One day I cracked. I was sitting in a tangle of quilts, surrounded by two-weeks worth of unfolded laundry, halfway through an article profiling high-power women and work-life balance, and I started to cry. The women featured were praised for their superhuman abilities to effortlessly keep the plates spinning in work, family and life. Girls commented with relief to discover that women could be both business powerhouses and dedicated mothers. Had I come across that article three years ago, I knew I would’ve commented with the same effusive buoyancy. But now, all I could see were a group of people who gave absolutely everything of themselves to everyone around them (albeit bathed in the halcyon glow only a closet full of vintage caftans and a rose-water addiction can give you). I wondered why I was working myself until exhaustion to get to where they were. I saw that their lives, much like mine, contained no quiet moment alone to refocus. To do something just because they wanted to. I realized I was reaching, tantillian like, towards something I didn’t even want anymore.
Up until that point, I had been trying to achieve the highest plane of womanhood: Having It All. In addition to the perfection of family/work balance, at this level women have also “achieved” a pre-baby body and glittering social life. With absolutely no realistic expectations for failure, I proceeded to sacrifice myself to a grueling schedule centered around this goal. I’ll spare you the details. Just know that my days started at 4 a.m., ended at 10 p.m. and involved at least one 15-minute ice bath to shock me back from the dead of fatigue.
As you can imagine, this left me frayed. But I continued to push myself.
For those women with kids who read Man Repeller, I’m sure you’ve come across these articles a lot. There are whole websites dedicated to “super moms.” To be honest, I found them really motivating before I had a baby. They gave me guidelines and a visual for a life to work towards.
They are a part of this whole “You Got This, Girl” culture that is pervasive in the Pinterest era of modern motherhood. As soon as you get pregnant, you’re ushered into a realm of easy-access tops, motivational platitudes and 30-something moms boundless in both energy and verve. If you’re not a mom, check out this handy Pin board as a primer.
These sorts of articles and motivational quotes are, at best, a hollow escape. A way to briefly disengage from the realities of modern motherhood: a culture that equates having a family to the death of a woman’s nuance, and a set of U.S. public policies that act to reinforce the thought. What you’re left with is a generation of women with children, feeling the loss of all of the hard work they put into their careers and their personhood, plastering over reality with a hodgepodge of trite cliches.
I was complaining to a friend about how frustrated I was with the glut of aspirational internet moms slinging their inspirational one-liners. Instructing me in rose-gold Mightype to love my tiger stripes, get back into my skinny jeans, and enjoy these exhausting years of early motherhood while leaning into my career. Thankfully, she cut me off to remind me of two obvious facts that I had lost sight of:
1. Anything worth pursuing is also worth sacrificing for, which is true whether or not you are a parent.
2. I made the choice to overwork myself.
It was then that I realized I was wasting both my time and emotional energy on an illusion, that I had mistaken marketing for reality. These women weren’t getting to Have It All without sacrificing something. When I finally took a moment to figure out what I was willing to forego in building my future, it turned out sacrificing my own sense of sanity wasn’t it.
Collage by GraphicaArtis via Getty Images.