Working mum on reality of success: ‘I thought I could do it all. I was wrong’

Sarah Treem appeared to have it all – a new marriage, two kids and a fantastic career. But in reality ‘having it all’ has been an incredibly difficult and lonely journey, which she detailed recently in a raw and powerful essay that’s now inspiring other working mums to get real about their struggles.

A working mum NOT keeping it together

Known as the creator of Golden Globe winning American TV series, The Affair, Sarah was asked to write a piece for Red Online about keeping life together as a working mum – presumably because in the space of five years she married, birthed two kids and saw her career skyrocket. In reality though, Sarah was far from a poster woman for having it all, and took it as an opportunity to set the record straight.

Desperately trying to keep it all together

While her career was on the rise her marriage and family life were falling apart. The demanding hours of her work meant that she was rarely home with her husband and toddler, who had recently relocated to be with her for the show. To add to the pressure she was also in the early stages of her second pregnancy which meant she was sick, tired and emotional. 

“We’re in the middle of shooting the second season. I’m pregnant but not enough to tell anyone. I’m really, really sick… I’m holding the pressure points on my wrists with my thumbs when I talk to actors to avoid vomiting on them. The actors are unhappy because the scripts are late. The network is unhappy because the actors are unhappy. I seem unable to give anyone the time or attention they feel they deserve. I drag myself into a rented apartment after 14-hour-days on location. I’ve invariably missed my son’s bedtime by hours.”

At the end of the long, gruelling days, Sarah found it hard to keep it all together.

“I’m so tired and overwhelmed, I know I’m going to cry, but I don’t want to wake anyone up, so I go into the bathroom, I turn on the water, then I lay down on the floor, curl into a ball and cry there. Pretty glamorous, right?”

Sarah also suffered from postnatal depression with both her babies – a tough time for any mother, let alone one with a crumbling marriage and demanding career.

Was it really too much to ask for?

Most may think it an impossible task to run a TV show, support a new marriage and have two kids all at the same time, Sarah honestly thought she could do it.

“I admit I was operating under the delusion that I was tougher than most other people and therefore could handle any amount of stress. And I admit, I was wrong.”

However, she does still argue that what she was striving for was no different to what a 35 year-old man in her position would expect from his life – two children, a happy marriage and a white-hot career. But in reality it is always more challenging for mums to really make it work.

What she wants other working mums to know

Looking back, the now mum of a four-year-old and a 10-month-old, who is also going through a divorce, is coming to terms with the reality of her new life and taking a long hard look at what she could have done differently, sharing her lessons with other working mums.

The first of which is that it’s hard, even for very tough people. You will also need all the help you can get, admitting that not asking for help from friends is one of her biggest regrets. Thankfully she has learned to reach out and is now incredibly grateful for their help, especially being in the midst of a divorce.

“Thirdly, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like someone you really care about. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re sad, cry (that’s what showers are for). And finally, don’t be afraid of your own story. Even if it doesn’t work out the way you expected it to. Even if it feels like failure. No matter what happens, it is still the story of your life and nobody else can tell it.”

If you’re struggling to keep all the balls you’re juggling in the air, know you’re not alone. No matter how easy someone may make it look from the outside, the reality is usually very different, as Sarah’s honest story attests to. Know you are doing the best you can, cut yourself a break and reach out for help. This too shall pass. Hang in there.

Read the full Red Online story here.

Are you a working mum struggling to keep it all together? How do you cope?


If you or someone you know is struggling with postnatal depression, you can visit PANDA for support and advice, or call the PANDA National Helpline on 1300 726 306 (Mon to Fri, 10am – 5pm AEST). 


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