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Erin Stewart: Seeking the right balance with family, work

Erin Stewart writes that her family will continue to build each other up and cheer for each other as each of them finds the success they seek.
Erin Stewart writes that her family will continue to build each other up and cheer for each other as each of them finds the success they seek.

I have been a stay-at-home mother for 12 years. That’s more than 140 months of changing diapers, hosting playdates and saying ‘Oh, you did so good!’ at the bottom of the slide. That’s more than a decade of being the default, go-to parent for every permission slip, every boo-boo and every mess.

During that time, I’ve also taught college classes at night, written columns during nap times and wrote my first novel in between kindergarten pickup and drop-off. Trying to balance the demands of motherhood with working has been a massive juggling act.

Some days I’ve hated it, and most days, I felt like I was failing either my children or my work duties miserably.

But, my husband and I made it work. And now, 12 years into motherhood, my life is shifting: My first bookcomes out in the fall and the marketing plus writing book 2 has upped the demands on my time. The bottom line: I need more work hours.

So, I’ve been taking a hard look at my days and how much time I have to give to my actual babies and to my book babies. Because, to be honest, I love them both, and they both need me right now.

I’ve been looking at part-time day care for my youngest son and trying to figure out how to go from full-time mommy to more full-time writer. In the process, I’ve been battling off some serious mommy guilt.

I keep thinking of this oft-used advice from President David O. McKay, the ninth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,who quoted in general conference, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

The thought keeps plaguing me: Am I putting my work, my writing, my success above my family? And perhaps more important, does that mean I’m failing in my home?

Am I failing my kids?

It’s a question I think many women struggle to answer. What’s the right balance between work and family? Does seeking success outside the home equate to failure in the home?

As I’ve been mulling this question recently, the answer has been a clear and resounding no. While this sage advice from President McKay asks us to prioritize parenthood, I do not believe he asks mothers or fathers to sacrifice all of our talents, goals and other success on the altar of parenthood all the time.

Unfortunately, women are fed the message constantly that it’s impossible to balance both the needs of our children with outside-the-home success. How many times have I heard various iteration of these statements? "How do you find the time to write?" "How do you juggle kids and a career?" "I could never do that as a mom."

These little comments speak volumes about how little faith we have that moms can pursue both family and career success. The underlying message, of course, in all these questions is this: You must be failing at something because no one can do both things well.

Men simply do not get this same level of scrutiny over their work/life balance. When’s the last time you heard someone ask a man how he balances having both a career and children?

Probably never. Because it is assumed he can be both successful in work and as a father. No massive juggling act required. It is interesting, though, that this quote from President McKay came in a section of his talk directed specifically towards fathers.

It’s mothers, though, who have internalized the message. And it is a wonderful message. Family is the most important work we do. Family is and will always be my top priority. But I am coming to accept more and more the idea that seeking success outside of parenting is also a worthy goal.

My home is not a failure if my son goes to day care a few days a week (or every day). My home is not a failure if I write more than I parent some days. My home is not a failure if I occasionally prioritize my own mental health and fulfillment in a job that I love.

Shifting from mostly mom hours to mostly work hours during my days is not an easy transition. I will miss so many things about wide-open days with my little ones. And I know I will have to work extra hard to make sure my children, husband and home are getting the things they need from me during this time.

But I am also going to work hard to make sure I am getting what I need. My talents and efforts deserve time. My dreams deserve attention. I deserve the chance to pursue success that has absolutely nothing to do with my children.

And that simply does not make me a failure in my home. I am not any less successful as a mother because I enjoy and pursue personal goals, just like I encourage my children to do.

After all, we’re a family. We’ll keep balancing. We’ll keep fine-tuning. And more than anything, we’ll build each other up and cheer for each other as each of us finds the success we seek.