stressedThis last year has enjoyed its fair share of working mom buzz words in the media. Sheryl Sandberg with her plea to “Lean-In” and Judith Warner remarking on the trend for my generation to “opt-in” (after Lisa Belkin‘s “Opt-Out Revolution”).  Now there’s a new buzz word, “Maxed Out.”  I relate to all three.

My two-year-old daughter started half-day school this year and I thought it was a good time to get back into the full-time workforce.  My list of reasons is long and some are practical: double tuition (two kids), the fact that we can’t afford to live in a neighborhood that has a really good public school in Manhattan, the four of us can’t live in a 950 sq.ft two bedroom forever and rent in NYC ain’t cheap.  Some of my reasons are emotional: I want to have a greater purpose, do my part to fight for work-life balance from inside a white shoe law firm, to continue breaking glass ceilings.  So off to the office I marched.

Unfortunately I got the job in July and it was too late to switch her to a full-time program or move her into daycare.  So my husband and I decided we would do it all on our own.  This was the plan:  he would go into work at five in the morning and I’d drop the kids at school.  He’d pick the kids up from school at noon and work from home as much as possible.  I’d get home at five in the afternoon, take care of dinner, bath and bedtime so he could get more work done.  Both of us log on to work after the kids are in bed, we’ve eaten dinner and finished watching Ray Donovan.

Neither one of us got this schedule pre-approved by our bosses, but we’ve built up a strong enough reputation that it will slide for awhile.  Besides, it’s not our employers that are bothering us, it’s the sheer hours of work that we have to do – at home and at the office.  Some people say “we’re so lucky” that we have the kind of work that can be done at any hour, anywhere.  It’s true, this wouldn’t even be feasible if either one of us were teachers where the schedule is dictated by the students being there.  But the truth is what we are doing just isn’t sustainable.  I’m not sure how long it’s going to take, but if something doesn’t give, one of us is going to have a Katrina Alcorn-type breakdown.  In her book, “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink”, Alcorn describes driving to Target for diapers one day after the birth of her second child and pulling over to have a nervous breakdown.

In an interview with Today Moms, Alcorn says the majority of working moms feel maxed out and near the point of falling apart.

We’ve been going through this huge change over the last few decades of women entering the workforce, but none of our institutions, including the workplace, have kept up with that change.

Most jobs are still made for people who have an adult at home who can take care of the kids and do the grocery shopping and fill out the school forms and attend the parent-teacher conferences in the middle of the day. That’s not how we’re living anymore.

So I think that women are basically on the brink of this dysfunction in society where we are expecting them to be able to do things that we don’t have time to do anymore. And we end up pushing ourselves, trying to make it work and end up making ourselves sick.

I suffer from this. Pretty much every day I feel on the “brink of dysfunction.” It’s true that in some ways I feel good about our choice to do it all and our ability to make it work — for now.  But ultimately, the tagline of Alcorn’s website — For Moms Who Can Do It All, But Wonder Why They Should — definitely hits a nerve for me.

(photo: rainedout)