All is too much.
About a year ago I had twins, a boy and a girl. “Instant family!” is what I still can’t believe people said. There’s a lot of real niche social content about twin parenting. Google “the double football” if you’re curious. But no matter if you’re a twin mom, a working mom, a SAHM, an Instagram mom, a momtrepreneur, not a mom—all women are peppered with empowering marketing and social messages about having it all.
From the “instant family” all the way to the perfect career trajectory, I have a right to have it all and to have it my way—like a Whopper. Except I can’t actually. Because the tiny people have a say, as does my husband, and the people who employ me and those who work for that bank that holds my mortgage. And frankly I don’t want it all. If I’m being honest, what I want is quite a bit less.
* * * * *
While I’ve never been sentimentally attached to objects and no one would mistake my aesthetic for maximalism, the desire for less got stronger the higher I climbed on the corporate ladder. It wasn’t just that I wanted less clutter in my apartment, I wanted less clutter in my whole life.
About a year before the babies came, I chose to leave my full-time job to freelance. While I’m privileged to have a choice in the matter, I’ll add that juxtaposing “freelance” with “full time” might suggest working for yourself is half work, half vacation—it is not. What I was after, though, was not less work but less politicking.
When it came to a full-time job, having it “all” meant going all-in on someone else’s ideals. All-in on the plans and good ideas of someone else—and just who wasn’t always clear. The “all” also meant an all-in commitment to the whole multi-layered, bureaucratic, patriarchal system. Working for myself means more work in a lot of ways. But less inauthenticity.
I started working again when the babies were just about four months old, remotely with Spool and for a couple of small clients. Parenting is pretty much all-in, all the time, whether you want it or not. And I need to use my brain for something other than sleep schedules and singing songs and interpretive dance to the Moana soundtrack (which is a show stopper, by the way).
Working outside of parenting is not only about talking to other grown ups. It’s about exercising executive function on problem solving outside of the nursery. It’s about engaging with intelligent women who are working on their own versions of having it all.
* * * * *
The moms on Instagram and on Facebook groups might be lovely as individuals. But together we form some kind shame-empowerment-beast that feeds on insecurity and Google symptom searches. When the beast isn’t ravenously destroying us, it is working to buck us up. It tells us we’re doing a great job. That we are enough. And it’s right.
There’s even a strong cohort of minimalist mothers out there sharing content about having less and feeling more. Like everything else, they offer equal parts empowerment and shame, depending on my mood. To succeed in this arena, plastic toys that make noise are a no-go, cloth diapers are a plus, and an old wine crate of wooden blocks are all any family needs to grow and connect. The minimalist-moms version of having it all seems to lie in some combination of home schooling and jaunty straw hats.
Soon our babies will turn one and I feel like they already have more toys than my brothers and I had combined through the ages of 15. Not to mention, we four live in an apartment less than 600 sq ft. When it comes to toys, I may not be winning the minimalist battle but I am urging the family not to buy as much for Christmas. Wanting less inauthenticity is seeping into every area of my life.
I want less stuff for them and more dancing in the kitchen with them. As luck would have it, our kitchen is also our living room, my office, and, for now, our bedroom. When it comes to spending time together we have that advantage. It’s fantastic because they just figured out how to wave and when I’m working and they’re in the bedroom, they wave at me from 5 feet away and I get watery-eyed but they don’t mind because their big plastic apparatus just started singing “Give My Regards To Broadway” so it’s all fine.
* * * * *
On some level, I do want all the things: the work, the trajectory, and the dreams, plus the parenting and being a support for my family and for other women out there. But I don’t want all of it all the time. I want some of those things some of the time. And sometimes, I want nothing at all but silence.
Carrie Ingoglia is a creative director at Spool