I was born in 1984. Glass ceilings were being established, and bras had stopped burning. My mom wore shoulder pads, huge rose-colored rim glasses, and worked in one of the largest accounting firms in my hometown. She had an AA degree and a car she had paid for all on her own. She also waited to get married until she was 28 (gasp!)
When I was born, my mom took all of six weeks off, because that is all California disability insurance would pay. When she returned to work, she pumped in the bathroom, because doing it in her cubicle was “unsightly.”
Our family arrangement was a little nontraditional; my dad did all the cooking and most of the housework when he was home. When he was at work, I went to daycare. It worked for them.
Four years later my brother was born, and the arrangement quickly changed. My dad was out of work, so daycare was no longer affordable on one income. My mom felt like she was missing out, so she quit. With her severance, and my dad’s unemployment, she bought a personal computer, pillaged some filing cabinets and a desk from my grandparents’ garage, and set up an office in our home.
The church, Eastern Star ladies, friends, family, and new small businesses were fair game in her hustle. Soon she had a self-sustaining tax and payroll business with steady customers in the community. The local newspaper did an article about her business and home life, and how she balanced it all. The picture of her at her desk, in front of a small IBM computer with my brother in blue terrycloth footies on her lap is still mounted on a wall in her office.
After about six years my brother and I were both in school full-time, and my mom had enough customers to move her business out of our home. She hired a secretary, another mother she knew who needed work. In the years since, she’s kept at it, and last year’s tax season she did taxes for 610 clients. Her current business location shares an office space with her brother, who also started his own business. Her staff includes my cousin’s husband and a stepmom. It is not uncommon to see a baby sleeping in a playpen or a toddler doodling on a coloring book at an open conference table. She hands out onesies emblazed with “Mommy and Daddy’s Little Tax Deduction” to clients with new babies.
My mom never missed a recital or school play. She was the leader of my Girl Scout troop, and made an Annie Oakley outfit for my third grade history project. She went to every one of my brother’s basketball games. Did she make dinner often? Definitely not. Was our house immaculate? Only before my grandparents came over. Did I ever think my mom was overwhelmed or tired? Not that I recall.
The presence of cell phones, social media, and Google has made things both easier and maddening today. To be a small business owner now means 24/7 availability to your customers and responsibilities. It is a blessing and a curse; I can work at any hour of the day if I choose to. I can reach clients and be a part of the social construct without even taking off my yoga pants. This was not an option in 1988.
As I sit on the edge of a new business venture, balancing life with two children under the age of three and no family nearby, I often panic. I fear it’s too much and that I can’t do it. I think about how hard it is to carve out time to work on business items, or even shower. I worry about buying healthy groceries for my family on a single income budget. I worry whether or not I’m doing it right.
Pinterest tells me I should be craftier. Facebook posts tell me I’m parenting wrong and inflicting lasting damage. Our house is dusty, and I still haven’t finished taking down the wallpaper that was here when we moved in over a year ago. I worry that I’ve been out of the workforce for too long, that I leaned too far out, so far that I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.
So I do what any self-respecting, 30-something should do, I cry and call my mom. And she always says the same thing, which calms my hysteria.
“Are the girls fed and clothed?”
“Then you’re doing it right, and you’re doing the best you can with what you have right now.”
I didn’t have a traditional stay-at-home mom model; she was more Murphy Brown than June Cleaver. I don’t envy the path my mom had to take back then. But when I think about it, it isn’t all that different from the path many of us are now choosing to take (minus the shoulder pads). Our current social climate says that we should be able to do it all, just like it was telling women in the 80’s. Society says that you have to be successful in the workforce, and then come home and be an amazing wife and mother; that your children should never know it is hard or that you are struggling to find balance.
Society pits us against one another, constantly fueling the so-called mommy wars, so that we never band together and say, “enough already!” We all want the same things: time to bond with our babies and not be punished at work, the ability to balance job and home responsibilities, and the desire to not feel crushed by the pressure to do it all perfectly. There is no perfect, there is just what you are doing right now, the best you can with what you have.
Sarah Suhrstedt is a mother to two fiery girls, and the owner of her own private childbirth education and labor coaching business, SMART Birth services. When she isn’t chasing her girls or teaching the importance of squats in pregnancy, she is rushing after her two labradors and dreaming of the beach!