Before I had kids, I was convinced I’d be an awesome stay-at-home mom (SAHM). “How hard could it be?” I asked myself when I got pregnant with my first child.
After having spent almost seven years practicing commercial litigation for a highly respected international law firm, dueling it out in court, taking and defending depositions, playing law firm politics, and going tit-for-tat with opposing counsel for 60-plus hours a week, being a SAHM sounded like a total breeze.
Cue hysterical, uncontrollable laughter. Boy, was I wrong.
Being a SAHM was the hardest job I’ve ever had. When my daughter was 9 months-old, just as I was beginning to feel like, Yeah, baby, I got this! I found out I was pregnant with my son. (I don’t know who needs to read this, but you can indeed get pregnant while nursing, despite what your husband wants to believe.) In less time than it used to take me to resolve a big case, I had gone from a high-powered lawyer in pencil skirts and heels to an exhausted mom of two under two who was, at any given moment, covered in unidentified bodily fluids.
Two years after I had turned in my lawyer card to raise my family, I realized I wasn’t happy. Chasing one kid to ensure she didn’t kill the other, whilst simultaneously feeding, cleaning and entertaining both tiny humans, and trying to be a homemaker and a wife had muted my identity. I completely lost myself in motherhood.
Although I was terrified people would think I was ungrateful, or worse, that I didn’t love my kids, I finally admitted out loud that I needed to go back to work.
I eased myself into it with a home-based business, and eventually started lawyering again in an office. My kids started school, and my brain started firing in ways I hadn’t realized I’d missed.
I felt accomplished and driven. I found myself again.
And then . . . March 2020 happened. Just like that—I was home with my kids and forced back into the role of SAHM. Only this time, I had the responsibility and expectations of my career piled on top.
Each weekday morning, I would summon every ounce of willpower I had from every part of my body to make distance learning fun and interesting for my 6-year-old, who was, at any given moment, throwing himself on the floor and whining about how boring I am. Meanwhile, I was also fielding periodic interruptions from my 7-year-old, who would insist that her math assignment “doesn’t make any sense” (it always did make sense, by the way, and that’s coming from a math-illiterate lawyer).
Once that titillating fun was over and “school” was dismissed, I climbed onto my desk stool to log on to my laptop and do some lawyering. Then at 5:30 PM, I would stuff my face with cheese, crackers, and Chardonnay in between chopping and sautéing dinner. Sometimes I’d fold laundry in the quiet sanctuary of my bedroom as a treat to myself. Swoonworthy, I know.
I felt trapped. I’d had an intense and demanding job before, and I’d been a SAHM before, but never both at once. And though my husband could very well be the most supportive man alive, the heavy lifting of nurturing our kids and keeping our home from looking like hoarders live in it naturally continued to fall to me— even if I had a conference call scheduled or a deadline to meet.
Even when we all began to feel some relief from the restrictions and everyone began resuming normal activities, I continued to experience an overwhelm and a burnout I couldn’t shake. It felt as though working motherhood hadn’t become any easier, it just became a different kind of hard.
Do you ever feel that way too?
Trust me, you’re not alone.
The good news is that you can absolutely regain your footing. Here’s what worked for me during that most trying time and what I continue to rely on today:
Create an intentional plan.
The first person I confessed my misery to was my husband. I knew better than to pretend I could handle it all myself. My strategy? Brutal and utter honesty.
I needed his help managing my kids’ school days with my work schedule and the demands of our household. So, we created a plan. He agreed to completely handle the mornings, which includes getting the kids up and out the door every day. I agreed to handle bedtime. Breaking it up that way made all the difference—for all of us. The energy I regained from taking a step away spilled over into everything else I did. And, much to everyone’s delight, my patience returned.
If your partner doesn’t have the flexibility at work to help you, or if you’re parenting solo, lean on someone outside your home if you can. Don’t martyr yourself or believe the lie that you’re a burden. Women love to help other women; most of us just need to be asked. So ask.
Abandon the guilt.
It’s so easy to buy into mom guilt when your kids are home with you, and you maybe wish they weren’t. When I first began working from home after the pandemic normalized it, I found myself cycling through feelings of resentment when my children pulled me away from what I was working on, followed by intense guilt for not having the patience (or desire) to have them in my face for hours on end, and then back to resentment again.
Eventually, I realized the mom guilt didn’t make me a better mom. You know what did? Taking designated time away to work on my own passions.
It’s OK to have goals and dreams outside of your role as mom, and it’s OK to want to work on them—even if it means your kids have to fend for themselves when they can’t find their library books or socks. That doesn’t make you “less” of a mom. It makes you human.
Let it all out. As moms, we tend to put such intense pressure on ourselves to always keep it “together.” But it’s OK to cry. Being upset with yourself for crying is kind of like berating yourself for having to pee. Obviously, there’s a time and a place for everything. But when you need to release the tears, do it. You’ll feel so much better afterwards.
Remember that you’re doing your very best. (Of course you are! You didn’t wake up today plotting all the ways you could be mediocre! Come on.) Being a working mom is hard, but it means you get to teach your kids how to handle adversity, how to crush their goals, and how to get back up when they fall short.
Give yourself grace as you navigate nurturing your kids while nurturing your career.
You’re an amazing mom. And you’ve totally got this.
Excerpted from Chapter 3 of But Definitely Wear Mascara: Hacks to Help You Love Your Mom Life (and Yourself) a Little More by Nikki Oden, © 2023 Nicole Oden).
Nikki Oden is a lawyer and mom mentor who helps working moms battle burnout by teaching them how to own their days and crush their goals—without the mom guilt. She is the founder of Your Ideal Mom Life, host of the Love Your Mom Life podcast, and author of But Definitely Wear Mascara: Hacks to Help You Love Your Mom Life (and Yourself) a Little More.