Since the greatest gift you can give a working mother is time, I will spare you a long introduction.
After reflecting on the one-day-a-year mothers are publicly acknowledged, I thought it would be helpful to share what I have learned being a working mom.
My working mom journey began in 2009 when I had my son, Jake. I was a sales manager at the time and not only had a newborn baby depending on me, but also a team of sales reps who required just as much of my energy and attention. Along the way I have gone from being a new working mom, to a single working mom, to an executive working mom, and I continue to learn about the intricate phases of raising a child (kids are all about phases) all while continuing to build my career.
From the new mom who puts too much pressure on herself to the mom who has been at this longer than I have, I believe our goals are the same:
To raise well-adjusted, loving children who are healthy and happy, and to contribute in a meaningful way at work, using our education and talents to create a memorable career.
All day long, we read articles about the challenges of everyday motherhood – but they don’t always necessarily incorporate work challenges. So, as a full-time working mom, I offer four pieces of advice for when motherhood meets career.
Talk about your children at the office
It’s okay to talk about your children at work. We are mothers who are excited, proud, and sometimes frustrated with our children. Long ago, I read a book called The Male Factor, in which author Shaunti Feldhahn illustrates the major differences between men and women at work. These differences range from things like how men tend to believe the mantra “It’s not personal, it’s business,” to how women tend to be more supportive of emotions in the workplace, to my personal favorite, how men want the conclusion first – as Feldhahn puts it, “Don’t tell me about the pain, just show me the baby.” And in my experience, while men certainly talk about their children, women tend to go into more detail.
I used to think that if I spoke too much about my child, maybe others would get the perception that I would rather be at home and not pursuing my career. I would look into the eyes of my mostly male colleagues and think to myself, “Am I sharing too much?”
Turns out I wasn’t. When I’d get questions about how my son Jake was doing in school or if he was playing any sports this season, I knew it was just as accepted to share my “mom life” as it was to hear about the new restaurant my colleague tried in Manhattan over the weekend. Just because you are working doesn’t mean that you don’t have a life outside of work that includes the bus stop, birthday parties, sports, and more.
Showing you are a mom even when you are in a business suit is not just important for your personal mental health, but it’s also an important example to set for the next generation of mothers-to-be. It shows that you can juggle like a pro and that you’re proud of being both a mom and an employee.
Drop the guilt at the door
The guilt door definitely swings both ways. As working moms, it sometimes seems like we have to pick between two options: be a good mom, or be a good employee. How do you choose which to prioritize? Luckily, everything is not always that black and white – as Tania Lombrozo points out in her NPR essay, “Working mothers are more than just workers and mothers.”
I’m here to tell you that we can be good at both at the same time.
So often, we make ourselves sick trying to be perfect. We talk in absolutes: “if I don’t make every baseball game, I am not a good mother.” “If I don’t attend every work dinner, I am not a good employee.” But the reality is this – in every other part of our life, we are usually satisfied with following an 80/20 rule. When we turn it into the 100% rule, we will always fail.
I try my best to apply this 80/20 rule when it comes to my son’s activities. Every year, I feel a little guilty that I cannot say yes to becoming a class mom who is involved in every holiday and classroom activity – and the guilt is even worse when my son asks me to please, please, please be a class mom. Being a third-grade class mom is a time commitment, and a difficult one too when you have a demanding full-time job. So instead, I ask the class moms if I can be their backup for a few of the events. I don’t mind taking a half-day to go and play games on Halloween, but I definitely cannot volunteer more hours than I have while working full-time. Finding compromise helps me manage the “guilty mom syndrome” that so often we feel when our kids say please, please, please.
If you look around you, I bet you will see that not every mother can be there for their children 100% of the time. Whether they work, are at home with younger children, or just need a small break, moms don’t always make it to every single baseball game or dance practice.
On the flip side, not every employee attends every work dinner, either! They may have plans with out-of-town guests or an event in advance that allows them to say “No, I cannot make it this time.” If you need some tips on saying no at work, by the way, check out Alexandra Franzen’s universal script on The Muse blog.
Nobody will remember the 20% where you couldn’t make it work, and you shouldn’t dwell on it either. Cut yourself some slack – attend all the major important things, and the rest can vary.
And once the guilt door closes, don’t reopen it and punish yourself.
Show gratitude to your support system
Needless to say, my life wouldn’t be the same without my support system. In my case, my family is the glue that makes all of this work. Whether it’s one more snow day when I have tons of work to do, or that meeting that was super productive and ran over by 30 minutes, my parents are there – every single time. I will admit that I can get lost in the business of parenthood and my career, and that I need to stop more frequently and think about showing gratitude to those who help me make this all work.
So whatever your support system – helpful parents or in-laws, a stay-at-home partner, a reliable babysitter – make sure to take time to show how much you appreciate their help in making your working mom life possible.
You have choices – make them
We are never stuck. We have choices – some we may like and others we may not, but they are choices nonetheless. They say timing is everything, and I really believe that is the truth. Have you ever noticed that when your personal life is going great, your professional life may be challenged? And that the exact opposite is also often true?
There have been times in my career where a promotion or change in position were absolutely right for me – and other times where I just needed to stay put because my home situation wasn’t ready for the proposed change. In fact, I probably stayed in my sales management role for more years than I would have liked because it felt safe! I knew the role well, and while my son was learning to talk and walk, becoming potty-trained and starting school, I knew the pressure of learning a new role or taking on more responsibility was just not possible. I knew my limits physically and mentally. It wasn’t until he was settled in kindergarten that I felt it was time to take on a new adventure and challenge myself in new ways.
I think that just like the “guilt,” sometimes we work in absolutes: “This is an opportunity that will never happen again.” But if the timing isn’t right, you won’t feel good about the decision, no matter how “great” of an opportunity it seems.
Give yourself permission to weigh the options and decide yes or no depending on whether the timing is right in your life – and know that plenty more opportunities will come along.