Mother walking with a child in the woods

Credit: Edgar Barany on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–My daughter, Risa, was 3 years old when I started my first documentary. I was 38 . . . and a little scared. I’d never even made a home video before! Plus, I knew nothing about filmmaking, but as a writer, I knew how to tell stories, so I figured I’d learn as I went–cheaper than film school, if not a little more chaotic.

I sent out a request to family and friends who worked in creative industries, asking if they knew anyone in the film business that I could speak with for inspiration or practical tips. It turned out that my brother knew a successful documentary editor living in Los Angeles who would speak to me. Gold! This guy (I’ll call him “J”) was a 20-something editor with true Hollywood street cred, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions by phone, with one stipulation: it had to be that day at 2:00 p.m. So I said “no problem” and prayed my daughter would be napping at that time, according to schedule.

Before the editor’s call, I paced around the house, rehearsing the questions in my head, counting down the minutes, trying to remember everything I wanted to know. I put Risa down for her nap a few minutes before 2 p.m. Not a hint of resistance; I closed the door quietly and breathed a sigh of relief. The editor called right on time and just as we were getting to the good stuff (the tips I needed), I heard my daughter yelling from upstairs: “Mamaaaa!” I tried to ignore it, but her calls got louder. “MAMA!”

“Damn it. She’s fine, leave her,” I thought, trying to focus on what J was saying. “What if there is something wrong?” I suddenly thought. I tiptoed to her room with the phone cradled to my ear and opened the door as quietly as I could, trying to focus on the phone conversation. Just behind the door, my girl stood clad in diaper only, covered head to toe in diaper cream. Within the span of 15 minutes, she’d apparently climbed out of her crib, found the cream, disrobed, removed the cap and painted her face and body with the thick white paste. She looked like Casper the Friendly Ghost and seemed delighted with herself. At another time, any other time, this might have been funny.

Quick Decision

I assessed the situation the best I could: There was no apparent damage; however, it would take just a few finger smears to the face to get that cream directly in her eye or mouth. (“Could she go blind? Was it poisonous?!”) The editor was now waiting for me to respond to something he’d said, and I had to make a quick decision. I looked around her room, grabbed a set of crayons and paper and threw them (oh, yes, threw them) on the floor by her feet, closed the door, went to the stairwell and finished the call.

In the end, my daughter took the bait and distracted herself by making artwork. She lived to see another day and I received helpful information on how to get started with my documentary. I can’t say I’m proud of my actions, but it was the best I could think to do in the moment.

I’m sure you’ve been there yourself. After all, more than 70 percent of women with a child over age 1 work outside the home, according to the International Association of Working Mothers. What do we all have in common? Guilt. In fact, if you Google “hardest part of being a working mom,” you’ll find pages upon pages of blog entries from moms around the U.S. worrying they are not giving enough of themselves to their kids. While some wish they could afford to stay home with their child, many of us want to be working and understand that if we were home making sock puppets or painting egg cartons with our kids on weekday afternoons, we’d end up sniffing too much Elmer’s glue.

If you’re like me, you crave–no need–intellectual stimulation and an office of your own. We love being “Mommy” but also cherish our work title that connects us to the outside world and makes us feel needed in ways beyond parenting.

Pointless Pressure

I learned over the past few years that we’re all sick of pointless and pressure-inducing mantras like “find the balance” and “you can have it all.” Please! We are big girls who know that juggling a career and family is messy and complicated. It was freeing to hear Anne-Marie Slaughter–a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and the mother of two teenage boys–say in her Atlantic Magazine cover story “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” last July, “I’d been telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all . . . I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot . . . rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life.”

Yes, let’s stop striving to “have it all” and put our attention, as Slaughter suggests, on where it belongs: creating more flexibility in the workplace so women (and men) can attend to both their career and their family–and not get penalized in the future for making a “lateral” move professionally for the sake of the family.

We can also open up to each other about how and when we’re struggling with the work-parent juggle so we know we’re not alone in navigating this rocky terrain. Says Gina Robison-Billups, president of the International Association of Working Mothers, “When we share our guilt and that terrible feeling that we’re not giving enough of ourselves to our kids, we realize that other moms feel the same way–it’s incredibly liberating.”

In fact, if you ever want to bond with another working mom, just ask her: “What was the moment when you almost lost your mind trying to balance career and family?” We all have at least one of these bad-mommy stories, and sharing these confessions is like offering one another gifts that say “Hey, we’re all struggling with this, and that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.” Even though we choose this path, it’s hard, and we’re all making it up as we go.

Excerpted from “I Love Mondays: And Other Confessions from Devoted Working Moms” by Michelle Cove. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2012.

Michelle Cove is the director and a producer of the award-winning documentary “Seeking Happily Ever After” and the author of “Seeking Happily Ever After: How To Navigate the Ups and Downs of Being Single Without Losing Your Mind.” Cove is also the co-author of the national bestseller “I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You: A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict.” Currently, Cove is in production on her feature-length documentary “One and Only” and is the editor of 614: The HBI eZine, an online magazine that explores hot topics for young Jewish women.

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