We’re thrilled to have Leslie Bruce, heymama member and founder of Unpacified, join us for the first in a series of musings on Motherhood. Leslie strips away the illusion of filtered perfection and offers a real take on what it means to be a working mother. By creating a platform for moms to come together on relatable ground, Leslie wants to make sure that every new mama knows that “Being a mom is everything… but it’s not all there is.” Can we get a heck, yeah! Take it away Leslie…
The idea of covering a single topic under the “working mama” umbrella each week feels a little disingenuous. Our work/home/personal/social/domestic lives are tightly (and mercilessly) woven together. I live my life juggling the consequences of one row of fallen dominoes after the other. There’s no glamour in that; it’s just the way it is. We live in a world where we make 80 cents on the dollar, where maternity leave is considered a disability, where we’re still clawing and scratching our way to equality, while continuing to battle generations of stereotype, generalizations and discrimination. And if I may be so bold to assume, we’re still somehow managing to carry a lion’s share of the responsibilities at home.
That said, I’m not going to try to pigeon hole our experiences, but rather just share mine and hope that it speaks to you in some way that gives you a little comfort, a little laugh or perhaps just the perspective to say “well, I guess shit could be worse.”
The atmosphere in my home varies from day to day, and even hour by hour. It can depend on the time of year, the weather, my daughter’s age, my dog’s bowel movements and the number of times I had to remind my husband to take out the f—–g trash. (Yes, it a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.) There are weeks where I find a really great rhythm, but inevitably, the train goes off the track—as it tends to do—and the clumsy dance begins again.
Through it all, my one constant is this…Mom Guilt.
Which is ironic, because I was certain I’d never ever be “one of those moms.”
When my daughter Tallulah was five-months-old, I was approached with an amazing opportunity: one of my closest friends was developing a new lifestyle book, and wanted me to work on it with her.
Sweet relief! I thought. I was beyond ready to get back to work, but this project wasn’t going to require me to just tuck behind the luminescent glow of a computer screen…it was, unlike so many of my other collaborations, also going to require me to spend a lot of time on set (in addition to behind my desk).
I could not have been more thrilled. At home, I was emotionally spent; my hair was breaking; my body was a challenge (at best), and the hormones were still in command. This new project gave me the chance to be useful, and a reason to shower with a fair amount of frequency.
Simply put: I needed to feel like myself again.
As spring turned to summer, the project went into full swing. From the first week in July through the end of September, I was basically a ship passing my husband (and nanny) in the night. It was a peony-infused hurricane season, fueled mostly by rosé, coffee and cake. In the end, I’m not entirely sure how many days I spent on set…but summer came and went in a warm, ferocious blur.
I was creating and producing. I was opinionated, I was powerful. I was something other than a mother. I was my own woman. It was a necessary thrill.
On one of our final shoot days, I had double booked. I was exhausted, as we all were, and running on empty. It was a Saturday and my saint of a husband was spending his weekend, much like the ones before, hanging out with our chatty, crawling, standing but not walking 11-month old daughter.
She was attending her very first birthday party that day. It was going to be 9,000 degrees in Santa Monica, so I laid out a sleeveless blue pinstripe dress with a red flower, her white sandals and a red bow for her hair…and I went to work.
Being a proud mama (and yes, I could still be a loving and doting mother while still needing this project for my own mental health), I wanted to show her off. I asked my husband to swing by the set after her party since they would be nearby, so I could introduce her to my friends and co-workers.
When he finally arrived, I ran out to the car. My husband rolled down the window, putting his finger to his lips.
“Shhh!” he said. “She had so much fun…she totally crashed out. I couldn’t keep her up!”
Quietly, I opened the backdoor and looked at my baby—who didn’t look that much like a baby anymore—sound asleep after attending her first party. She looked precious, and happy, and I couldn’t help but think that my little girl would never know that I got to see her in her very first party dress.
I shut the door and thanked him for coming by, but agreed it was best to let her sleep.
He rolled back down the driveway, waving at me with a proud dad smile, relishing in a successful day of firsts, and I walked back inside and began hopelessly re-arranging a vase that had already been perfected.
“Where’s the baby?” my friend Kate asked with a big smile.
“She fell asleep! Too much fun at the party,” I said with a shrug, forcing a smile onto my own lips as the tears began pooling in my eyes. In that moment, I felt so overwhelmingly empty. I had missed out on something that felt so silly, but also so outrageously important. I had missed a moment.
Kate leaned in, scrunched her nose and sighed, “It’s hard, isn’t it?” She was the only other mama on set, with two older kids of her own, and she could sense the unexpected regret I felt.
“It’s ok,” she whispered, rubbing my shoulder. She knew me well enough not to make a big deal out of it. “You’re ok.”
She got it; which meant, she knew it too. I realized this wasn’t just a fleeting sensation. This was one of those crazy motherhood “aha” moments. That’s when the whirlwind finally stopped, and all the pieces that had been swept up came tumbling down into my lap.
I missed my daughter’s first summer. I missed her first crawl. I missed taking her to her very first birthday party. I had missed a lot of firsts…and for a moment, I couldn’t breathe.
In the end, it was the project of a lifetime. Not only was it an amazing experience where I helped produce a beautiful book with wonderful people, it was also the catalyst for my business: Unpacified.
So yes, I’m beyond grateful to have had the opportunity, but I’ll still miss the moments I lost. Even if I one day discover how to “have it all,” I don’t think the guilt ever goes away when I’m not able to be there for my daughter. And until I can figure out how to clone myself, I’m just going to have to get used to feeling a bit guilty. (I can, however, clone a sheep…but that doesn’t do me any good in this scenario.)
For me, recognizing it as the elephant in the room was half the battle. I was embracing the idea that I’m going to let myself down, and that somehow was a relief…
I need to work. I choose to work. It drives me crazy most days, but it also keeps me sane. Furthering my career and not allowing myself to sideline my own hopes and dreams is critical to my maintaining my own identity and self-worth…which, in turn, will make me a better parent and role model for Tallulah.
And because I work, I’m not always going to be there when I want to be, or when my daughter needs me. I’m usually the first one to say, “Taking time for yourself isn’t selfish…it’s essential”; and while it may be true, it doesn’t necessarily make the guilt go away. We’re intelligent creatures capable of both logic and emotion (except when it’s a Monday night and Chris Harrison announces “This is the final rose of the evening…”)
I’ve learned to live with my Mom Guilt, and even sort of embrace it. I recognize that it’s just a feeling, and that my inability to be all things to all people isn’t going to permanently damage my child (most likely). Being aware of this doesn’t make the feeling go away…but it does make it OK.
I’m not always going to be able to tap dance backwards in high heels. Shit, I’m not always going to make it to the toilet after three shots of fireball and a bottle of wine (Before you get all judge-y, I’ll have you know it was a wedding in the Florida Keys. That sort of behavior is basically required. And I did get to the bathroom…I just cut the corner a little early and landed in the sink.)
In a strange way the guilt is comforting. It reminds me of how very much I love her, and how everything I do, in some shape or form, is for, and will always be for, her.
(Ok, maybe not the fireball.)
This post first appeared on heymama.co on Dec. 1, 2016.