My mom chose raising us full time over becoming a working outside-and-inside-the-home-mom.
She once said – “I would never trade lives with you.” She loved being a mom, and she knew I loved working AND being a mom. And while she didn’t fully understand my choice – she supported it. Advertising is both an energising and exhausting business, sometimes on the same day. And there were days early in my mom/life career when I would call her in tears to say that I couldn’t take one more day when I insisted – this is it – I’m quitting, I can’t do it. She would listen and then say – “you can quit if you want – but you won’t be any less busy or any more balanced. If you quit your job in a matter of days, you’ll be the head of the PTO; you’ll be a library trustee; you’ll be volunteering and hosting Girls & Boys Scout meetings in your home.
You will still be just as busy. Your problem isn’t work. Your problem is you don’t say NO.
What follows is a small list of things I have learned; my hope is that we can build on this list together and help to make each other’s boundaries stronger and lives more balanced.
You have two full-time jobs. Don’t pretend you don’t. Don’t minimise your contributions at either job. Protect your energy and time so you can feel good and successful.
Say no. This is a very fashionable thing to say, but it is very hard to do. We say no in order to say yes to what matters. Setting boundaries is the single best way to take care of yourself, to feel less stressed, and find more happiness. Brene Brown’s research tells us that we will feel the discomfort of a “no” for 8 seconds – while we can feel the resentment of a “yes” for 6 months. So say No – count to 8. Say yes to what matters. This is even more important than when I was a mom of small children; being a mom in this pandemic-induced, hybrid world means you must be even more vigilant of your boundaries. The lines between work and life are blurrier, and it is harder to find, never mind draw the line between them – nevertheless, you must draw them, and you must work at a place that recognises them.
You are not alone. Some days, it will feel like you are alone. Build a supportive tribe. Lift each other up. Sometimes you will need to show other women how to lift you up. I learned this late, with my fourth kid. I decided that I needed to get to know the moms of my then kindergarten-aged son. I hosted a back-to-school Mom & Sons Potluck every year in my backyard. As working-in-and-out-of-the-house moms, we don’t stand in the bus line with other moms or get to go to the 9:45 AM meet-up conveniently scheduled only for the parents who chose not to work outside the house. We don’t get to build our friendships with the other moms as organically as we observe them doing it. We need to consciously cultivate a supportive tribe. The backyard potlucks did that for me; as we got to know each other, we showed each other how to lift each other up. I am not “besties” with every single mom who came to my house over those years, but we are friends and have each other’s backs.
There’s no need to explain yourself – to anyone. If you need to be somewhere for your kids, that’s where you need to be. Take the time but never feel you owe someone an explanation; we trust you to get your work done and to get it done well. Be unapologetic about putting yourself or your family first. I learned this from Anne Finucane, Vice-Chair of Bank of America. She gave me this permission. One day she called my cell and asked if I could come back to her office. I said, “I can’t; I am at my son’s lacrosse game.” She said – “oh, you were just here! I didn’t know you were leaving early.” Pause. Deep breath. I said – “a smart lady once told me that I didn’t need to explain myself to anyone.” We laughed, she said, “see you tomorrow.”
Things will break; when they do, remember the art and practice of Kintsugi. The reason people refer to work-life balance is precisely because it is all a balancing act, and we alone are not wholly responsible for keeping each plate spinning. We welcome humans into the world, and they each have their plates to spin. Sometimes one of their plates will fall and break. When you find yourself in one of those moments, take the time to find the needed gold and pour it into the cracks. At different times in my career, the gold I have used to pour into the broken cracks has differed – when my kids were young, the gold was always time – I worked a 4-day work week for 10 years, and Fridays were the gold that gave me the time to feel fulfilled at both of my jobs. When my third son was a sophomore, and he really needed me, the gold turned out to be a 9-week leave of absence. Find your gold. Things can be more beautiful in the repairing.
Let yourself off the hook. You will f%#k up; you will not get it right all the time. This is ok. My husband asked me to share that I had forgotten his birthday – not once but twice because I was so absorbed in what I was doing at work. It felt awful, and I really did a number on myself both times. It was him that helped me to let myself off the hook. So – the lesson may also be to find a suitable life partner or a friend who loves you no matter what and who celebrates that you are doing your best to succeed as a mom who works in and out of the home.
Build routines and traditions rather than worry about the external schedule everyone else seems to be on and trying to hold you to. Don’t succumb to where the world thinks you need to be – be wherever you have committed to being. Some of my traditions are small – pizza-movie-night on Fridays; some are big – two consecutive weeks in Maine every summer – my family counts on these things. I count on these things. Can’t be there when they get home from school every day? What does the bedtime routine or morning breakfast routine look like? Relish the joy in routines and traditions you build and guard them with your heart.
The smaller moments have more impact than the grand gestures – be available for them. I have learned that the things my kids savor the most are the times when we were doing practically nothing, but we were together, skipping the first period to have breakfast at a cafe, watching Survivor, and cooking pizza. It doesn’t have to be an expensive vacation once in a lifetime. You can do those too, but it’s not what they will remember. A study asked the grown kids of “working moms” what do you wish had been different about your childhood? Separately, they asked the moms, how do you think your kids will answer that question? A significant percentage of the moms were certain their kids would say something like: I wish my mom didn’t work, had been home more, or was more available to me. The kids said overwhelmingly that I wish my mom had worried less. When I shared this with my now-adult kids, they wholeheartedly agreed – we know you love us, mom – you worried all the time.
You can’t knead a runny situation. My Mom makes four loaves of bread each Sunday. The memory of the recipe is in her hands. One day, while she was teaching my daughter, a math major, how to make bread, my daughter asked HOW MANY CUPS Grandma – How much of this, how much of that? When do you know when to take it out of the bowl and start to knead it? My Mom did not have the measurements to share. When you are making bread, you get to a point where the recipe doesn’t mean as much as the feel of the dough. When you’ve pushed it too hard, it bounces back and won’t yield any more. You also know if you haven’t put enough in and the dough is runny and messy. And my mom said to Celia, you can’t knead a runny situation. You need to put enough flour in your bowl so you can knead it. That flour has become my metaphor for the fuel of sleep, good food, time with my husband and children and friends, a walk in the woods with Murph, my “list of things I have said no to.” If I put enough of those things in my bowl, my situation isn’t runny.
The things that make you a great leader and highly competent teammate are the very same things that make you a wonderful mom. This is hard AND this is awesome. So let’s add to this list. Let’s show each other how to lift each other up.
A MOMifesto by Kelly Fredrickson