My Career and Motherhood

4

Jessica Leigh Smith1I don’t have it in me to be a full-time actress.

Wow, I never thought I would ever say that. I cannot believe I’m letting it slip out there into the world for everyone to see, either. There’s a finality to that and wow, it’s actually very freeing and cathartic to admit this.

Pursuing our career goals requires an insane amount of time. We’re running our own business here—that requires marketing, public relations, networking, budgeting (and figuring out how to earn the money that will flow into the budget), and, of course, education and growth of talent. Oh, and don’t forget taking care of our bodies and our voices so we can perform at our best. And the appearance? Better stay skinny, keep those teeth sparkling, hair in perfect color and cut, wrinkles in check—your face and your wardrobe.

At this point, you’re ready to quit reading and yell at me to just give up if I don’t want it that badly, that there are plenty of hungry women out there ready to give it everything they’ve got. If I’m not willing to make some sacrifices, then so be it—Move on!

Please know the first six months of this year have been about that very thing. Should I pack it in? Should I move on? 2014 has not been the year I thought it would be; it has been much, much, much more reflective and introspective than I ever imagined even I could be, and I’m an introverted melancholy!

The difference between me (and others like me) and many other actresses is that, in order to pursue this career with the attention it deserves and requires, my sacrifices are other human lives. Specifically, teeny, tiny other human lives.

See, in order for me to give this career the required attention, two tiny, beautiful, little girls would lose out on what they deserve and require, specifically an active and present Mommy.

It’s very funny and odd to me that I did not go through this struggle when my oldest came along. We went right on with the Mommy thing and the career thing without missing a beat. I don’t really know why the appearance of a second baby threw me for such a loop. I do know that for the first year of her life, like with my first, we went along without missing a beat.

But when my youngest hit the toddler stage and quit taking naps (she quit early), I suddenly had no time for a career. With the little darling requiring so much attention, the bigger darling started getting very short changed.   I realized then how easy one really is, when you can give that one every bit of your spare time. Adding that second child changes your life in more ways than just the first does.

I think the realization hit hard the first time my baby was sleeping on me and I had to put her in her crib so I could get some work done. My oldest refused to sleep on people; she had to always be in her crib. So I never got those cuddle moments with her. But when I realized that I wasn’t able to spend that kind of precious time with the one who did want to cuddle, I knew things were out of order in my life.

And I looked at my oldest and knew that if I failed to put in the time now, she would fail to give me the time later.

I started questioning why I had wanted children in the first place. I felt resentment trying to creep in. I saw all of the wonderful career things my actress friends were getting to do. Of course she can go to that important networking party—she doesn’t have kids and a husband out of town! Of course she can book that role because she actually has time to spend on bettering her craft! She doesn’t have to do audition prep and self-tapes at midnight!

That never really did last long, however. I simply reflected on that summer, 2008, when we had first started trying to have children, knowing it could derail a year of my career. I knew that when I looked back on my life, I wanted it to be filled with my family, not just a long list of IMDB credits (sure, those would be nice, but if I had to choose…).

I started then questioning God. God, where are You in this and what are You doing? Why do I feel you want me in this career, yet You take away my opportunities to actually do it? But then I have to remind myself of the timing of my second child and how it worked perfectly in favor of my career. That is a future column, for sure.

And you know how our work is—you’re either working outside the home on a job, or an appearance, or a networking event, or you’re at home working on your marketing, your PR, your craft. And I love all of it, so I wanted to spend all of my time doing this work. I realized I have some workaholic tendencies that very much needed to be addressed.

Then, horror of horrors, I actually started becoming, gasp, GLAD when I did NOT book a role! I knew booking would mean time away from my girls. I didn’t want them to feel abandoned by a mom who wasn’t there. And I didn’t want to miss out on their daily cuteness.

This attitude very much shocked me to my core. If I actually wanted to NOT book, then shouldn’t I just quit? Shouldn’t that be my sign that it’s time to hang it up, at least for the next few crucial years? I never thought I would ever be the mom that wanted to simply stay home. I have always felt a great pull to have a job outside the house—I love it. I love my time away, my time of rejuvenation, my time of soul fulfillment, of doing exactly what I felt I had been created to do.

But even though I knew these were valid reasons to have a career, I also believe in consequences for our actions. My choice was to have children. I would never trade that choice for any role. But that choice came with consequences and mine were that two other human lives depended upon me every second of their day. I felt it was time to “man up,” so to speak, and sacrifice myself for them.

However, I still didn’t quit. I talked to women I greatly respect, women who have come out on the other side. They quit when their children were little and re-entered later in life. I asked them this crucial question: Do you regret it? And I got, no surprise there, varying responses. So I was left again not knowing what I should do.

One day, I realized that I was no longer booking jobs. I don’t think it is related to my conflicting emotions. I’m in a dry spell that started long before these months of confusion. But I did think, oh, this is the sign! This is it—the career is just going to leave me! But every time I think that, something happens that moves me just an inch forward and I’m back again to thinking that I’m on the right track.

I couldn’t conceive of an involvement in the acting world that wasn’t full-time. To me, that would be more a hobby. I respect this career way too much to not give it all I have. But even as I write that statement, I am realizing that even very part-time IS giving it all I have!

But what does that look like? What part of my career do I sacrifice? I’m still not sure how this works. I think it will be a learning process—maybe that’s what the 2nd half of 2014 will be about!

(I suppose I should note at some point that I am very lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband who believes in me way more than I deserve and who has never given up on me).

So here is where I stand: I am not cut out to be a full-time actress because I refuse to sacrifice time with my daughters. But I also know that I cannot give up on what makes my heart sing. It isn’t about being an example to my daughters to follow their hearts, or to live their own lives, or whatever. Nope, it’s about me and what I need. And that’s that.

So, in conclusion, I guess it’s time to admit that I am a part-time actress, and that is okay by me.

Wow, I can’t believe I actually said that out loud. Craziness.

Jessica Leigh Smith

About Jessica Leigh Smith

Jessica Leigh Smith can currently be seen running around town in her yoga pants, toting her two little girls everywhere she goes. Being a mommy has played into Jessica’s latest projects, Mommy Parodies. The first is a parody of a song from the movie Frozen, which has reached almost 40,000 views (and climbing) on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86FY-AEdizA. Jessica’s most notable acting roles are co-starring roles on One Tree Hill and Drop Dead Diva. Coincidentally, Jessica was toting her daughters in those roles as well, since she was pregnant both times. In addition to acting, Jessica has co-produced an educational series for actors, called The Dinner Project, putting actors and casting directors face to face. Episodes can be found at http://thedinnerprojectshow.com/. For more about Jessica, the actress, please visit her website, http://www.jessicaleighsmith.com/, and follow her on Twitter, @JessiLeighSmith.