Real Simple editor Kristin van Ogtrop shares lessons of being a midlife mom: balancing work and family
Kristin van Ogtrop, author of "Just Let Me Lie Down," says "If I accomplish anything in this book it's to tell other working mothers who are stressed out, you're not the only crazy one. We care a lot about family and care about our jobs, and all that caring can make your head explode." (HANDOUT / May 2, 2010)
"I've gotten an answer from on high; you're meant to have two children," van Ogtrop thought after having two miscarriages at age 39. Her husband, meanwhile, presented a different perspective: "Maybe God's testing you to see how much you wanted it."
Fast-forward a few years and three weeks before her 43rd birthday, when the magazine editor gave birth to a third son — her "midlife-crisis baby." She writes about the ongoing emotional tug-of-war between working and mothering in her new book, "Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom" (Little, Brown and Co., $24.99).
In the book, a collection of anecdotes and short essays, van Ogtrop writes of her decision to "go for a third," and just how she (with varying degrees of success) juggles three sons, a husband, a demanding career and a houseful of pets.
Q: In the 2003 book "The Bitch in the House," you described yourself as "your father with ovaries," and wrote that you felt more capable at work than at home. What tipped the scales toward having a third child?
A: First of all, I became more relaxed as a mother. When I wrote that piece, my sons were still little: One was 5, and the other was a toddler. I found that phase of mothering to be harder. The chaos can get the best of you. At that time, work felt so much easier; it's a more controlled environment. But that phase of life when your head's barely above water is short. That tough stuff goes away.
Q: You call your youngest your "midlife-crisis baby." What did you mean?
A: It's about not wanting that phase of our life to be over, not wanting to get rid of the diapers. That's just such a sweet time of life. I love my teenager and my preteen. I wouldn't trade those years, either, but I didn't want to say goodbye to those early years. I thought, I haven't gotten plastic surgery or had an affair or any other midlife-crisis hallmarks.
Q: What do you want to relay to other mothers in your book?
A: If I accomplish anything in this book it's to tell other working mothers who are stressed out, you're not the only crazy one. We care a lot about family and care about our jobs, and all that caring can make your head explode.
Q: You write about work/life balance in your blog, "Adventures in Chaos" (on realsimple.com), and address the same topic in your book. What tips can you give women seeking better balance?
A: The longer you're in the work force and the longer you're a mom, you get smarter all the time. Learn your strengths and weaknesses at home and work, and then compensate. You just have to know yourself.
For overachieving moms, you need to lower the bar. The more confident you become with your other skills, the easier it is to give yourself permission not to do everything.
Q: You also seem to be good at setting boundaries, given that you write about leaving the office every day at 5:30 p.m. How does that happen?
A: I just do it. It's part of the deal. I took over the magazine in 2003 and my baby sitter leaves at 6:30. Nine days out of 10, I leave at 5:40. We all have to set our boundaries. That's my way. Every working mother, if she's going to keep her sanity, needs to find where she can erect boundaries. Just do it, and do not apologize for it. If I was at the office until 11 at night, I'm not helping anyone.