A few months ago, an article titled “The New Midlife Crisis For Women” kept popping up in my Facebook feed. I wondered if they were talking about me, but it was a few weeks before I had time to sit down and read it without interruption.
The gist was that women who are either entering or well into their 40s are stressed out, overwhelmed and basically a hot mess — no matter how successful they are. Several women were interviewed for the piece, and as I read about their experiences, I felt as though I was among my people.
I am a 39-year-old freelance writer and stay-at-home mother of two children. I scaled back on freelancing when my son was born almost seven years ago, and at the time, I was fine with this. It was financially feasible, I had a newborn to take care of, and I was content to throw my entire being into that work. As my son grew, so did my ability to start writing more regularly again. It wasn’t always an easy balance, but it fed my ambition enough to make it worth the effort.
When my daughter was born in 2014, I again cut back on writing, but this time, when the itch to freelance returned, it was much harder to scratch it. So many colleagues I knew from my days as a magazine editor had fled the uncertainty of the print industry for jobs in content branding or the digital space, and I found myself cold-pitching editors I didn’t know at publications for which I had written years earlier. When one editor asked me to submit clips of my longform writing, I realized it had been nearly a decade since I’d written anything longer than 1,000 words. I did not hear back from that editor.
While this was humbling, it wasn’t really surprising. Right now, my career isn’t my main focus. There, I said it. And I am trying not to feel bad about it anymore.
Motherhood, especially when you have more than one child, is wonderful, miraculous and everything the women who came to your baby shower said it would be. But it’s also all-encompassing in a way that I never could have imagined before I had kids. There is always something to be done: meals to be made, messes to be cleaned, homework to be supervised, activities to be shuttled to, cuddles to be given (that last one is, admittedly, my favorite). And just when I think I’ve crossed everything off my to-do list and can finally sit down for a moment and maybe pitch an idea that’s been rolling around in my brain, or set up an interview with a source, something else pops up that needs my attention. And work, once again, falls by the wayside.
A couple of months ago, I realized that no matter what I’m doing, I’m always thinking about what I should be doing instead. When I give my 3-year-old daughter the iPad or turn on the TV so I can get some work done, I think that I should be playing with her, rather than potentially stunting her brain development so I can be creatively fulfilled. When I take an hour to exercise, I worry that I should be writing, that I am squandering my potential, that all of my free time needs to be devoted to my craft. When I’m cleaning or straightening up the house, I feel guilty that I’m not using the time to actively engage with my children. When I just want to watch “This Is Us” for an hour by myself after the kids are in bed, I feel bad that I’m not spending that time watching TV with my husband, whom I haven’t seen all day. On more than one occasion, I have felt paralyzed by what I’d like to accomplish in a day — and how I’m going to get it all done. This usually occurs before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee in the morning.
This constant feeling of falling short was becoming a major source of unhappiness for me. And that also made me feel terrible because, all things considered, my life is a good one. Why wasn’t that enough? I continued to wallow in this until one afternoon, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed (something that also feeds my “never enough” anxiety) I saw a post from a mom asking for advice on how to balance a creative career with parenting. Another mother, with grown children, replied with the idea that there are “seasons to life.” That even if you aren’t doing everything you want to be doing right this second, it’s okay, because someday you will have the time to devote to whatever it is you desire. She also admitted that she wished she had wasted less time worrying about getting it all done when she was younger.
Wow. This was an aha moment for me. Yes, I know that my children won’t always need me the way they do now (and that I’ll probably mourn this), but dividing my life into “seasons” allowed me to embrace the fact that the kids are my focus, without feeling guilty or inadequate about what can’t be. It was freeing. I finally let go of the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.
So as I approach my 40s, I am trying to be more mindful of the metaphorical marathon that I, and so many of my fellow moms, are running. I am trying not to let my to-do list take me down. I am trying to be more present for my children mentally, not just physically. Recently, a friend who has her own business contacted me about an upcoming project. But our conversation soon turned to how hard it is to keep the momentum going on the successful careers we had cultivated before we became parents. “I’m terrified of becoming irrelevant,” she confided in me. Same here. So I told her that she will never be irrelevant. She is smart and experienced and tenacious. She is also a mother. Someday, we’ll discover that these characteristics can coexist, rather than cancel one another out. And a new season will have begun.
Michelle Hainer is a freelance writer, editor and mom. She blogs at Made by Michelle.