You’re a Collage, Not a Snapshot.
Ten years ago I left the competitive world of endurance racing and began my next greatest challenge: parenthood. After several years of triathlon and duathlon racing, I decided that my World Championship race in Edinburgh, Scotland would be the beginning of the end. I was nearing my 30th birthday and my body was at its peak athletic state… but also hovering around “the clock is ticking!” territory. My husband and I were ready to start a family and this race was the icing on the pre-baby cake. I left the multisport world truly feeling like I gave it my all and I was ready for a new chapter.
I kept training, but was happy to give up competing to have a baby. I also naively thought it would be easy for me to get back into competitive shape after starting a family if I wanted to. In fact, I thought I could have a baby and continue to be exactly everything I’ve always been and just add in an adorable sidekick without missing a beat. There’s all this messaging about how women can have it all and I ate it up.
I’m an empowered woman of the 21st century!
This is what all the women before me have been fighting for!
What a time to be alive!
It appeared as though I could just take a quick break and seamlessly weave this baby into my life. Look at all the cute stock photography featuring moms with babies on their hips and briefcases in their hands, smiling effortlessly at the camera like, isn’t this just a HOOT! I swear, google “working mom” images and tell me how many pudgy babies crawling on the laps of women sitting in front of laptops you find.
Is this meant to be inspiring? Because that’s how it looked to me before having kids. Now it makes me sad and pissed off. Seriously, what is the message here? “Women can do it all!” sounded like a feminist battle cry before I had children. Now that I have two kids, it sounds more like a personal hell. NONE OF US WANT TO DO IT ALL OR BE PRAISED FOR IT.
You can be a great mom. You can have a great career and a fulfilling personal life. But you’ll miss stuff. You’ll be forced to make sacrifices. You’ll need more help than you’re comfortable asking for. It hurts sometimes, but it’s the truth, and it’s ok.
Women before me had to fight for a seat at the table and I am grateful for that… but I don’t want to have to bring my child with me as these bullshit stock photos and sassy “bossmom” mantras have led me to believe is so necessary and even adorable. Being a working mom, being a mom period, is a beautiful thing, but it’s hard work no matter how you do it.
You can’t capture what it means to be any kind of mom in one perfectly staged photograph. It would have to be a collage. The pictures would have to be separate, but they somehow all go together. Whether you work outside of the home or not, moms have identities outside of their children and we should be encouraged to find ways to separate, honor, and serve all parts of ourselves instead of lumping it all into one snapshot with a trending hashtag.
There’s a whole vocabulary trying to convince us that we have to be everything at the same time – mompreneur, working mom, bossmom. I get how these words can feel empowering, but where are the dadpreneurs, working dads, and bossdads? They exist but we call them entrepreneurs, businessmen, and CEOs. I feel as though women are not always granted the same luxury of separating their various identities… and it’s exhausting.
I now run a business that is inspired by my kids, but I still can’t do it with my kids present all the time. I can’t do it without help. I can’t do it without an extremely flexible schedule. Even as much as I have chosen to tie my career to my experiences as a mother, I cannot bring value to the world without actually taking a break from being a mom. I want to be a boss and a mom, not a bossmom.
I had a vision of motherhood largely defined by what the outside world was telling me, and when I didn’t feel like I was meeting those expectations I felt like I could never succeed.
It wasn’t until I realized that success by MY standards was something completely different than what I had imagined, that I finally began to appreciate the life I was creating. The picture-perfect working mom image that was fed to me actually has little to do with my personal values, career goals, or parenting style. I’m doing my best to erase her from my brain and to keep myself from competing against her or any other woman.
I can’t do it all. What I can do is create a life that reflects my priorities and passions and understand that it doesn’t have to meet anyone else’s definition of success. It’s not a single perfect picture. It’s my personal collage that I’ll keep adding to, taking from, and rearranging as I go. It will most likely look like a hot mess to anyone on the outside, but to me it’s a work of art.