GUEST BLOG POST & GIVEAWAY: Do You Compare Your Insides to Other People’s Outsides? by Katrina Alcorn, author, Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink

Excerpted from Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2013.

Most of us do, even though we know better. We’re social creatures. It’s natural to make comparisons. But, we inevitably wind up comparing how we feel to how other people seem.

This may in part explain why so many mothers feel so much guilt. We look around at the women we know from the office or the kids’ school and see patient parents, happy marriages, and well-ad­justed children. And we think, Why can’t I be more like her?

Recently, I asked several friends—all women I deeply admire—to send me a paragraph or two about the things you can’t see about their lives from the outside.

Here are a few examples of what real-life, envi­able, put-together-on-the-outside women are re­ally thinking. Think of them the next time you feel as though you’re doing everything wrong:

“Anneke”—Mom of one with coveted job in high-profile nonprofit

What people don’t see about me (or maybe they do!) is how anxious and cranky my commute and job make me. Ever since I went back to work (and stopped breast-feeding), when I have a day of nonstop, back-to-back meetings, followed by the inevitable email backup, followed by the mad rush to the train to do day care pickup for my toddler, followed by her not wanting to get into the car seat and screaming and crying in the parking lot at the top of her lungs, I find myself hyperventilat­ing in the car and I have to take an Ativan by the time we get home so that I can literally breathe. I’m cranky toward my husband when he gets home, annoyed with our dog. I manage to hold it together all day and be professional, upbeat, and on the ball (I even manage to work out at lunch­time a few days a week), but by the time evening comes around and I’m trying to cook, I’m a mess!

“Jenny”—Pioneering mom of two in the world of high-tech

What people don’t see about me is that I’ve been on the edge of a panic attack for the past six to eight months—just started seeing a therapist. Worst time of the day is 5:35 pm, when I get home from pick­ing up my twenty-one-month-old and three-and-a-half-year-old up from day care/preschool and we’re all starving, grumpy, and don’t know what’s for dinner.

I’m sick of being the main breadwinner and fantasize about moving to a little town where we can live on a farm and I can be with my kids all day and raise chickens.

“Alexa”—Glamorous mom freelancing in the music industry; her house looks like a movie set

Each day that goes by where I am not fully em­ployed in my industry, I feel as if my career slips fur­ther and further out of reach. When I am ready to jump back in full-time, who is going to want to hire a forty-two-year-old mom, when there are twenty­somethings chomping at the bit to do my job for longer hours and less pay?

My mind swirls with this thought and others:

“I need to volunteer more at his school.”

“I need to start running again in the mornings.”

“How come my son can’t memorize his Tae Kwon Do student creed?”

“Maybe we shouldn’t have done private school so we could save money for college.”

“Fuck, I have no 401(k).”

“I have to remember to water my zucchini gar­den when I get home; how do I get the tree rats to stop eating them?”

“I need to make more friends outside my marriage.”

“Do the other moms think I am weird because I am gay?”

“Do the other moms think I’m hot?”

All of this could take place in my head in the same five minutes. I smile on the outside because to describe what’s going on inside would make me seem off my rocker. I cry in my car on the way to pick up my son and then turn on the air-condition­ing full blast to cool down my face and unpuff my eyes. It doesn’t really work, but I say I have bad allergies.

“Gillian”—Creative stay-at-home mom whose tal­ent could give Martha Stewart a run for her money

I never know what to say when people ask me, “Are you a stay-at-home mom?” To me, that implies that one parent works (and is able to support the en­tire family) and one parent agreed to not work and happily does all the home stuff . . . which I guess is me, but I don’t remember “agreeing” to this ar­rangement at any time. I have a small business I am trying to start and I teach a couple of classes a week, on top of all the housework, all the pickups/drop-offs, all the shopping, all the bill paying, all the everything.

Most of the time I am crushed with the weight of the financial debt. I feel helpless and angry that I can’t make more money myself to pay it down. I feel stupid and childish that I am thirty-three and have no savings, no investments, no 401(k), noth­ing. I have ideas, goals, dreams that seem so unre­alistic in my day-to-day life that it feels as if they will never happen.

“Samantha”—Nurse with clear priorities around work and home and the perfect part-time schedule

What people don’t know about me is that being a mother isn’t satisfying the way I expected it to be. I tried so hard to become a mama, and sometimes I think that I lost sight of why I wanted to have a child, what my motivations and expectations were. My daughter is amazing—healthy, happy, energetic. It’s just that spending time with her is often not as gratifying as I once believed it would be.

Sometimes I feel guilty about not wanting to have another child—as if people think I’m cheating my daughter, or I’m not truly part of the two-kids’ “Mommy Club.” I’m content with the kind of work that I do, but the daily grind of parenting and work­ing outside of the home often overwhelms and bores me at the same time. Career advancement is on hold since I only work part-time. I thought I would be fine with this, but I feel torn between spending enough time with my daughter and put­ting enough energy into work.

About the Author

Katrina Alcorn is a writer and an experienced design consultant. She holds a master’s degree in journalism and documentary filmmaking from UC Berkeley, and is a regular blogger at and for The Huffington Post.

Since 1999, Alcorn’s day job has been leading design projects with corporations in a variety of industries to help them put technology in the service of people. This work has given her an insider’s glimpse into dozens of companies-from Fortune 500s to small startups-and she has spoken at more than a dozen design conferences internationally. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and three children.

Alcorn was a 37-year-old mother of three with a loving husband and a dream job when one day, on the way to the store to buy diapers, she had a nervous breakdown. Her carefully built career came to a halt, and her journey through depression, anxiety, and insomnia-followed by medication, meditation, and therapy-began. Over time, as she began to ask herself how she was unable to meet the demands of having a career and a family, she realized she wasn’t the only one.

Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink (Seal Press / $16.00 / September 2013) is the account of one working mom’s struggle to “have it all,” her subsequent breakdown, and the discovery that she was not alone.  Weaving research into her personal story, Alcorn makes a compelling social critique about the dysfunction between the careers and home lives of working mothers, as well as the consequences to women’s health. She ultimately offers readers a vision of change at every level, from our homes and hearts to our workplaces to government policies, resulting in a healthier, happier, and more productive way to work and live.



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