The Working Mom Balancing Act

They say the life of a working mom is a balancing act. For a couple of minutes tonight, I was literally balancing my child, my work phone, and a child’s potty full of pee. It could have gone horribly wrong, ending with a screaming toddler, and an iPhone going no place an iPhone should go. But tonight, I pulled it off.

I had a work conference call with colleagues on the west coast, so it was a late one. My kids were already in bed, so I thought it would be no problem. I wasn’t counting on my newly potty trained two-year-old, though.

We had just started a part of the agenda that didn’t really concern me when I heard my daughter’s door knob start jiggling. I muted myself on my phone and went to investigate. There stood my little girl holding the insert of her potty chair, full of her pee, waving it around and saying, “I peed in the potty. I’m awake now. I put on new underwears!” And, sure enough, she had taken off her night-time Pull-Up and put on her little purple Hello Kitty undies and thought she was ready to start the day. At 8:30pm. I took the pee filled potty. I held it in one hand, balanced the phone on my shoulder, told her it was night time, helped her wiggle out of her undies and back into a pull-up, then dumped and rinsed the potty. I tucked her back into bed, and gave her a firm, “Stay in your bed!” all the while listening to my colleagues talk about plans for construction of a new playground to be built next week.

Just as I shut her door, I heard, “Laura, where do we stand on…” and I breathed a sigh of relief as I unmuted my phone and realized I’d managed to pull it off. This time.

But there have been other evening calls where I have balanced a crying baby on my hip while trying to sound professional talking to my boss or my assistant, who sweetly say, “Hi, baby!” and then go on as though the child screaming in my ear isn’t really affecting my ability to listen to them. Those are the tough nights.

Those are the nights that I feel bad at being a mom and bad at my job all at once. I should prioritize my crying kiddo. Or maybe I should prioritize the job because the call is about a really important project or they wouldn’t be calling me so late in the evening. But should you ever prioritize work over your crying child? Ugh. I could go round and round in my head about this (and I do), and I’ll never win. Never feel like I’ve done the right thing.

This whole balancing act is no joke. It’s hard.

My kids have asked me, “Mommy, why do you have to work? Why can’t you just be home with us like X’s mom?” My replies are usually something like, “Do you like our house? Do you like eating? Yes? That’s why mommy has to work.” And, thankfully, I am lucky enough to do work that I genuinely enjoy and that makes me feel good about how I spend my days. But, I understand. My kids want more time with me. And I’d love more time with them. And my office seems to want more time with me, too. So, I feel pulled in all directions trying to “do it all” often all at the same time. If you are a working mom, I bet you feel the same way.

Toddler on the hip? Check. Dinner on the stove and in the oven? Check. Work emails on the laptop? Check. Just another night of the working mom balancing act.
Toddler on the hip? Check.
Dinner on the stove and in the oven? Check.
Work emails on the laptop?
Just another night of the working mom balancing act.

A few years ago, I read an article in The Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, and it really stuck with me. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s very thought provoking. One of the lines from it is that “having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” In most jobs, it’s impossible to have complete control over your schedule. Which, of course, is how I found myself emptying pee out of my two-year-old’s potty in the middle of a conference call, which I don’t think is part of anyone’s ideal workday.

All too soon, I know that there will be another day when my schedule is not in my control and my children will need me at the same time my office needs me. The working mom guilt will be back soon enough. But, this time, just this once, I managed the balancing act. I managed to be a good mom and be good at my job all at once. So, today, I’m going to savor the win, have a celebratory glass of wine, and pretend I can be Super-Mom and have it all.

Do you have any working mom wins or working mom disasters to share? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Laura is a mom of three who works full-time from home as a Development Director for a children’s charity. Laura grew up in Maryland, spent her 20s living in Southern California and South Carolina, and has spent her 30s and now 40s in Iowa, moving to Iowa City in 2010. Laura loves dancing, reading, baking, and music. She and her husband Ryan started dating in college (gasp – over 20 years ago!) and they have been sharing life’s adventures ever since. Their biggest adventure is, of course, parenthood. With three kids, the action is non-stop - which is just the way Laura likes it.


  1. My work was always short handed and mandatory overtime was routine. My oldest came home from school with a picture of us playing blocks with the title ‘mommy not working’ followed up by a class made mother’s day fill in the blank card that read ‘my mom is good at____’ he filled in ‘working’. I feel you on the mommy guilt but take comfort in a study that shows the quality of time you spend with your kids is more important than the quantity.

    • Love the “mommy not working” drawing! We had a similar school paper moment with, “What does mommy like to do for fun?” and my 5 year old answered “Work.” Sigh.

  2. Honey you are so good at what you do, you amaze me every day! Love You and your little band of Indians!
    I used to tell our kids, and they’d repeat it often, “Daddy went to Weeork and he has to SLEEP there!” or “Daddy went to work, on an Airplane!” Steve’s job was 20% travel. We did it, all kids happy and healthy!


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