This essay originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Moms, I know you are out there. Like me, I know you are trying to catch your breath as you race from work to daycare at 5:30, hoping your child isn’t the last to get picked up. I bet your stress melts away the moment you drop to your knees on the preschool room floor. I don’t think I am alone in feeling an overwhelming joy consume me as my child runs towards me, crashing into my outstretched, tired arms.
Do you also marvel at the dichotomy? At work, I feel efficient and productive. Yet this strength seems absent as I try to unpack lunch boxes, prepare dinner, and make meaningful eye contact during the short 90 minutes that exist between taking off my heels and putting the kids to bed. I struggle to hold it all together while watching my 4-year-old throw a tantrum on the living room floor. I worry that his meltdown is somehow my fault, that perhaps if I didn’t work so hard, if I spent less time away from him, maybe the tantrums would disappear from our lives.
I’ve been at this working motherhood thing for nine years. Nine years trying to balance the chaos and understand the emotions that come from constantly trying to navigate between two worlds. And as I enter this tenth year of motherhood, I am trying to accept one simple truth.
I. Am. Enough. You are, too. Say it with me: “I am enough.” Here are five things I remind myself of while trying to balance career and family. I hope this list comes in handy tonight as you simultaneously flip yet another load of laundry and mentally draft an email before collapsing into bed.
1. It’s quality, not quantity, that matters.
Moms today spend more time with their kids than mothers did in the 1960s. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Perhaps it all depends on where you look to make your comparison. So many of us waste our time comparing ourselves to the mothers we see in our Facebook newsfeed. The next time you feel inadequate, shift your focus away from social media. I promise — those are only the highlight reels. Research tells us that the amount of time a mother spends with her child is far less important than the quality she gives during those moments. You have enough time to spend with your kids. The key is to make the moments count.
2. The kids are fine!
Early childhood education, as is often provided in day care settings, is good for children. While you are working hard and helping to support your family financially, the kids are thriving in organized child care settings. Quality early childhood education improves learning outcomes later in life. Children in organized care learn socialization skills early on and are better able to adapt to new experiences later in life.
3. Working is good for your health.
Researchers French and Demaske found that women who return to work after maternity leave experience less depression and better physical health than their nonworking peers. “For the mothers in our study, steady, full-time work was associated with better physical health than other work pathways and better mental health than interrupted or stay-at-home pathways.”
4. Your daughters (and daughters-in-law) might thank you for sticking it out.
Just 30 years ago, maternity leave was almost nonexistent. Today, family leave policies in America are still woefully inadequate. The International Labor Organization studied 164 countries and analyzed their maternity leave policies. The study found that the United States is one of only two countries that does not provide cash assistance to mothers upon the birth of a child. Many countries recognize the need to support families. Hopefully, in our lifetime, our country will as well. We all have a duty to not just wallow in our struggles as working parents. Instead, we should see our own experiences as an opportunity to band together to try improving our nation’s attitudes towards working parents.
5. Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite authors on work-life balance, reminds us that “The days are long but the years are short.”
Celebrate the small victories that really are not so little when we slow down to think about them. Does your 4-year-old wake up each day excited to greet the world? Revel in that success instead of fixating on the never-ending pile of papers on the counter. Did your child go to bed with a full belly? Don’t discount the effort it took to make that happen.
We all struggle. Our struggles make us human. So tomorrow, as you drop your child off at preschool and mentally shift gears to the work ahead, I hope you take a minute to reflect on this list. And if you see another mom at the office with cereal stuck to her pant leg, or watch as she accidentally pulls out a pacifier instead of a pen at a business meeting, I hope you remember that she, too, might be caught in the cycle of trying to seamlessly transition between work and motherhood. Despite how easy texting and social media makes communication, I would venture to guess that many moms, like me, still feel disconnected. Take a minute to share your story. The more I live, the more I see that by sharing our challenges, we can reconnect to one another, and hopefully, together, make our individual struggles to balance life a little less daunting.
Stacey Steinberg teaches Legal Writing and Juvenile Law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She is also a lifestyle photographer and a mom. You can view Stacey’s photography on Facebook.