5 Tips for Creative Working Moms Who Want It All

do-it-all-mom-meg-messmer
5 Tips to help creative, working moms get back in the saddle and not only survive, but thrive; juggling motherhood, work and still finding joy and time for artistic inspiration.

Spoiler Alert: “The Do-it-All” Mom doesn’t exist.

A producer friend of mine recently asked me (as she was coming out of the birthing fog of her first born): How do I do it? How do I get back in the saddle and survive? How do I stay working in an industry that requires so much physical, emotional and mental capacity? How am I able to not only function as a mother, but also be a good mom, who’s present and available for my children? And after I figure all of that out, how do I still have a sense of self that leaves enough space for me to thrive creatively? 

These are all questions I’ve asked myself over the years, struggling to find a schedule, formula or balance to keep going. After responding, she emailed me telling me that my response had made her cry (in a good way), that it was the best piece of advice she had received, and that she had even shared it with her husband. 

It made me happy to know that my simple words had given her so much strength at such a vulnerable time for us women. So I wanted to share these little tidbits of insight with you too, in case it’s the magic you need right now to know that you are powerful, beautiful and right where you need to be. 

photo by: Kristina Paukshtite from Pexels

First, let’s clear up a few things: 

  1. There’s no such thing as a “balance.”
  2. The “Do-it-All” Mom is a complete fallacy.
  3. You can do this. Yes, you can. You can!

So you’ve just had a baby. Congrats!

You can hardly walk because your vagina hurts (and you’re wearing a very large frozen padsicle), your organs and insides are still jumbled around, you still look pregnant, and every time you think you have a free moment to process the trauma of birth (yes, it’s considered a trauma), the baby cries because it’s hungry. You’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for days, and wearing a real shirt isn’t even worth it because you have to take it off so often to breastfeed, so you’ve settled on an open robe with nothing underneath. 

Your body is not your own. It is a vessel for another human to live. So what is left of “You?” Who the heck are “You” anymore? 

Congratulations my friend, you are a MAMA.  

And we haven’t even gotten to the “working” part yet. 

My first and most important piece of advice for you right now, in this very moment is. . . 

#1 REST

photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

I know who you were before: an energizer bunny, a go-getter badass with dreams and ambitions. You are STILL that person. She didn’t go away; she just needs time. You still have ambition. I know there’s shit to do, but this is a momentous life moment. IT IS! Birth is a trauma and a transformation. Don’t run over this moment. Honor it. 

It might be the only moment in your whole life when the world gives you permission to SLOW DOWN. Take it. Use it. There’s no better excuse in the world than, “I just had a baby.” But beyond excuses you NEED it. You need rest as the mother. Your body needs time to heal and put all the organs back in place. It’s replenishing the nutrients and hormones you lost during birth. It’s working overtime trying to regulate milk supply and repair damage. You need to hunker down and take life slowly for a little while. Slooooow living. 


That’s hard for us Type-A personalities to shift, isn’t it? But you need to. The baby needs you to, too. For this mere 1-3 months of your entire life, you need to stop the energizer bunny and be the vessel. Spend this time getting up and staying in the same damn room all day. Feed the baby, rest, hobble to the bathroom, rest, hold that baby, rest. Put down your phone. Don’t start looking at silly work emails. Nothing is more important than what is happening right now. 

. . . 

I want to talk for a minute about “transformation,” the change of “You” as the individual to “You” the mama. According to the authors of Birthing From Within, “the birth of your new life is the ‘death’ of your old one.” 

I don’t know about your country, but America is not very good at honoring this INCREDIBLY important transformation from individual to parent. Birth here is all about the damn baby. Yes, that damn baby is a flipping miracle. It really is! But the person who grew that miracle and is keeping that miracle alive is having a complete and utter life transformation, and no one is asking about her. 

 

 “In many traditional cultures new mothers and babies rejoin their community, with no fuss or ceremony, within an hour of birth. In others, they are isolated from the rest of the community, bathed, massaged, and pampered for weeks. This allows the mother to integrate her birth experience and adapt to her new status in society, as well as physically recover from the birth. She and the baby then re-enter the group through a welcoming ceremony.”  – Pam England & Rob Horowitz, Birthing from Within

According to The Bump, Latin American mothers, “observe la cuarentena (quarantine)- a 40-day period when they recuperate from labor by abstaining from sex, physical activity and spicy foods. To let them rest and focus on caring for their infant, female relatives and friends pitch in with household responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and taking care of other children” Celia Shatzman, The Bump.

In some traditions, the community honors and helps the mother for a while damn YEAR. Seems excessive? I don’t think so! This is a huge change in life. Literally, your brain is changing. 

If you have a partner, they are also going through this transformation, even though they’re not physically giving birth, so don’t forget about them either. 

I am so grateful to Britta Bushnell for bringing this to light for me. My husband and I took her birthing class at her treetop house in Topanga Canyon. She follows the teachings from the aforementioned book, Birthing From Within, which is one of the best birthing books we read, preparing us for birth and this change. She helped me realize that our mental state and capacity through such a big change was just as important as the physical miracle of having the baby. 

I didn’t know how I would handle the transition to becoming a parent. I had an ideal of what I thought a mother was supposed to be based on my mother, but I am such a different person than she is. What kind of mother was I going to be?

So, I was inspired to have, what I called, an anti-baby shower. It wasn’t for the baby. It was for us, the parents. At this anti-baby shower, which included kegs of beer and belly painting, I asked all of my friends to write down answers to the questions, “Who is Meg as a person?” on one card and “What kind of parent will Meg be?” on another. It was life affirming. Most of the answers weren’t very different from each other and I started to visualize that who I would be as a mother could be in alignment with who I already was. Even if that person was an ambitious, hustling actor/writer/producer/creator/coach. 

Sometimes, you need other people to observe from the outside. 

I read those responses during my first year of motherhood whenever I would feel sad or overwhelmed with my son. I still read them when I need to feel strong. If you’re looking for more of how I honored our transition and that anti-baby shower, read this. 

Getting back to this moment of transition: Be IN it. I truly believe that if you don’t allow yourself to fully emote and live in these feelings, you won’t be able to move on. 

#2 focus

photo by Jess Bailey from Pexels

The key here is the decision you must make about “what” you’re focusing on. 

When my first baby came, I had to do some editing in my life. I had to decide what was most important to me. What goal would make my heart really happy? I was always a hustling queen. There was a period of my life where I never ate alone. I had a full time job. I had breakfast meetings, I would go to work, have coffee meetings, have lunch meetings, work some more, dinner meetings and then drinks. I might leave the house at 6 a.m. and not come home until 10 p.m. I also performed on an improv team that would perform midnight shows. I studied through UCLA professional producing program after work and produced pilots and films on the weekends. I was constantly doing things. 

When the baby came, there was obviously no time for all that. I had to focus on what I really wanted in my life and cut the fat. Choices, choices, choices. 

Honestly, this is an exercise that everyone could benefit from. It slows you down long enough to find that inner voice. What do you really want? And are the activities that fill your day actually helping you achieve that? 

I wanted to create and produce meaningful content that changed the world a little at a time. I had a north star and whatever wasn’t in line with it went bye-bye. 

I still miss improv sometimes, but my husband reminds me that I was more successful in the year following my first baby, because I had to be so efficient about my choices. And when you only have an hour here or there, you are forced to use it wisely. Find your inner voice and then focus. 

 

#3 PARtner up

photo by Son Bòm from Pexels

This is a SUPER biggie. Your partner needs to be a partner, not an observer or a 10%-only-comes-in-when-you-ask kinda person. If you want to also be an ambitious working mama in our industry, this is a 50/50 split, period. 

I don’t assume that everyone has a husband or partner, so if you’re a single mom, find a friend or family member that will play this role for you because: You.Need.Help!

Mothers, and especially Type-A women, get bogged down doing EV-ER-Y-thing. We are multitasker-ers. We like to control things and we have the capacity to do so much that the workload usually falls on us naturally. We are also guilty of micro managing our partners on ever little thing, which makes them feel inadequate, and leads to the “then, you do it” phase. And then what happens? We do everything ourselves. 

STOP IT! Please stop doing this. 

First, you can’t do everything yourself. And if you’re attempting this and partially succeeding, I guarantee it is not good for your well-being! You will crash. 

Sheryl Sandberg taught me in her book, Lean In, that, “According to the most recent analysis, when a husband and wife both are employed full time, the mother does 40% more childcare and about 30% more housework than the father. A 2009 survey found that only 9% of people in dual-earner marriages said that they shared housework, childcare and breadwinning evenly.” 

Well you gotta know that pissed me off! Learning that even though both parents are working full-time, the woman is still doing a significant amount more of the home work? VOMIT. VOMIT. VOMIT. What the EFF year is it again? What century is it? How far have we climbed? 

Look, if you want to be the caretaker and homemaker, great! My mom was for me and she was the greatest of the greatest greats. But if you want to also work towards an ambitious dream, you CANNOT do this by yourself and please, for the love of God, stop trying, because you’re ruining it for the rest of us!

Your partner must be a partner. Whether you have to split the chores on a whiteboard, take shifts, or plan it on a google calendar, do it. Make it work however it works. 

When our second baby was an infant and breastfeeding 2/3 times a night, I didn’t think it was fair that I had to be the only person up just because I had magical boobs. So my husband’s job was to get up to get the baby, bring her to me, and when I was done nursing her, take her back to her crib and rock her to sleep. I stayed in bed the whole time. With my other child, we did this in shifts, taking turns rocking him to sleep. 

If I feel like my husband isn’t being an equal partner, it starts to show. I start resenting him and getting super passive aggressive. It’s not a pretty picture from my Italian temper. 

And what about that micromanaging? Oof. This is hard to let go. But you have to! It’s actually a good exercise because eventually you’ll have to learn how to let go and not micro manage your kids too, so start flexing this muscle. 

Sheryl’s advice about co-parenting is to, “Let him put the diaper on the baby any way he wants, as long as he’s doing it himself. If he’s forced to do things her way, pretty soon, she’ll be doing things herself.”

Let them do it no matter how badly you think it’s been done. They WILL get better. Did he pick out a hideous outfit from the dirty clothes pile that doesn’t even fit the baby anymore? Don’t you say anything! The kid is dressed and fed and you had 15 more minutes to shower. Take it. You can actually wash your hair today. Is he feeding the baby old leftover sweet potatoes that you meant to feed your dogs? Shut your mouth. The children are quiet and you are free to check emails. 

Sheryl says, “Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner, must treat him as an equal and equally capable partner.” They will gain more confidence the more you allow them to fail and adjust on their own. So please don’t micromanage your partners, because in the end, you’ll be doing everything. And then what example will we be setting for our sons and daughters? 

#4 you can only be you

The comparison game is shitty. You end up focusing on other people so much that you don’t focus on what’s right in front of you. So stop following those moms on Instagram that make you feel like you don’t have it together. Stop listening to your mother if she’s making you feel bad. That doesn’t mean don’t take advice. It means, you are figuring out what kind of mother you’ll be, so be gentle with yourself. Don’t compare who you are to what you think the “ideal mother” is. You are growing into a Mama that is, and can only be, uniquely YOU. 

When I first got pregnant, I remember my mom saying I had to “stop all that.” She meant, “the hustle.” Running around to auditions and producing for 12-15 hours, on top of a full time job, etc. I sat quiet for a while. Would I have to stop all that? 

See, my mother stayed home, packed lunches with little notes, baked cookies and elaborate cakes, hosted spaghetti dinners for our soccer teams, was our art mom and substitute teacher, was the loudest cheerleader at all of our games and activities. She was ever-present, ever-loving. We were her world.  

She was the only example of what real motherhood was for me. How was I going to be that mom? 

What I realized is – I’m not. I’m not ever going to be that mom because that’s not who I am. And who I am is good enough for my kids. They are going to love me because I get up at 5 a.m. to write, because I hustle creating self-produced TV shows on weekends, because I fly to Puerto Rico for two months while I make movies. They are still my world, but our world is very different. My first-born took more than 40 flights with me in his first 2 years. My mother thought that might be bad for him. “How is he going to establish a routine?” she said. “Children need normalcy.” But in my house, the routine is traveling. The routine is fluid motion. Sure, he slept in the same pack n play for 2 years (no Pinterest baby room set-up for me) because I wanted to make sure that everywhere we went, he still had the familiarity of sleeping in the same place. He also had his special blanky and he was fine. Kids adapt beautifully. 

So find your groove. You’ve got this. If you really tune into your baby, you will know what they need better than anyone. I’m excited to see the Mama you’ll be. 

 

Lastly, (at least for now) . . .

#5 The do-it-all mom is a fallacy

I can’t tell you how many people ask me how I “do it all.” Here’s the not-so-secret secret: I don’t. You can’t. So don’t pretend to. 

I finally felt like someone knew my struggle when I heard the goddess herself Shonda Rhimes, answer this question: “Shonda, how do you do it all? The answer is this: I don’t. Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.” 

There is no such thing as balance. Attention is a resource. You must focus it on something, which means: not the other. 

When you’re with your baby, you can’t focus your full attention on work. It never fails when that business call comes in, you suddenly have a crying baby needing your attention. Or when you dive deep into editing or writing, someone has a poopy diaper or gets into the spice drawer. And because you’ve been “interrupted,” you feel annoyed at handling this situation instead of handling it with patience. It’s not good for you or your kids to parent under these circumstances. Also, do you want your kids learning that it’s okay to be glued to your phone every second of the day? I don’t. 

On the other hand, when you choose to work, you cannot be fully with your children. There was a period of time when my son was asking, “Mama, can you play with me?” 30+ times a day. It would break my heart, making me feel horrible every time I said “no.” The ‘guilty mom’ feeling is real. Being on set all day felt glorious, but getting home knowing I had missed my baby’s new steps and skipped a feeding, made me feel like a bad mom. 

Balance is a delusion. Everything is just a choice. The balancing act is knowing when you should choose parenting over work or vice versa. 

To know this was very freeing for me. The idea of that perfect mother that can have a perfect balance of everything in her perfect life is bullshit. I don’t idolize or aspire to be that mother anymore. 

What I do feel compelled to do, knowing all of that is a lie, is make distinct choices about when I will be working and when I will be with my children. 

Isn’t that a beautiful thing? I can choose to shut down my work and give my children my full attention for an hour. And what a difference it makes to give your children your full, brilliant attention. It makes my heart full to see my son’s face light up when it’s time to play…without my cell phone in my hand. 

Then, when it’s time to choose work, my children are more willing to let me have uninterrupted time at my desk because I’ve given myself fully to them. 

It may feel hard to sacrifice on both sides, but more work will get done and better quality time will be spent with your children if you separate the two. 

This is a monumental time. I'm excited for you!

The figuring out of it all is part of the delicious journey of life. You WILL find a groove that fits you, your baby, your family and your career. Your children will be perfect and they will love you for the person you are, going after your dreams and all. 

xo

Meg

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