The Truth About Being a Working Mom: A Letter to my Younger Self
I remember being dragged along to one of my younger brothers’ hockey practices when I was a teenager. It was a weeknight, and a mom walked in to the rink, clearly having come straight from work. She was dressed in a suit and heels, and to teenage me, she was the epitome of what I wanted.
She looked glamorous and put-together. She clearly had an “important” job, but she was a mom too, and she was making the time to be there for her son. In my brief glimpse into her life, she looked like she had the best of both worlds – a successful career and a family.
I look back at that moment now and shake my head. I had no idea what that woman was dealing with. She probably walked in weighed down with work stress, trying her best to shrug it off and be present for her son. The hockey practice was at dinner time, and she obviously hadn’t been home, so there’s a good chance dinner was going to be take-out. Perhaps most importantly, younger me had absolutely no concept of the hundreds of things that she was mentally juggling at that very moment. I had no idea what it was really like to be a working mom.
Related: The Reality of Being a Working Mom
I remember being pregnant with my first child. At the time, I was a successful associate at a law firm. I was on the partnership track, and couldn’t imagine how having a baby would derail those plans. With the confidence of somebody who doesn’t know any better, I thought that a baby would just be one more ball that I’d have to juggle.
Then, my first baby was born, and my entire world changed. My priorities shifted overnight. It wasn’t a matter of fitting a baby into my “old life”. He was my priority now, and I needed to figure out a way to make my old life fit into my new life.
Six years have passed since my first baby was born. I’ve adjusted to being a working mom, but my adjustment hasn’t been without its struggles. If I could go back in time, to the child-free girl imagining what her future would look like, here’s the truth about being a working mom that I wish I could tell her:
1. You can do it all, but you can’t do it all perfectly.
Read that again, and let it sink in. Whether you want to admit it or not, perfect has been your goal your entire life, and settling for anything less than that is going to be very difficult for you.
Sometimes, you’re going to fail. You’re going to let down your kids, your employer, your spouse, or yourself. Sometimes it will be in little ways, and sometimes it will feel like your whole world is crashing down.
You’re going to have to get comfortable with good-enough. This will be hard. But you have too many balls in the air, and simply can’t give 110% to everything. Something has to give.
If you try to do it all, and do it all perfectly, you will burn out. It may not happen right away, but it will happen. If you want to succeed as a working mom, you need to learn to let go of perfection.
Related: The Myth of Having it All
2. You can do it all, but you can’t do it alone.
Think back to that Mom at the hockey rink. How do you think that her son got to the rink that day?
You’re going to have to get comfortable asking for help. You’ll have to rely on others, and stop trying to do it all yourself.
Your husband is going to need to be an equal partner – and you need to let him be one. That means that sometimes he’s going to be the one communicating with teachers, or other parents. Sometimes he will be the one attending kids’ activities, or planning the birthday party.
On the flip side, you’re going to have to learn how to say no. You can’t be PAC president and room parent and coach of the soccer team and attend every after-hours work event. You’re only one person. You’ll need to learn your limits, and you’ll need to learn to stick to them.
3. You can do it all, but you might not want to.
Your world will change the moment that little boy comes into it, and that’s ok. You’re not setting feminism back if your goals and priorities change when you become a Mom.
It’s ok to chase your professional ambitions as a Mom, and it’s ok not to. It’s ok to take your foot off the gas, and take a slower route to the top. It’s ok if you decide that the top isn’t the goal after all.
It will be hard for you to fall behind your peer group. You’re an overachiever, and your law school classmates are going to be making partner while you’re on your third maternity leave. Your path has changed. It’s not better, or worse – it’s just different. That’s ok.
Related: Finding Balance as a Mom
Don’t compare yourself to pre-kids you. That girl had more time, way less on her plate, and a lot more sleep. You’re squeezing more work into fewer hours, and it’s ok to set the limits you need.
You can succeed as a working mom. And you will. But the “mom” part of “working mom” is going to be a bigger factor than you realize. Being a working mom won’t be what you imagined, and it’s going to be harder than you expected. The sooner you let go of what you thought it would be like, and accept what it’s actually like, the better off you’re going to be. You can do this.