In 2014, I returned to work after several weeks of maternity leave. I sat by the window, nursing my second son. I was frustrated, not because he wouldn't latch, but because I hadn't finished the PowerPoint presentation due the next day.
It almost feels like a betrayal to my fellow sisters to say that I have enjoyed the chaos of being a working mother. My overactive brain is set alight by the hundreds of tasks I need to do. I understand my privileges: a husband who works flexible hours and all four grandparents ready to help at any time. However, I could not help but feel I would be doing this without them. I get a sense of pride in doing it all. I was a student with two jobs and a side hustle so I could be a working mother. In a patriarchal society, that means letting go of yourself and clenching your fist beneath the desk instead of speaking up.
I skip over the "you look tired."
I dance around the "so…who picks them up?"
I stamp on the "late, again?"
Nobody ever notices when I wear extra concealer or add a bouncier curl to the back of my hair. My colleagues don't bat an eyelid when I am drafting documents at midnight between feeds. As I go through midlife and become more confident in my identity, I have less patience for such comments.
Working in Real Estate means I can put on my pencil skirt and scribble out the character that doesn't quite fit. Clare-before-the-kids is who the customer wants to see. This physical separation masks my mental dilemma: the guilt when I take on overtime, the stomach twist I feel when a couple comes to view a house with their beautiful children. I wish I could say I do this for my son, but he is just a wonderful extra in the benefits of my hard work. I work hard because it means everything to me.
Midlife has helped me understand that I have an unhealthy relationship with success.
Clare had to get straight A's, so Clare must earn the top commission. Yes, this helps pay my mortgage, but that is not as valuable as the warmth I feel when I have done a good job. You will think I am a slave to capitalism. I will nod at your skills of deduction.
As I get closer to my fiftieth year, I can come to terms with the fact that my mindset is unsustainable, a toxic mentality that Gen Z would curse. But where is the grace for women like me? For decades, we have had to suck it up and grind from dawn until dusk.
Still, admitting my hyper-focus on work comes from a place of insecurity is refreshing. I have started attending sessions at my company's parents' network to meet other mothers who share similar views and experiences. They have helped me ask for the help I need and reframe motherhood as a type of achievement. A life-saving support system and I am eternally grateful.
As much as I want my children to inherit my determination and ambition, I want them to carve out their lives in a kind way to their minds and bodies. That is my wish, my hope, my prayer.