When I answered that question initially, all I could think about was missing milestones in Ryan and Eli's lives, but now that I really consider that question I would answer it differently. The worst thing about being a working mom is likely also the worst thing about being a mom in general: anxiety.
I can only wish that I would be able to capture the minutiae of anxiety the way William Styron writes about depression in his work Darkness Visible. Unfortunately, no amount of wishful thinking makes me a writer, so I'll simply tell you what I know: anxiety is a sneaky bastard.
There are a hundred things I enjoy about being a mom and teacher. These titles are the things I like best about myself. But there are days when I can only focus on the piddling things that surround these designations.
Eli wakes up happy almost every day. He smiles at me and tracks my movements as I walk through the kitchen to gather my stuff before I leave. He talks and coos and giggles, and I try my best to soak it in because I know he won't be little for long. I'm pretty successful most days. Then the sucker punch: the diapers have a smell they shouldn't have; my living room is a mess; I don't have time to read/grade papers; I haven't had time to meal plan; I need to go to the grocery store; my milk supply seems to be decreasing; I don't exercise regularly; I'm still struggling with the baby weight.
Any one of those things is completely manageable, but there are days one of those issues or any combination of those issues will knock the breath out of me. I cannot get my mind off of the fact that maybe I'm not washing diapers correctly or I won't be able to nurse Eli the way I had hoped (which is made harder by the fact that I couldn't nurse Ryan). I get snagged in the threads of detail and I cannot manage to untangle my feet from the mess. And the bigger picture? Completely invisible in those moments.
They attack without warning. On the best mornings--the ones where I'm feeling the best, that things are going well and I'm doing a good job at most things in my life--they ambush me from a corner. And because I don't like to cry in front of people, I spend those mornings gritting my teeth and attempting to occupy my racing mind with something other than the knotted thread tied around my brain.
That is the worst part of being a working mom. Actually, now that I think about it, that's the worst part of being a human being. I can remember the same issues in the days I didn't work and I can certainly identify them in the time period we waited to become parents.
But this anxiety made me think about another question Elizabeth asked: "What items or tips do you recommend to help 'make it work'?"
I responded that we all need someone in our lives who can help keep things in perspective. That's true, but I think working moms, moms, and people in general need encouragement. On the days when the anxiety is the worst, I need someone to pat me on the back and tell me I'm doing a good job. (Which is weird given that words of affirmation aren't really my thing most of the time.)
Because of that, I wonder how many of us are willing to choose one person, just one person, to encourage every week for the next month? And what if we asked each of those people to pay it forward? What kind of change would we see in our families, our workplaces, our own demeanor?
Would you join me in a pay it forward campaign? Feel free to share ways people have encouraged you #payitforward