has been fabulous.

heather of the eo said...

Katherine- I'll have to check out your post and Meagan's, for sure. And you know what? In the past, before I had childcare, I felt that tightening in the chest thing a lot. The tension of not being able to do what the creative part of me needed to do. I didn't like how that made me act around the house. AT all.

you're right. This applies to everyone, not just moms or SAHMs.

And MamaBear, too--I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to have the time for both like I do. And also, the reality is that I'm not always totally present with the boys when I'm home. I'm on the computer a lot...I don't deny that. I just work really hard on that and do the best I can...which is not always that great. Let's just keep it real. :)

heather of the eo said...

Ellie and Melissa,

Both of you said some things that really ring true for me too. I am so hard on myself. I should should should...I think every mother struggles with that, no matter what her life situation is--if she has to work or if she has to stay home or if she wants to work or wants to stay home or if she works from home. Again, we're all the same...and most of us are waaaay too hard on ourselves.

Meagan @ The Happiest Mom said...

You really summed it up. I have been working steadily from home as a writer ever since I was pregnant with my third child, 7+ years ago. For a while I spent every waking moment reading, learning, querying magazines, working, working, working. After a year or two I'd hit my modest initial success goals, knew enough that I could back off, and went on a kind of autopilot for a few years. Of course there were ups and downs, but for the most part, I'd write my articles, do my revisions, and then shut down the computer and just live my life with my kids. It no longer had to consume me.

Then things started to change in the publishing world and also my goals and interests shifted--I realized I wanted to make blogging and social media a much larger part of what I do, and in a lot of ways, it's been like starting over. Which means I once again have to read and research and put myself in front of the right people, and learn to market myself in new ways, and learn to manage my time differently (because the time management needed to tweet effectively is quite different from what's needed to research an article) and I've even had to learn to measure "completion of a task" differently, because there's no END to using social media, you just do it, day in and day out.

In some ways it's consumed me more than I want and I've had to learn to take a big step back from the "do it ALL! DO it all! do IT all!" messages social media plants in your head. What if I miss some important discussion on Facebook? What if nobody likes today's post and my subscribers nosedive?

But slowly I feel the momentum building and some of the initial anxiety-laden rush-rush feelings subsiding and I'm just learning to go with it, and not stress if I miss something. Because if I miss the Twitter train of the day, there will be another one along in ten minutes.

It can be hard (impossible?) to strike a true balance. But the time is there, the creative energy is there, the brain space is there, as you're finding, to reach for your dreams, and think outside of motherhood. And it's good for us, and for our families, to nurture this side of ourselves. It's just really nice that this space allows us to do it in a way that melds so nicely with the mom life. I'm counting my blessings on that front right now.

Becky said...

A someone whose never felt that she has "it," I must agree. I honestly think that if I worked outside the home, in whatever field, it'd be a major disaster. I can't juggle two things that huge. But I'm good at being a mom. Mostly. And I'm good at the housekeeping thing. Mostly. And I'm a good wife. Mostly. So I don't worry so much about whether I have "it" or not.

You know, mostly.

Heather of the EO said...

Oh my word. You said so many important things here. I just appreciate it so much. The social media world DOES make it feel like you're going to miss the train, but it's true...there are a million other trains to jump on a day. It's also SO true that it's difficult to find any kind of balance at all with social media. So we have to set up our own boundaries, to step away and not be convinced we'll disappear. For me, I'd much rather be less present online than to feel that YUCK feeling of spending too little time with my kids. And we all define "too little time" differently too...it's just SO individual, this thing.

Now I'm just confusing myself.

and BECKY,
I sure hope I didn't make it sound like some of us have "it" and some don't. I'm referring to a very individual "it," one that comes from a creative place. and maybe I believe we all have that but we do all express it in different ways and in different places. There are so many people who are content expressing ALL of themselves at home and at home only--with their families and I truly get that and totally respect it. Just being clear :)

Kelly said...

I often just sit back and feel grateful that I've been given the space and freedom to write, both as a job via freelancing and as an outlet via blogging. I love that there's this free place where you can make your own way (with a little help from friends) regardless of your entry point. I can't think of another medium like it.

mandiegirl said...

i've said it before & i'll say it again: i like how you say things. i'm a working wife, about to become The Only Working Person in our family for a season, and the job i have- it's good, but i don't love it, & i feel weird when people ask me what I do...i like the creative far more & wish that i could just 'work'.

thanks h!

Christy said...

Totally awesome post Heather. I also have child care a few hours a couple of times of a week -- but I use it to work out, and run errands alone. Not work. And that's totally okay with me. If you wanted to, and could, use those hours for your own personal non-work stuff too, that is A OK you know.

I cant wait till you can share your 'work' with us, whatever it is!

PJH said...

Thank you so much for validating this "work" that I, too, am about to embark on. I am right in the thick of deciding whether or not to give up my full-time teaching job to be a SAHM with childcare a few days a week to blog and create things. This post makes me feel like it's okay to do this thing many people think is "crazy" and to hold my head high as I explain. Much love!

Nish said...

Dang, Heather.

Thank you so much for writing this. For so long, since I discovered that I, indeed, have "it", I really feel this strong desire to create. So I have. Both in my own personal online space, by creating a community space for other writers to hash out the hard stuff, and I too, tuck away some words for myself, a book, or just a journal.

I've loved being a part of this thing called creativity. I love that it lives in me. And I love that I'm able to foster it, nurture it, and work at growth.

As a stay at home mom, I've been told for a long time that women just can't have it all. And it's not okay to think that you can. Your first priority is your husband, then your children, then your home. Then? All the other stuff. But how do I deny that creativity inside me? Why can't I make space for that, too?

I struggle with the balance. I'm not able to afford childcare at this point, so I spend early mornings, nap times, and late nights writing when I can. And I confess that I'd feel guilty for acquiring childcare for me to go be creative, because of so much of what's been preached for so long.

Totally rambling comment. I'll stop now. But that's kinda my stream of thought on this whole thing.

Bravo, lady. Well-written.

Lyz said...

I worry about this. I am getting ready to have my first child and I will have childcare so I can do the things I do, which I don't even know what I do or how to define it and it kinda feels a little snotty to get someone to watch my child while I play on the internets and I don't even have a legitimate business card. But on the other hand, I'm so lucky to do what I do and we are so lucky you do what you do! Don't worry about "defining" yourself, when people get too pushy tell them you are an accountant. No one hassles and accountant. I do it all the time.

Dangerous Linda said...

I think it is important for mothers to make raising their children their first priority -- that's what I chose to do.

It was difficult to follow my dreams while raising 2 kids as a single mom. But, I found a way to start a photography business and write, too. As long as ones priorities are truly in order I think the kids benefit from this.

Now that my kids are grown I'm re-inventing myself again! Very EXCITING!

Amy @ Never-True Tales said...

Based on the comments to this post, I'd say people have a lot to say on this issue. Especially other bloggers. And I could go on and on myself, but I'll stick to saying YES. I understand how much work blogging is and yet how hard it is to call it work. And as someone who has benefited greatly from social media in the travel blogging sector and is 'riding the wave that's come' instead of the wave I was waiting for, again...YES. It's such a baffling world, isn't it?

And I just have to add (couldn't quite leave it at that!) that while a blogger does have to have 'it' to fully succeed, they also have to have hours and hours and hours of (unpaid) work under their belt, as I know you know!

Ann Imig said...

I love this post. I love the honesty of this post.

I LOVE it too. IT. All of this crazy-making thing.

Heather of the EO said...

Yes, Amy. TRUE. For the longest time, I'd tell Ryan that I felt like I was working (blogging-and all that comes with it-and loving it) and it felt so weird to call "it" work and have it be unpaid. So yes, just nodding my head in agreement. :)

KLZ said...

You don't have it, you ARE it.

One of the people whose posts I always look forward to and who always inspires me.

I can't wait to see what else you've got in store

Jessica said...

This post is beautiful. Hopeful. Inspiring. I think the things that mean the most and matter the most defy labels. You are doing what you love- and loving well in the process- all that any of us can hope to do.

bernthis said...

after my ex left, my career began to die to the point where 3years later when ppl asked me what I did for a living, I did not have an answer and it really got to me.

As always I appreciate your openness and your honesty. This why I love the online world b/c ever since I discovered it, i have never felt truly alone.

Savannah B said...


In fact, LOVE.
I want to print it out, and read it to myself over and over again, reminding myself that I am doing Work. And, most days, doing it well.

Thank you so much for writing it down.

Life Without Pink said...

What a great post. I feel much of the same way. I just started working FT from home {a job I received from being part of the social media community}, but I feel at times, people don't look at me as having a "real" job, because I stay home with my boys. As we all know it is not easy. I am up late at night and find that I am always running back and forth btw work/home. Its frustrating and I wish people could understand more....I just keep trying to focus on my goals while maintaining my sanity :) Great post!

Musingsfromme/Jill said...

I am so in your shoes. Some days I emphasize my blogging. Other days I say I run a couple of local mom sites. On other days I am a travel writer...I'm not but I play one on the internet. I avoid calling myself a social media marketer because even I don't know what that exactly means. I tweet and Facebook and promote???

Anonymous said...

I wish I could read all the comments because this topic interests me immeasurably - but here is my two cents, from a mom who works full time. Trust me when I say having a paying identity - that is a professional title, is not all it's cracked up to be, and in very many ways it takes away from having it all. I'm certain you know this, but I think it's an important part of the discourse.

Keep writing lady, what you do here, when you can, is quite spectacular!

Grumble Girl said...

Lady, you've just put into words what I've been muddling with for some time now. It's sometimes hard not to have the validation of a paycheque. Doing Facebook/Twitter/email is all part of how we do our stuff in this cyber-online world, and yet, is it "work" we're going? Does it matter that my husband sometimes snickers at my "meaningless" conversations... that feeling of having to jump on the Twitter Train... oh, yes.

It's had to put a value on creative works - sometimes it's just intangible. It's always easier to have something to "show" at the end of the day... kids are still alive, house is in reasonable shape, there's something to eat for dinner... wrote a post you didn't get paid for and that perhaps nobody read? Le sigh. I waver between feeling like my "it" is important, and feeling like it's not.

I really loved this post, woman. Bravo.

MommyJ said...

Loved this post, Heather. I absolutely believe that we can and should take time away from our kids to do the things that help us be happier mothers/women when we are with our kids.

For me, I find myself in a spot where I'm ready, willing to pull away a little bit and stretch and grow and really do something. But what? I'm spending a lot of time thinking about what I want to do, what I want my words to do, but how to get there? I'm not sure. My wheels are spinning, but I'm going nowhere... know what I mean? I keep waiting, hoping that something will come along and nudge me in the right direction. An opportunity. An inspiration. Something...

Regardless of my own stiltedness, I love so much what you are doing/blogging/sharing. Don't ever stop because I love being inspired by you.

Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities said...

"I am a wife and mother and I'm a writer and a blogger and I'm even a creator, in so many ways. This is all work. I love my work."

Ditto, my friend. Thank you for reminding me of what a complicated privilege it is to do the work that we do.


Cathy said...

I don't know. I have a career but the paycheck doesn't make me feel like I have "it" either.

Alita said...

uh-huh. yup. nodding my head, yes. Yes to this. It is so hard to call it work, but it can be, but it isn't at all. And that is so confusing, right? What I mean is that I started this (journey) blog as a creative outlet for my poetry and a journal of my day to day feelings on motherhood. But I found something different. Voices- like mine- community. Writers, photographers, poets, crafters...

So yes to your words.
To community.
To voices.
To strength.
To joy.
To blogging!

And to having. it. all! :)

jen said...

i work part time too ... so i usually get to use that title first ... but then the whole what do you do on your days off thing comes up ...
and i start to laugh.
because THOSE days are actually the days where i WORK my ass off.
mothering and cleaning and creating and editing and writing and photographing and ...
which means i'm too tired to think of anything else.
i get you.

C.Mom said...

yes, yes, and yes! I work full time, so on most days I know what my title is...but even then, I think of the other things I do and have trouble be succinct about them. YOU DO work....I think it is the term work that is the key stumbling block. Doing things you love, feeding your passion....that is more than work. It is a gift. It is a dream. I would like to say, for my "work" that I "dream." One day maybe :)

Cynthia said...

You are so right that social media was just a tool to let those who have it 'shine'. I don't have it- at least not online. Real life? In some things I got it, others not so much.

I can honestly say that the biggest and best opportunities to have come my way in life have happened as a result of being willing to work really hard at something FOR FREE. Especially when that 'work' benefits and uplifts others- and your writing definitely qualifies there. You're on to something. Everyone can feel it. I'm excited to see what the future holds for you.

rbse said...

hi Heather, I've been trying to have this conversation w myself too lately. I'm a musician, and I simply MUST keep on playing to stay sane, have my creative outlet, clear the dust out of my brain etc.

But I don't have a "normal job", or get paid that much for what I do these days. And it's so easy to say, when people ask, "well, with the kids being small, I don't really have time to do much else..." And shove all those side projects under the rug, give in to that lie that says all that is important is the paycheck and the title, and the "full-timeness" of it.

I realized that paying someone to watch the baby a few mornings a week was worth way more than the money I was forking out for it, in terms of making time for something very important to me personally. I do no one any favors (not me, or my kids, or my husband) when I deny that "it" that I know is there, and say "oh, it's just too hard these days". It is, but it's so necessary for me. That's all i know right now...

You really hit on a lot of great points here. Why I love reading!


Edie Mindell said...

I love this post. This is so true. I try to juggle and balance my time as a mom and having a career. Sometimes, I feel like quitting my job because I want to spend more time with my kids. But then reality sets in that if I don't work, then my kids will suffer. It's a dilemma I've been trying to fight off eversince I became a mom.

Jill said...

After leaving my job 8 years ago to be a SAHM, and then move overseas for my husband's job, I'm finding that now that I'm back in the U.S. ... with 3 kids, and a husband in Iraq, I've discovered that I have NO idea who I am anymore ... or where to find the time to figure it all out.

But for the first time in a long time, I can finally admit that ...

Now if only to focus on where to pick up the pieces.

Stephanie said...

"I work." I love that. It so simply articulates what ALL mothers do - regardless of their "employment" status or if they receive a tangible paycheck.

Thank you for writing this.


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