A week or two ago, I was chatting with some colleagues about our work schedules and the busy season that is coming. One of my younger, single, childless coworkers said, "I think I should rent a kid for a few weeks so I can demand to be able to go home by a certain time every day."

She was joking, but I was taken aback. Was getting to leave work at 5 every day all she took away from the harried lives that I and our other working-mother colleagues were trying to keep in balance?

I didn't really respond -- it was just too complicated. How to explain what months of sleep deprivation feel like? And the feeling I get when I look at Johnnie and am convinced she is the most beautiful creature on earth? How to describe the rushed process of preparing (what I think will be) a home-run dinner for my child while she fusses at me in the background, only to have her refuse to eat it?

How to tell her that most days I don't actually love being a mother?

It's true. Often, the only thing I really love about motherhood is Johnnie.

Maybe it's wrong to say this out loud, but I don't love that she woke up crying at 4am twice this week, in pain from her latest teething adventure and unable to go back to sleep. (Really, are all these teeth necessary?) But because I love her, I held her and comforted her until morning.

I don't love sitting cross-legged on the floor, my ankles going numb, when there's a perfectly good sofa 6 inches away. But because I love her, I spend hours down on that floor with her, tasting her fake food, reading her stories and counting her toes.

I don't love folding all her endless tiny laundry, spending hours researching and preparing healthy and toddler-friendly food, sacrificing workouts/reading/hobbies/husband-time/friend-time/me-time so she can have a bigger piece of me, watching Caillou (he's the worst), sweating through nightmares that something bad will happen to her, trying to teach her patience while I'm growing impatient myself, or -- of course -- changing her diapers. But I love her, more than I could ever really explain, and there is joy in knowing I'm doing each and every one of these things for her.

On its own, "motherhood" kind of stinks sometimes. There is much unpleasantness and sacrifice. It knocks the wind out of me regularly. I even almost lost a tooth once.

Fortunately, there's a cute, sweet miniature person involved who is usually just looking for a hug, a cookie and a good time. And, also fortunately, her joy and belly laughs are contagious. She is both the cause of and the reward for all of it. I wouldn't trade her for that big raise I'll probably never get since I'm out the door by 5 every day. But I'm much richer (and considerably more tired) because of her.

It's hard to explain that to someone else, because I really don't understand it myself.


  1. It doesn't take great powers of observation to see that being a parent is really hard...even though those of us without kids can't fully understand it.
    I obviously don't know your co-worker or how your office balances work amongst those with and without families, but her joke sounds like it might have some weight and that it may be less a lack of understanding about the hours parents put in before and after work...and more a feeling of being at the mercy of those with families (and her own personal time being sacrificed because of it.)

    Again, I'm speaking in general as I don't know the situation...

    In my experience, single folks can sometimes be expected to fill in the gap for those with family responsibilities...often without really being asked or thanked. It happens in work situations, in churches, in social situations, etc...If she is really expected to put in more hours because other members of the team have families, then it seems unfair. Having a family to go home to is a huge blessing, but it is also a decision and one that single co-workers have no part in.

    I wonder if it would be helpful to speak with her or to have a meeting as a team to discuss expectations going into a busy season. It could help to hear perspectives of both the single folks and the married with children ones.

    I admire moms so much for the constant care and sacrifices they give their kids. I truly don't want to negate the difficulties of having a family and a full-time job...and I'm sure it's a heck of a lot harder than being single on most days. But it's important that single co-workers be treated with equality.

    1. I agree with you that fairness is important, and I'm sorry that you often feel you must pick up the slack for those around you. That truly stinks. I don't want to put too much detail about my job or coworkers on this public space, but I sat here for a long time thinking through any legitimate fairness issues my particular workplace may have, and I think we actually do pretty well in keeping things balanced. Perhaps my coworker disagrees, but our company culture is such that if someone feels truly put out, it probably means they need to stand up for themselves a little more.

      I know, however, this is not the case everywhere. (And I will continue examining things at my office to see if my perception holds true.) Everyone's personal life is so different and every company/church will have people who work harder than others, so probably nothing can make it completely fair. However, adequately compensating those who do more work would be the natural solution, I think. Eventually, it will probably turn out that way for my coworker. I don't have the capacity to put in the hours and effort she does, so barring any changes to that, she'll probably earn more promotions and raises than I will.

  2. AnonymousMay 15, 2013

    Great post! As a person without kids I have to agree with Flynn. I know I won't fully be able to understand parenthood until I have kids. You have to think how she is looking at it. In my stressful, long hour job that is 95% males there is a huge negative attitude toward mothers or people with kids because of there limited work hours. People without kids are expected to stay late, come in on the weekends, and skip lunch breaks all with no extra pay or bonus. Just as smokers are granted extra breaks that non-smokers don't get parents are allowed to put in less time while still getting paid and promoted the same as non-parents. Doing otherwise would be considered discrimination. I'm sure that's not how it works everywhere but that is how it is here.

    When my co-worker choose to have a kid all of the rest of the team has to pick up their slack. While they are home stressed cooking a dinner for their kids we are at work stressed trying to meet a deadline. Both are stressful but a different kind of stress. One is your livelihood and what keeps a roof over your head and food on the plate. The other is taking care of a life which alone is very stressful but you also get something positive out of it on a regular basis. I still have to cook dinner and do laundry (granted way less) but in half of the time each night because I work +50 hr/week. The extra time and effort me and my childless co-workers put in is never appreciated because my co-workers with kids don't see our free time as being as valuable as theirs. That right there is the crux of the issue.

    So instead of trying to explain how stressful parenting is to your childless co-workers just try thanking them for all of the extra time they put in. Because if it wasn't for them your deadlines may not be meet and your entire company could take a hit...meaning lay offs or cuts in pay. Be thankful that you are able to have kids and have a family to come home to every night.

    1. I never once said I was not thankful for my family and my child! If nothing else, I am most certainly that. That is what I am getting at -- it's hard but worth it.

      Flynn is a dear friend of mine, and I definitely see her point. Also I have only been a mother less than 2 years, so I am not that far removed from being among the childless at my workplace.

      That said, though I am a parent now, I honestly don't think I'm contributing any less than I was before. From the tone of your comment, I think you are assuming that I'm leaving a lot of slack for everyone else to deal with. That's just not true, with the exception of maternity leave (sorry coworkers) but that is a whole other can of worms. It's true that I can't put in tons of extra hours without notice, and I do have some constraints that I didn't before, but it's not like I'm leaving early and ducking out of my responsibilities. I am in the office for 9+ hours a day and I, too, eat lunch at my desk. I'm sorry if you have coworkers that you feel take advantage. If you feel slighted, I highly suggest doing something about it. The lack of work/life balance for most people is ridiculous, and I think it's a big problem with our culture. Employers will keep taking and taking until employees start pushing back. When you're a working parent, and especially a working mother, you have no choice but to push back. I'd like to put in more hours because I truly believe in what my company does, but for now I can only do what's actually in my job description -- which is how it should be for everyone anyway.

      What prompted this post is that my coworker's comment made me feel like my life as a working parent -- aka the most difficult thing I've ever done emotionally/physically/logistically and more complicated than I ever imagined -- could be boiled down to leaving work at 5pm. That spurred me to think about the complicated nature of my feelings around working motherhood and to write about it. I wasn't viewing it from the other side, so thanks for commenting with your point of view.

  3. AnonymousMay 15, 2013

    I was single for a very long time (in my early 30s when I married) and it took us 6 years to have a child. For all those working years pre-kid I picked up slack for all my coworkers who had families. I'm still at the same place of employment and while I put in my 9+ hours every day, I don't feel guilty about clocking out to go pick up a sick kid from daycare or taking a day off to tend to a doctor appointment or even, leaving by 5pm. I figure I put in my time and worked the crazy hours and now I get to have my mom time with my kiddo.

    There are different stages for all of us. Some of my coworkers are dealing with their parents and the issues that go along with aging and multi-generational households. We all have something and generally we all pull for each other to meet our deadlines when we're not able to be in the office.

    1. It definitely helps when there is a give-and-take relationship among people on your team. We do all have "something," or at least will at some point, that will require understanding and flexibility. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Parenthood is a picture of the Love our heavenly Father has for us. We often poop our pants, make messes and rarely express thankfulness for the unmerited favor He has extended to us. My kids are on both sides of 30 now, but back in the day, I learned lots about the relationship between children and parents, as it relates to God.
    Brace yourselves for a short story)

    My son was 2 when I made him a tire swing. He was pushing the swing and learning about cause and effect. The tire came back and knocked him down. He fussed, got up and pushed it again and it came back at him. He turned and leapt to me for my protection which I offered freely. I was filled with joy that my son thought of me as protection. It was pleasing to me to provide what he needed. This is the relationship our Father desires with us. How pleased his is when we run to him for protection, and He offers it freely because of His flawless Love for us.

    Folks who have not been Blessed with children often fail to understand exactly what you describe in your post above. And, that feeling doesn't fade when they turn 18, or 30. It's ever-lasting, just like our Father's Love.

    As for the, "going home at 5PM", shouldn't every one go home at 5, children or not? Come on people, it's only a job, not your life.

    1. Great response. Thanks Mel! I do have a whole new understanding of God's love for us now that I have Johnnie, for sure.

  5. I think it's all just part of being on a team and working together. Sometimes folks without kids cover for the parents and maybe at some point you'll be doing a little extra for this co-worker. I agree that if she honestly feels like she's doing more than everyone else and it's unfair, she needs to speak up to her manager. You can't complain about something that you don't try to remedy!

    I like your assessment of motherhood so far though. I think a lot of parents must feel that way but don't quite know how to express it. It's so clear that you love Johnnie, but it doesn't mean you have to love all that comes with the package.

    1. Thanks! I hope it's clear that I love her to bits -- just that it's not all tea parties all the time.

  6. Great post, Emily! If trying to balance life and children and work isn't already hard enough! I'm sorry your coworker had a bit of a social glitch moment. Having no children of my own and having worked in the nonprofit world of 60+ hour work weeks for most of my adult life, I'm not entirely sure why your coworker doesn't advocate for herself if she feels misused. I've never felt in any way "put out" when working with individuals who have family obligations outside of work. Don't we all? Doctor's appointments, family emergencies, sick days ... don't exist only in the realm of parenting. In those cases where nonparents feel like they pick up the "slack" for parents it sounds as if there are greater management/leadership issues within their organizations. Everyone should feel supported! And self-advocacy can do a lot in fostering a healthy work environment.

  7. I discovered your blog a few days ago and devoured the entire thing over the weekend. Not to seem sadistic, but I enjoy reading renovation blogs and yours is particularly funny. I'm also a (new) mom to a toddler so of all your posts, this was the one I decided to comment on. I consider a good writer to be one who gives voice to something that had been nameless but present in myself. This post did that for me. Kudos. And as I like to say, motherhood is not for wussies!


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