inner world,  jesus,  mom blogs

the double-bind- life as a working mom

Confession- at various points in my life I have thought all of these things: kids are speed-bumps on the career path, being a mom seems lame, God is a jerk if he wants me to have kids and give up a job I love. Maybe you’re in the other camp entirely and have been waiting to have babies since you went through puberty. I have never stepped foot in that camp.  Now that I’m approaching having not one, but two children it’s made me think and pray a lot about how my life will change when spawn of Fick #2 arrives this summer.

It’s been a hesitant path to motherhood for me- Dave married me hoping that I’d want to have children someday. I can distincly remember being at a meeting to present about my work with InterVarsity to a committee who would decide if they wanted to give a grant to our work.  Since I lived in West Michigan at the time the committee was made up of all older, white Dutch men in suits.  The only women in sight were the ones who cooked and served our lunch of ham buns and jello, and the mom who straggled into the meeting toting her baby on her hip and toddler in tow to drop off a form her husband had forgotten at home.  When I saw the tender looks on the mens faces as the haggard mother walked into the room  I remember thinking to myself “I never want to be looked at like that.”

you know it's bad when even Heidi Klum looks stressed out taking her kid grocery shopping.

To me, their looks were conveyed pity, condescension and an attitude of “look at this poor mother just trying to manage a day with young children while we men do all the important work and make the big decisions.”  I realize now that there was a lot of projecting of my own fears going on there about how I was viewed as a woman and sadly, some misogyny as well.  Who knows what those men were thinking? Maybe they were wishing they could ditch the suits and play in the sandbox and eat some popsicles instead of being in a stuffy meeting?

When I had my son Reuben, Dave and I decided that he would stay home part time while I would continue to work full time.  In part this decision was because we make the same amount of money and have the freedom to make decision based on what we’re passionate about and feel called to rather than salary.  However, I know that another part of me was terrified as being seen like the mom in the meeting. I didn’t want to disrupt meetings, I wanted to run meetings. I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to be away from the action of seeing God work on campus with students and staff and to be influential in shaping how students encounter Jesus.

yes, yes, we can do it all. or so we're told.

After all, if Jesus gave me gifts of preaching and teaching why the heck wouldn’t I use them?  For me, continuing to work full time was both a faith-based decision of asking the Lord to give me strength to do the work he was clearly calling me to and and prideful personal decision that I could prove that I was able to serve as a leader even with a little baby.

Now that I’ve worked for 10 years with InterVarsity and serve in a job I love I’m starting to think more about the quality of life I want to have and not just about my career ambitions.  The difficult thing about being a working mom is it seems you are constantly trading one kind of guilt for another. This is what is referred to as “the double-bind” the constant pull of how to navigate career development and family obligations.  When Reuben was little, I was thrilled to get a brief break from mommy life while speaking to or training students I still guiltily thought to myself “there goes 1-week of the only time in his life he’ll be 4-months old” and felt like a bad mom.  While I was at home with him and was still in the nursing phase every few hours, I guiltily thought “I am never going to get any work done! Why the heck did was I promoted with a 4-month old baby? I’m letting down the people I work for!” Then there’s the guilt of being too tired to want to engage emotionally with your kid or your husband, though you forgo the nap to play trains with your son. And when you juggle that for a number of years, you begin to wonder “is it worth it?”

For the month of February, I’m going to be posting once a week on this topic. I’ve talked to many other working moms and stay at home moms who struggle with guilt, are worried that their choice to stay home will limit their career options, or are worried they’ll mess up their kids if they work. I’d love to hear the things you struggle with, what you wish were different, and helpful ways that you’ve learned to navigate the double-bind.

So here is my question in response to this post: what do you feel most guilty about as a mom?

For me, I feel awful when Reuben asks “will you come play with me?” when I’m trying to clean up the house or shoot off some emails for work.  Though I often do go and play trains with him, I know that there will be work left undone and also that it’s o.k. for him to play by himself occasionally. I know we spend quality time together every day and that I don’t need to make every second of his childhood a magical playtime. Maybe it’s just his cute voice & those big blue eyes that get me. (In my best Admiral Akbar voice) It’s a trap! Guilt! Guilt either way!

oh admiral akbar, if only you could help me steer the mothership.









  • Julie Longacre

    thanks, jessica! you certainly share what many of us have thought – or something close to it. the snow days came at the perfect time for me this week. i cried monday morning as i left for akron – i only saw violet for an hour on sunday and would hardly see her on monday. that’s not typical, but i still hate it when it happens. then i was handed 2 days at home – TOTALLY at home. slow meals, lots of books, a family movie, naps and lots of play time. it was dreamy. but how do i strike that balance when there isn’t a nation-wide ice storm? still working on that.

    • Jessica

      julie- i know the feeling. it can be so hard to leave again when you feel like you’ve just gotten home. so great you had two awesome days with violet!

  • April

    Excellent post!! Thanks for sharing your honest feelings.

    As a sort of “forced” stay at home mom, I feel guilty about my lack of contribution to society. People always say, “but you’re raising a child!!” So? It’s like saying, “But you’re being a wife to your husband!” It’s one aspect of my life, but it’s not my LIFE. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been to that other camp you spoke of, either. So it’s a foreign concept to me.

    I don’t mind spending all day being Jesus to one person (the child) but I feel that I could be Jesus to a lot of coworkers, etc., and have more impact. ???

    And I totally got your guilt over “come play with me!” Can they say it any cuter?? Do they have any idea what that DOES to us??? 🙂

    Interested in seeing your future posts!

    • Jessica

      it is weird for me to imagine a time when all moms stayed at home. then again they didn’t have drive throughs, washing machines or an option to be anything but a teacher or a nurse.

  • Sheila

    Looking forward to reading these posts! As a married, working woman waiting and prayerfully deciding about having kids, it’ll be helpful to read some dialogue between moms working inside and outside the home.

  • steadymovement

    I really appreciated this post and am also looking forward to reading the rest of the posts to come! My hubby would love to have kids pretty much any time now…but I’m much more hesitant. I really resonated with this:

    “However, I know that another part of me was terrified as being seen like the mom in the meeting. I didn’t want to disrupt meetings, I wanted to run meetings. I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to be away from the action of seeing God work on campus with students and staff and to be influential in shaping how students encounter Jesus.”

    While I have been told that being an IV staffworker is a great job to have while raising kids part of me thinks…how the heck am I going to do that when I feel like I have so much to do already??? I’ll be honest and say I don’t relish the thought of staying home all day with a baby….it downright scares and bores me sometimes. I’m a pretty driven person that has goals and ambitions I want to accomplish…things I want to do and I wonder if having kids will get in the way sometimes.

    That said I really do want kids…but I’m not quite sure when. I’ve been told that as soon as I have one everything will change in my mind and I will love being home. We’ve talked about my hubby working part time while I stay full time…or the other way around…because I’m one of those people that doesn’t want to put her kids in daycare – maybe occasionally or once a week, etc, but definitely not all the time. Anyway…we are praying about kids, particularly about the timing and how it will look with our respective jobs (and sometimes my hubby prays that God would make a way for us to have kids soon!) 😉 Looking forward to reading more and hearing input from women who have taken different roads and have different perspectives!

    • Jessica

      it’s great you and your husband have an option to be flexible with your work lives! and IVCF really is a great organization to work for with kids 🙂

  • Coleman

    Ok, let’s start out with I am not a mom and God did not create me to be one. But I am a Dad and love the chance to be one.
    One comment. Love your writing style. Best quote of the day: “how my life will change when spawn of Fick#2 arrives this summer”.
    Those spawns are so endearing aren’t they? You just want to spawn some more, but then all men say that.

  • Emily

    Did you read my mind and know that these issues were weighing on me? On one hand, it’s slightly freeing not to have a choice about going to work after the baby. Husband is currently looking for a professor job, so I need to work to provide income and insurance for us. The upside is that he is home nearly full time with the baby and gets to have a lot of special bonding with her.

    The downside? I don’t always feel like my job is fulfilling or inspiring. I know my husband has his own frustrations about not being able to get much done while he’s on baby duty. It’s hard to only have a few hours with the baby at the end of a long day.

    On top of it all, I get comments from well-meaning church folks like this: “I can’t believe you are going to continue to work full time with a new baby. Wishing you the best!” Not so helpful to folks already struggling with weariness and frustration juggling a whole lot of balls.

    • Jessica

      man emily, you bring up a great point about what kind of support you get from a church community as a working mom. that might have to be a post in and of itself. The time Alex has with the baby is really precious. I was so grateful that Dave was willing to do the same.

  • Mae Ellen Fick

    Thank you Jessica. I so appreciate knowing you better through these posts. You are certainly in my prayers for this. How I love you.

    Mom Fick

  • Sarah Middle

    I love you, Jessica, for posting your honest thoughts! My first thought was that you are so brave for posting this…then I felt sad that that was my first thought. When, in Christian society, did it become “brave” for a mom to want a career and a job outside the home. Anyways…that is an entirely different issue. 🙂

    Back to your question. I think that I feel most guilty that God has given me gifts of teaching that I don’t use. Yes, I do use those gifts with my kids, but in my mind I don’t feel that it is the same. But, at the same time, I feel guilty that I don’t really want to have a job right now to use those gifts. I like being at home. So, I guess my guilt is a double-bind also. Being a mom also makes me feel somewhat guilty as a wife. My husband comes home and I am sweaty and nasty because I have been scrubbing bathrooms…I am wearing sweatpants AGAIN. I feel guilty is the house is not perfectly clean because that is my job…”all I do” is stay home. Oh man…

    Really looking forward to this series!!

    • Jessica

      first sarah, let me say that I am impressed you scrub your bathrooms. cleaning in my house passes for the occasional wipedown with clorox wipes 🙂 I think stay at home moms experience the double bind as well like you mention- guilt that you aren’t using a skill or degree and guilt that “you’re just” staying at home taking care of your kids and managing your household. maybe i could call that one, “the sweatpants bind”

  • Lisa

    You know this is one of my favorite/least favorite topics. I think I feel most guilty that I am tired. I think that if I were singularly focused, I would be more ambitious about planning their days instead of just surviving them. Then again, I worry that if I did nothing but stay at home, I would either be bored and get into the same ruts or end up finding other non-paid ways to fill my time outside the home.

  • Kathy Khang

    Honestly, I feel the most guilty about not modeling “abiding in Christ” as much as I do “running around like a chicken with her head cut off for Jesus Christ”. My kids see me on the computer more than reading scripture. I feel guilty that I have too often put too much emphasis on the “mom” thing and not on the “daughter of the King” thing even if I am vocationally a campus minister.

    My guess is that I am a step ahead of most of the commenters in that my kids are a wee bit older – 15, 11 and 9. Does that makes me one of the “older moms”, wink, wink?

    I am not as tired as many of you are. Childcare remains as complicated as ever with three kids in three different schools with three sets of activities and friends. For years I couldn’t imagine my kids being older and now part of me can’t wait for my daughter to get her driver’s license so I can stop driving her everywhere. Clearly, the art of juggling or balancing is as elusive as ever. And it has dawned on me that in 10 years I will be an empty-nester (so says the inner Tiger Mother), which makes me wonder what it will be like to be a mother with no children at home…

    • Jessica

      Kathy- thanks so much for responding. I was really hoping that you specifically would weigh in on this topic. It is difficult to see beyond sippee cups and temper tantrums but I’m sure the challenges increase in complexity with teenagers, driving and multiple friend groups.

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