When I was a young, naïve college student contemplating career paths, I imagined a life where I could have it all. At that time, my idea of "having it all" included a husband and children (lots of them because I was raised as an only child), a house in a good neighborhood, a mentally stimulating job in which I could earn a decent living and also make a difference in the lives of others, a social life with girlfriends to shop and drink wine with, time to work out and to read the occasional chick-lit novel. Now, as I sit in bed listening to the sound of my four-year-old daughter snore while I type away on a trial brief, I wonder whether the idea of "having it all" even applies to working moms. Sure, I have a great husband, a beautiful daughter, a house in a well-respected neighborhood with good schools, and a mentally stimulating job that I actually enjoy. But, despite all of those great things, I have no spare time for me, my husband, my dogs, my family, or any girlfriends, and I find myself in a constant battle of work vs. family.

I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Not only can we not afford it (those pesky student loans are unforgiving!), but I would undoubtedly drive myself and my husband mad if I did not have something different and exciting to tackle every day. I also knew before I became a mom that, while I ardently aspire to be the very best lawyer I can be, I was definitely not made for cleaning house (just ask my husband) and entertaining children. So, when my three-month maternity leave was over, I dropped my daughter off at daycare and drove to work looking forward to some mental stimulation and conversations with adults. Ah, but I felt guilty that day for not being one of those mothers who cries the first time she leaves her child at daycare. And I also felt guilty for actually wanting to leave my daughter for work. I wondered if something was wrong with me. Did I value my career more than my own child?

Time and my career marched on, and my workload naturally increased. I went from never having emails to answer on Monday morning, to not being able to remember the last time I didn't have email or the last time I didn't have to work on the weekend. When my daughter was young I could make it a priority to get home early and not miss her 6:30 p.m. bedtime. I would cook her homemade baby food, play with her, and put her to bed, relishing those sweet moments alone with her as she dozed off. But, as she got older and I got busier, I began coming home later and missing out on those precious moments. And even on the days that I came home earlier, I found myself still working at the dinner table. I would ask her what television show she wanted to watch, to buy myself a little more time to finish whatever it was that I was working on.

One day on vacation my daughter told my entire family "mommy is so boring because she works all the time." It was her honest statement that opened my eyes to how little quality time I was spending with her. In fact, when I thought about it, I couldn't remember the last time that I actually sat down without my phone or work in my hand and played with her, fully and completely taking in her silly personality. Apprehending this made me fear I might be casting a shadow on her future life, that because of me she would end up in therapy as an adult The mom guilt really hit me again one Saturday morning when she was playing "mommy at work" by herself. I heard her say, "I'm sorry, but I can't help you with that. Mommy is working!" That froze me in my tracks. I knew where she had learned it, and the thought of me actually saying it, and thinking that was normal, made me feel like I had just been kicked in the stomach. It was at that moment that I fully realized the profound impact that I was having on my daughter.

On the one hand, I am proud of how hard I work. I love my work and I have a lot of ambitions and goals. I believe that exposing my daughter to that is, and will be, good for her. In the household where I grew up, my mother, who had me when she was 19, worked during the day and took night classes to get her college degree. After graduating from Kennesaw State University, she became a public accountant with KPMG, which meant that she often worked late nights (especially during tax season) or brought work home. There is no doubt that growing up around my hard-working mother rubbed off on me, and I am appreciative of that.

But, on the other hand, I do not want my daughter growing up, talking to one of her friends someday about an important event or moment in her life, and thinking my mom wasn't there because she was working. While I know that I can't be everywhere and do everything, I do know that I don't want my career goals to overshadow my daughter's need for a present mother

The problem is that I have not mastered how to balance the two. I am always juggling too many things and feeling guilty about doing or not doing something, whether it relates to work, family, or my personal health. I think guilt is just the nature of being a working mother (or a working father). Then again, I have read that it also comes along with being a stayat-home mother or father.

Through this journey of mine as a working mother, I've come to the conclusion that "having it all" means setting realistic goals for career, family life, and personal life; and being fluid with those goals. I have also now made it a habit to come home early one day each week to do something fun with my daughter and husband, whether it is going to the park, being in our backyard together, or going out to dinner. Having that time with them eases the mom guilt on those days when I have no choice but to stay at work late or work on the weekend. And while I don't think that mom guilt ever goes away, cutting yourself some slack and really taking time to analyze your priorities helps make the guilt bearable.

To all you working mothers out there, trying your best to advance a career while having children and a family to come home to, kudos to you. You are not alone. And I hope my own insight can aide you in your quest to "have it all."

Originally published in DRI's August For the Defense

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