I first met Katrina Alcorn, who writes the blog Working Moms Break, a few years ago at a BlogHer “Birds of a Feature” lunch meetup with other working-mom bloggers. We had a lot in common and naturally hit it off, staying in touch since that meetup. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the publication of her book, Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink. It’s finally available, and I’m thrilled to be able to share with you this exclusive excerpt. —Susan
Excerpt from Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink
Do you compare your insides to other people’s outsides?
Most of us do, even though we know better. We’re social creatures. It’s natural to make comparisons. But, we inevitably wind up comparing how we feel to how other people seem.
This may in part explain why so many mothers feel so much guilt. We look around at the women we know from the office or the kids’ school and see patient parents, happy marriages, and well-adjusted children. And we think, Why can’t I be more like her?
Recently, I asked several friends—all women I deeply admire—to send me a paragraph or two about the things you can’t see about their lives from the outside.
Here are a few examples of what real-life, enviable, put-together-on-the-outside women are really thinking. Think of them the next time you feel as though you’re doing everything wrong:
“Anneke”—Mom of one with coveted job in high-profile nonprofit
What people don’t see about me (or maybe they do!) is how anxious and cranky my commute and job make me. Ever since I went back to work (and stopped breast-feeding), when I have a day of nonstop, back-to-back meetings, followed by the inevitable email backup, followed by the mad rush to the train to do day care pickup for my toddler, followed by her not wanting to get into the car seat and screaming and crying in the parking lot at the top of her lungs, I find myself hyperventilating in the car and I have to take an Ativan by the time we get home so that I can literally breathe. I’m cranky toward my husband when he gets home, annoyed with our dog. I manage to hold it together all day and be professional, upbeat, and on the ball (I even manage to work out at lunchtime a few days a week), but by the time evening comes around and I’m trying to cook, I’m a mess!
“Jenny”—Pioneering mom of two in the world of high-tech
What people don’t see about me is that I’ve been on the edge of a panic attack for the past six to eight months—just started seeing a therapist. Worst time of the day is 5:35 pm, when I get home from picking up my twenty-one-month-old and three-and-a-half-year-old up from day care/preschool and we’re all starving, grumpy, and don’t know what’s for dinner.
I’m sick of being the main breadwinner and fantasize about moving to a little town where we can live on a farm and I can be with my kids all day and raise chickens.
“Alexa”—Glamorous mom freelancing in the music industry; her house looks like a movie set
Each day that goes by where I am not fully employed in my industry, I feel as if my career slips further and further out of reach. When I am ready to jump back in full-time, who is going to want to hire a forty-two-year-old mom, when there are twentysomethings chomping at the bit to do my job for longer hours and less pay?
My mind swirls with this thought and others:
“I need to volunteer more at his school.”
“I need to start running again in the mornings.”
“How come my son can’t memorize his Tae Kwon Do student creed?”
“Maybe we shouldn’t have done private school so we could save money for college.”
“Fuck, I have no 401(k).”
“I have to remember to water my zucchini garden when I get home; how do I get the tree rats to stop eating them?”
“I need to make more friends outside my marriage.”
“Do the other moms think I am weird because I am gay?”
“Do the other moms think I’m hot?”
All of this could take place in my head in the same five minutes. I smile on the outside because to describe what’s going on inside would make me seem off my rocker. I cry in my car on the way to pick up my son and then turn on the air-conditioning full blast to cool down my face and unpuff my eyes. It doesn’t really work, but I say I have bad allergies.
“Gillian”—Creative stay-at-home mom whose talent could give Martha Stewart a run for her money
I never know what to say when people ask me, “Are you a stay-at-home mom?” To me, that implies that one parent works (and is able to support the entire family) and one parent agreed to not work and happily does all the home stuff . . . which I guess is me, but I don’t remember “agreeing” to this arrangement at any time. I have a small business I am trying to start and I teach a couple of classes a week, on top of all the housework, all the pickups/drop-offs, all the shopping, all the bill paying, all the everything.
Most of the time I am crushed with the weight of the financial debt. I feel helpless and angry that I can’t make more money myself to pay it down. I feel stupid and childish that I am thirty-three and have no savings, no investments, no 401(k), nothing. I have ideas, goals, dreams that seem so unrealistic in my day-to-day life that it feels as if they will never happen.
“Samantha”—Nurse with clear priorities around work and home and the perfect part-time schedule
What people don’t know about me is that being a mother isn’t satisfying the way I expected it to be. I tried so hard to become a mama, and sometimes I think that I lost sight of why I wanted to have a child, what my motivations and expectations were. My daughter is amazing—healthy, happy, energetic. It’s just that spending time with her is often not as gratifying as I once believed it would be.
Sometimes I feel guilty about not wanting to have another child—as if people think I’m cheating my daughter, or I’m not truly part of the two-kids’ “Mommy Club.” I’m content with the kind of work that I do, but the daily grind of parenting and working outside of the home often overwhelms and bores me at the same time. Career advancement is on hold since I only work part-time. I thought I would be fine with this, but I feel torn between spending enough time with my daughter and putting enough energy into work.
Excerpted and published with permission from Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2013.
9 thoughts on “Excerpt from “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink””
I’ve tried hard to relate to Katrina’s writing several times, but I just can’t seem to. I’m a working mom pulled in many directions with my share of stress and drama, but I am just so thankful to be lucky enough to be raising my kids in the USA where we have so many options and choices. I struggle to read the scenarios above without wanting to hashtag them #firstworldproblems. I agree we could do more as a nation to support families, but I also think if you want your life to be simpler, you very often can.
Thank you for sharing this. I can relate to all these women. I recently went from full time at the office to working part time from home with my five month old at home. My older son is in Pre K. I think now I even put more pressure on myself. My mom once told me that the one thing all mothers have in common is guilt over everything. We analyze every choice we make and doubt ourselves.I think she is right.
Yes, sometimes it’s hard to separate the pressure we put on ourselves from the pressure everyone else puts on us. Together they make an excellent recipe for guilt!
Thank you for sharing this and I compare my insides to other people’s outsides all the time even though I know better (doesn’t stop me from doing it). I mostly can relate to Jenny. I will have a better day after reading this, thank you.
I’m so glad, Lindy. The real “Jenny” would be glad, too. 😉
One of my favorite sayings is “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” That includes … be kind to yourself.
My “deep thought” for the day 🙂
I am so happy to have read this. I am a working mom who changed careers (or at least trying to). I left the corporate world recently to go into higher education. I struggle with leaving the exciting fast paced environment of corporate. Yet, the long hours and intensity are not conducive to working mothers. I am also trying to go back for my Masters degree. I am so conflicted and am looking for reassurance. After having my yummy baby I noticed my confidence in my capabilities and decisions have wavered. I use to be decisive, confident and inspiring. Now, I am not sure. I am thankful to have these women sharing their thoughts about motherhood so that I may have a reality check. If there are other resources that can help me, please let me know.