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Marcia Cross Headshot

Leaning In and Out: My View From Both Sides

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First, let me say that I am always one to do something because my feelings compel me to, not because I am an expert or that my opinion is so important, and writing this article is no different. So bear with me, and know that I understand that this is only my perspective and that I'm aware of the blessing of having both the privilege of working and not. I thought however, that sharing a view from both sides of the "mommy wars" might help unite us as women and mothers, after all our similarities are so much more important than our differences.

It has been exactly a year since I finished a glorious eight-year run on the hit show Desperate Housewives. While working on the series, I became the mother of twin daughters, so I guess you could say that I began my journey of motherhood "leaning in" as far as possible. Now at one-year post series end, and having not "worked" in that time, I have experienced motherhood on the opposite end -- "leaning out." Forgive me Sheryl for using the verbs so loosely!

On the "leaning in" side, holding down a huge job and mothering my babies was almost always utterly exhausting. Often I would be up at four in the morning and on set all day, many days for as long as 14 hours. During those times I would watch my babies on cameras (from my trailer), and eventually talk with them on the phone and/or on a light day at work have them come to the set to visit. Fortunately, I did not work every day, so on my days off I could devote all my time to them and fill up both our empty cups before the next day or days that I would be working.

In practical terms it meant that although I was on camera and being scrutinized by millions of viewers, I rarely slept through the night. To save precious time I went without the pampering and regular exercise that I should have had to be "camera ready." I desperately camouflaged the bags under my eyes and the bagginess of my backside, but the time that I saved not tending to all that was spent with my girls and it was worth it. I loved my job and I loved my daughters and though sleep deprived and not Hollywood perfect, I was a very happy mama and actress and quite fulfilled.

Cut to my girls starting kindergarten and me now unemployed. I was relieved to have finished my series and excited to see what the future would hold. I committed myself to driving my daughters to school, picking them up from the bus stop, being cooking mom and photo mom and tending to the millions of to do lists that every mother holds in her head and heart. I was excited to spend time writing and to exercise my now neglected middle-aged body. And so it began....

I ordered monogramed aprons, and cooked with the children at school on Fridays, read books at library, took pictures at most school events, drove a car full of girls to gymnastics practice and dropped mine off at play dates and sporting activities. I did "homework" with them, sat and listened as they learned to read, made lunches and snacks and worked on getting everyone out of the house in the morning without any of us melting down. I tried to keep up with book orders and the thousand and one notes home and permission slips for birthday parties and field trips. I would pencil "Me Time," onto the schedule only to cross myself off to take care of someone or something else and then promise myself I would not do it again.

As the year unfolded I got to know the other mothers at the school. I first identified myself internally as a "working mother," but after a while I realized that I was now, between the two definitions, more truthfully living the life of the "stay at home" mom. That label did not suit me or sit well with me.

Not because I don't think they are amazing, because they are. In fact, they are so amazing, that in spite of my best efforts I could not even come close to their "stay at home" achievements which are too many to mention (think Bree Van de Kamp without the crazy). Off screen lack their many talents and organizational skills. I realized that these women, and women like them nationwide, are doing so much to elevate our children's' schools with their endless and unpaid contributions. They never stop, in spite of their titles as "non-working mothers," working.

As a "stay at home" mother I experienced how it felt to be on the side of, let's call it "full-time motherhood." And for me it was hard. Hard on my ego. Hard for me to feel good about myself for making breakfast and snack and being at my kids school and picking them up and doing all that our society clumsily labels being a "stay at home" mom and living a life that leaves you with the answer "nothing" when someone asks,"So, what you are doing now?" It hurt my pride, but my heart does not regret a single second of this "full time mothering year." We shall see how I fare in the future.

Where I sit now is simply in awe, in awe of women "leaning in" and "leaning out" and the brilliance of their day-to-day achievements. Both journeys are all encompassing and require talent, endurance and devotion. And yes, I know that many of you lean in and out everyday! You have my utmost respect. So rather than judging each other for the different choices we make, let's be there in support of one another. Let's hold up the mirror and reflect the contributions, competency and magnificence of each other. In the case of motherhood, there is no right or wrong way, only the beautiful and challenging journey of raising our children in the best way that we can.