Writing As A Mother: The Price I Pay

My husband said to me:

You want to be a full-time writer and a full-time mother
so you’ll never be happy.

I corrected him: I’ll never be SATISFIED. I feel happy quite a lot.


He’s right. I want to spend eight hours a day taking care of my children and another eight hours writing, and I’d be willing to put in two hours of grocery shopping, errands or cleaning. I’d like to hang out with my husband a few hours a day, which leaves three hours to either relax by myself or see friends.

So if I stop sleeping, I’d be satisfied. AND CRAZY.

I’ve let go of some of my obligations, but I can’t seem to get ahead. I have nothing left to give up. Or I have nothing more that I’m willing to give up.

I thought that I had bypassed this internal struggle by leaving medicine.

An opinion piece by Dr. Karen Siebert came out in the New York Times this month about how female MDs need to work full-time because they have a higher calling and owe it to the world. And while I certainly don’t think that this mass exodus of women from careers that our foremothers fought for us to be included is confined to medicine, I have written about how I do feel like I let the feminism movement down. And the arguments that feminism gave us choice to stay at home or work don’t hold weight in medicine. I didn’t have choices. I had 60-80 hours a week away from my firstborn for 3 years. Or nothing. And I think that business executives and partners in law firms have the same bleak prospects.

I have always believed that my decision to stay at home was right for myself and for my family. I am not condescending towards mothers and fathers who stay in medicine or other time-consuming careers. I think that the greatest gift we can give our children is an acknowledgment of our limitations and then making choices that reflect this.  In fact, I admire women who continue to break the glass ceilings that I chose to walk away from.

And I thought that walking away meant I would stay at home until my children were in school full time.  At that point, I would consider a career.  But within a year, I was so wrapped up in mothering that I was only E’s Mom. No Alex. And I was neither happy nor healthy.

So I went off to find Alex.  I imagined that I would reconnect to a passion or finding a new one.  A would develop a hobby.  I chose to return to poetry as I had written poems since I was 14 years old. But one thing led to another and within a few years, I was working.  And staying at home.

Happy and dissatisfied.

I love writing. At first, I didn’t realize that I was working.  Or dissatisfied.

Now, I have deadlines and finances and schedules but in an area that my passion exceeds the doldrums of the job.

And I suffer from my expectations and desires: If I had more time to write, I would be better. My posts, my articles, freelance opportunities, my book, my poetry would improve so much if I had 40 hours to dedicate to them.  60 hours.  80 hours. I could do it all.

I WANT to do it all.

Until I see myself annoyed at my children needs.  And I look around my dirty house.  I don’t read books or watch movies or make time for my husband.  Going on vacation makes me anxious.

And then I am annoyed at the needs of my words and social media. I despair at my passion.  I am miserable not writing, but I am unable to contain it.

The constant pressure to be available on every front is crushing.

The push and pull begins. I drop one project. I put N in school an extra day. I rush them to grow up so I can have more time to write.  Until I remember that the point of stepping away from medicine was to not miss these moments so I beg them to slow down and for my writing opportunities to wait three more years.

I left medicine because I didn’t believe that I could have it all. And I didn’t love medicine enough to pay the price.

Writing and blogging offer more choices. The price seemed less, but perhaps my love of writing colored my perspective.

Because when my children won’t sleep while I’m trying to work, I am not always kind. And if I didn’t have work to do, would I be more patience? More forgiving of their unpredictability?

I create as much space as I can for them, but in the back of my mind, I often think: I have work to do.

I am a stay-at-home mom.

I am a writer.

I live each day happy, purposeful and dissatisfied.

I didn’t know this was the price I’d pay.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

42 thoughts to “Writing As A Mother: The Price I Pay”

  1. I’m having one of these days (months…years…) too. I want so much, I try so hard, at times I’m happy.
    I wish I could be satisfied.

    This was perfect. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Ezra and Iris’ pediatrician recently went to working part-time in her shared practice. On one hand, it’s a little irksome as a patient/client because this has made her less available to us should something crop up last minute (or me forgetting to schedule a well-child until past the date needed). On the other hand, I sincerely hope that it provides her with a better sense of balance, if that’s what was desired.

    Happiness and dissatisfaction are strange bedfellows.

  3. And there is the rub, truly. When we find our passions we want to pursue them with all we have. And yet, these years with young ones are fleeting. It’s easy to let things go when that makes you happier, but when both choices lead to discontent? Well.

  4. I can’t imagine what that push/pull feels like. Not having kids makes my choice to spend my days writing an easy one. Plus, I have a job that pays the bills and allows me to do so. I know myself well enough to know, though, that if we are ever blessed with a child, writing will take a back burner, at least until I figure out the give and take of writing and mothering at the same time.

  5. I feel compelled to comment, even though I don’t have anything significant to add. I just relate. (Except for the being a doctor part.) And I really like that you use the word satisfied, rather than happy. That’s exactly it. I’m happy most of the time, but I’m frequently unsatisfied. I understand where you’re coming from. And appreciate that you said it so well.

  6. As a physician and mother of two girls I struggle with these issues on a daily basis. I feel pressure to be constantly happy when at work or with the kids, because I am otherwise wasting the opportunity to be doing the other thing. Although I strongly agree with Dr. Siebert’s opinion that physicians need to be dedicated I do not believe that the medical world should not adapt to accommodate women and flexible work schedules. Doing so would prevent some of the most intelligent and innovative women from contributing to medicine.

  7. I think that most people (especially successful people) are dissatisfied. Our quest to better ourselves, lives, community, etc. is what forces humanity to evolve. Contentment is merely temporary. Life is a constant cycle of finding balance and then upsetting it.

  8. {nodding}

    Though when applied to my own life, it’s ephemeral certainty I have at best, I believe that all mothers/moms have this issue, whether they work at home or not. I cannot believe that there are people who do not have moments, frequently, when they become impatient with the untrainable nature of circumstances. No nap, nap was too long, co-worker, bum internet…it all just piles up.

    All that said, trying to work form home, even if you love it, even if your kids are angelic, ain’t easy.

    But damn if your writing isn’t still beautiful and thoughtful.

  9. I was recently taking a mental health self-assessment and I realized that I am dissatisfied with my life, yet I experience moments of happiness every day. That made me kinda sad. Why can we be happy, yet dissatisfied? You are right, there is just not enough time in the day… I can’t imagine adding kids to the mix!

  10. This seems to be a theme with me this week as well. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who finds herself pushing and pulling the pieces of her life, trying to make enough room for each piece to coexist.

  11. I completely echo your sentiment (only in reverse – I choose to work but also want to stay at home). I desperately want to do it all, but just can’t figure out how to do so. Oh, the angst. It’s like high school again but with wider pants and way more coffee consumption.

  12. I go through this a lot even though I’m not getting paid to write. I love writing and blogging but it’s hard to find balance with everything else. I don’t think I have any advice or help to give you other than you are not alone in this battle for what it’s worth.

  13. I often feel like I’ve lost myself too, Alex. I was forced to leave teaching when my husband got a new job in a different state and we had to move half way through the year. At first I was gung-ho about getting back into the classroom ASAP, then changed my mind when a tragedy struck close to home, and now I’ve changed my mind again only to realize I am too late to go back full time this coming school year b/c I won’t have my licensure switched over yet. I am happy being Jackson’s mommy but unsatisfied in that alone. I don’t know how women did it before feminism!

  14. I’m suddenly thinking of cake, and eating it too. Oh the fun of deciding which path to pursue and making the sacrifices to support that choice.
    If it’s stay at home – then you cut down on the writing jobs/opportunities as much as it may kill you. If it’s writing – then you pay a sitter to watch your kids while you work for part of the week. Obviously neither of which you are ready to decide as you listed NO SLEEP as an option!
    I think every mother goes through this. Wanting to give it all to our kids, but drowning in the process of losing and trying to hold on to a just a little bit ourselves. Or a lot in your case.

  15. I have the up-most respect for working mothers. I know that if I still taught I’d be up for Crappy Mom of the Year Award. I’d be so spent with kids by the time I got home that I would not want to engage with the Roo. But my mom did it…AND was a single mom. I have no idea how they do it! And I don’t recall her ever not having time for me. I know times were hard, but I never recall them being hard because she was “tired” or “grumpy”. As a mom we must be selfless so much of the time. To have a job and do it, blows my mind. I have no excuse. This post has really made me stop and check myself. There’s a verse that I need to pray for myself every morning…Proverbs 31:28 Her children arise and call her happy!

    May our children say of us: I had the joy, the privilege, the honor of being raised by a mom who was flat out happy. Thanks for the reality check Alex!!!

  16. I have this struggle! Dance is my passion but working as a paralegal at a law firm pays my bills. I know I’d be a better dancer if I could dedicate the 40 hours a week I spend sorting through lawsuits practicing my plies! But, alas, I need health insurance… *sigh*

  17. This is seriously one of the best posts I’ve read in a while. I’m not saying that to discount other posts/writers – but honestly – amazing. I love blogging but I keep wondering this too – would I be more patient with them if I wasn’t trying to do it all during naps/bedtime? I’m off with them in the summer and is it fair to them if I blog? The “when the children don’t sleep” paragraph is so me right now. And I feel guilty for it a lot lately. I think whatever path you take, you’re going to wonder if it’s the right one. Awesome post.

  18. Oh my God, Alex. This post is AMAZING. It’s like you climbed inside my head and [sort of] made sense of it all. As a working mom, I dream all the time of quitting my job and writing full-time. I think, “I’d have so much more time to write AND enjoy time with my daughter and husband.” But in reality? It sounds like I’d be just as frantic as I currently am about carving out time for it all.

    What is it about a writer’s need to write. It’s like an insatiable hunger.

  19. Hello, dearie. Not being a doctor or a Mom, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to relate to this one. You are, as always, eloquent. The theme, it turns out, I can totally relate to – the desire to have it all. To do more, to do a better job, to meet everyone’s needs, and to meet your own goals in the process. I’ve had a lot of therapists over the years try to help me realize that I can try… but I more than likely will never achieve “satisfied”. One of those ladies told me that continuing to try to be more balanced and focusing on the positive were keys to a somewhat more satisfying journey. That, and going through the process of making tough decisions about either what to give up or if I couldn’t or wouldn’t give it up- figure out how to make it work for me. So I could stay sane (or something resembling sane, anyway). I am not at all at peace with this problem, and am decidedly imperfect in my attempts at balance and the vital “saying no occasionally”. It is something I think about every day. But the conclusion I eventually come to is that caring about this, and trying to work through it, has to mean something. As I’ve learned in other areas of my life, I can strive for progress – not perfection. Or, as that same therapist put it, “Perfectionism is the highest form of self-abuse.” She wrote that on an index card- I have it taped to my mirror, even all these years later. All of this is to say that I admire you and your thoughtfulness about your choices enormously, and I happen to think you are an amazing writer, fantastic Mom, and fabulous friend. I wish you as much satisfaction as you can find!

  20. Oh, Alex, I think this is the cry of every mom. I always thought I had more mom guilt because I work full-time. But my friend who stays home said she has more guilt being at home because she feels like every second she’s there should be contributing to the betterment of her kids because she’s NOT working outside the home. Once you have a kid, no matter what you do for a “job” you have another spinning plate to balance. And this plate has so much more weight and an odder, more awkward shape so you constantly have to adjust to keep it in the air. Hugs to you!!

  21. Wow. I really identify with this. (Well, not the part about being an MD.) I often wonder how other blogging moms do it, because I feel like I’m not 100% successful at either blogging or parenting. Maybe there’s a mom out there who is, or maybe no one is.

  22. I was fascinated to read your post and a lot of it sounded familiar. Though I must say that since returning to work I’ve enjoyed the healthy balance that childcare vs work offers. By the end of a week at working I can’t wait for the weekend. And after a wonderful weekend looking after two toddlers, work becomes a very inviting prospect!

  23. You are a personal hero of mine for making this choice and I admire your ability to speak more eloquently than I ever could on this very topic. I can’t stand the Mommy Wars because I think it takes away from the reality: that women simply can’t have it all without letting something go. You cannot be the perfect mother and employee when both demand 24/7 engagement. You cannot keep any semblance of sanity or self when giving yourself over 100% to your child. You cannot climb the corporate ladder swiftly when you have the responsibilities of a family. It is a truly crippling bind. So bravo for continuing to express your reality in a way the rest of us can relate.

  24. it is interesting to read this because I am ALWAYS considering giving up teaching. but it gives me adults (and teenagers, but adults at times too). but i want to write…oh i want to write.

    but i have a child. and I want more. and I want to soak in their smallness because it will go away.


  25. Yep. This is it. You’ve captured the dilemma perfectly. And I’m so glad you mentioned the Siebert piece. Ah, letting the feminist movement down – don’t get me started. As long as you don’t let yourself down, you’re one step ahead.

  26. Yes, and I can’t read that without hanging my head in shame as I think of my dirty bathrooms, my unfolded laundry, the IRL friends I don’t make time for.

    It is every minute of my life: PACKED.

    And I hear you.

    But without my writing? I am then an unhappy mom.

    Yes, I am tired and my house is next on the Hoarder’s schedule, but I”M HAPPY.

    Shameful, but happy.



  27. Sounds so familiar to me..lol..
    If only we have all the time we needed in this world..ha!
    Well I guess we just have to manage our time, love what we are doing and no try to do a lot of things at the same time..to meet the deadline and be satisfied.;)

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