Working Moms Are Not OKAY And Our Mental Health Is Suffering

My coffee spilled in my car this morning. The entire Tervis mug. I pulled over on the side of the road, frantically trying to pick it up, but it was too late. Not only did I lose what was supposed to pass as my breakfast, but my car floor was sopping wet. I started sobbing.

Before you start thinking this is a “pity me” post, it’s not. It’s a mental health post. It’s a white flag post for working moms. And it’s a “What-in-the-hell-are-we-doing-to-ourselves?” post.

I’m not normally the kind of person who loses her shit at spilling a cup of coffee. In fact, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever reacted to something so small with such drama. But it was only a matter of time before something pushed me over the edge.

I know working moms all have different schedules, but I bet they’re similar to mine in many ways.

I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning and get ready for work. Then I wake up the kids and make sure they get moving while my husband still sleeps. I pile my lunch bag, purse, and work bag on my shoulders and head out the door, and I’m in my classroom by 7:15 a.m.

What follows is eight hours of what I can only describe as the most exhausting job on the planet. People might laugh at that, but unless you’ve been a teacher yourself, you can’t understand.

The best way I’ve found to explain it is that it’s like being an actor putting on a performance for eight hours straight.

I pee on a bell schedule, but usually just hold it because I’m not supposed to leave the kids alone. Ever.

My room is filled with preteens who just want to stare at their laptop screens and watch YouTube, but I have to somehow make them excited about reading.

I can never let down my guard, or else they’ll go rogue. If I’m having a bad day, who cares? I have to pretend like I’m excited about reading the chapter I’ve read literally 200 times aloud.

My father AND my stepmom just died, and I have to keep smiling, helping kids with their work, keeping them from slapping hand sanitizer on each other’s faces.

I took a few days of bereavement leave – days, not weeks, because I guess people aren’t supposed to grieve – and on my first day back a student said, “I’m sorry your dad died,” and two minutes later he stuck his hands down the front of his pants and then rubbed them on another student because he thought it was funny. I shit you not.

And as working moms know, when my work day ends, a new busy part of the day begins. 

I plaster my smile to my cheeks because my daughter’s bus drops her off at my school. She comes to my classroom right as my students leave, so I immediately jump into “Mom” mode with, “Hiiiiiii Honey! How was your day?” And then listen to a half hour of stories about elementary school crushes and breakups and spelling tests while we walk out of the building and drive home.

I barely have the chance to hang up my work bag before the dog is barking at me for a treat, my teenage son is reminding me he needs a ride to work (and oh – can his friends sleep over Friday night?), and my daughter’s screaming from upstairs because she can’t find the right tights for dance class, which starts in 15 minutes.

I quickly empty the dishwasher, throw the clothes that are in the laundry on the table to fold later and start another load, find the missing tights in the pile and run them up to my daughter, realize I’ve been holding my pee for four hours and make a quick pit stop at the bathroom.

working moms

Then it’s back to the car. Drop off my daughter at dance. Pick up my son back at home. Drive him to work in the other direction. Drive back home. Field calls from my husband wondering what I’m doing, when I’ll be home, and what we’re having for dinner. Realize I forgot to thaw the meat for the tacos.

Run in the house, defrost the meat in the microwave while talking to my mom on the phone about her medical problems and depression, and my brother about where we’re at in the process of settling my dad and stepmom’s estate. Brown the meat and cut up all of the things for tacos, throw the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Fold the laundry on the table and set it on my son’s bed.

I leave everything for dinner out on the counter and go pick up my daughter. When we get home, I set the table. Anyone who is home comes out to eat dinner.

Dishes are cleared from the table, and I am left loading the dishwasher, putting things away, wiping the table and the counters. I fold more laundry.

Depending on the night, I practice spelling words with my daughter, or fill in forms (because there are always forms), or prep things for the next night’s dinner, or answer emails or texts as much as time allows before I go pick up my son from work.

I try to talk to my two teenage sons for a little bit each evening. But by this point I’m so, so tired, and they usually just want to play video games.

I go upstairs and help my daughter get into pjs and make sure she brushes her teeth, and usually spend a few minutes chatting with her because I’m trying so hard to be a good mom.

Meanwhile, my husband is downstairs playing video games, angry that I’m taking so long and it’s now too late to watch a TV show together.

I know he wants to have sex, because, you know, he’s a guy, and it’s been like three or four days so I’m feeling really guilty about that.

I try to explain that it’s not him – I’m just so, so tired – but he doesn’t understand.

We argue about this almost daily, but still haven’t figured out how to fix it.

Sometimes I just tell my daughter she has to go to bed on her own because I need to spend time with my husband, because the arguing just adds a level of frustration to my exhaustion that I will do anything to avoid.

So I tuck my daughter in and say goodnight. I wash my face and get into my pjs, and my husband passive-aggressively tells me “I know you don’t really want to. Forget it. We’ll just keep growing apart.”

I sadly crawl into bed by myself, take an Ambien (because even though I’m exhausted, my mind races with all of the things I didn’t get done and the guilt from people I’m letting down), along with my blood pressure, anti-anxiety, and anti-depression medications, set my alarm for 5 a.m., and curl up into a ball.

Then wait for morning to come in six hours so I can do it all again.

And I feel guilty, like everyone reading this post will think, because I should be grateful.

Grateful I have a home with a comfortable bed to wake up in. And grateful I have a steady job where I can be the breadwinner for my family.

Grateful I can afford dance lessons for my daughter. And grateful I have teenage sons who both go to school AND work part-time jobs. Grateful to have a husband that finds me attractive and wants to spend time with me. And especially grateful to be able to afford medication.

Am I right?

Or are there other working moms out there who feel the same way? Because this morning . . . as that coffee soaked into the floor of my car . . . for just a moment all this responsibility became too much.

It was only that moment, because I’m very, very good at moving on and doing what needs to be done. Sometimes I just wonder what the cost will be.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog, The Blended Mess