6 Important Lessons I Learned as a Working Mom
When I found out I was expecting Maddie, my life changed in an instant. I was utterly elated. To this day, I can still feel the surge of joy that exploded in my heart the second I realized I was pregnant. Then, of course, my mind started to race. Aside from all my worries and fears about pregnancy and motherhood, I became super aware of how unhappy I was in my job. So, when I was just a few weeks along, I walked out of my decent-paying, benefit-providing job and started Kristel Closets.
For my entire pregnancy, I focused wholly on building my business. I’ve always had a strong work ethic, and have been a bit of a hustler since I was a kid, but this was different. My focus and perseverance intensified. Suddenly, I had a 9-month deadline to build the life I wanted for my growing family, and I was out of my mind with determination to make it work.
Maddie and Ava drew a resilience from me that I never knew I had. What I found surprising was that I never once thought, assumed, or wanted to leave my professional life. Ever. I love working, and I believe that it makes me a better mom. However, I had a lot of guilt in the beginning. I had guilt because I wanted work, because I didn’t want to stay home, because I couldn’t do it all, and because I didn’t make homemade baby food. I was guilty about everything and started to beat myself up about even the smallest thing.
To help elevate the guilt, I’ve spent the past few years working on rewriting the stories I tell myself during the day. One day, as an exercise, I wrote down all my negative self-talk over a 12-hour period. It was astonishing. From the moment I looked in the mirror to the second I went to bed, I was saying terrible things to myself. My friend Maribeth calls it “self-flogging,” and it’s the best way to describe it. When I saw the totality of my comments, it hurt my heart. Personally, one reason I’m motivated to work is that I want my girls to see that women can do anything they put their minds to, and I want to teach them the importance of self-reliance. However, I was sabotaging my success and teaching them a terrible lesson by not practicing self-love and compassion.
The problem is that we are holding ourselves to this insane, perfect-life ideal, which we will NEVER reach because it doesn’t exist. And as much as I love the digital world and social media, it’s not helping. If you look at the most successful bloggers, who have millions of daily followers, they’re just feeding the narrative of “perfect.” Every day, there are thousands of unattainable images that bombard us. Even when we are smart enough to know they’re not real, they still seep into our subconscious.
My kids are kind, well-adjusted, healthy, highly articulate, super social little buggers who excel at school and sports. I have to be doing a few things right. In fact, I think I’m a pretty great mom, and more days than not I have my act together. Other days, I send them to school thinking it’s a school lunch day when it’s not, so there’s that. But, I haven’t always given myself credit. Instead, I would beat myself up.
So, today I’m sharing a few thoughts and lessons I’ve learned over the last decade spent attempting to raise a happy family and create a successful career. I’m far from perfect, but perfect isn’t my goal anymore. It’s taken a lot of self-reflection, and a good dose of professional help for me to realize that all we can do is live our truth, do what our gut tells us, and now and then give ourselves some credit for all we do.
Sometimes Good Enough is Perfect
Nothing makes me crazier than someone who wears her perfectionism as a badge of honor. Perfectionism stunts your productivity, limits your ability to grow, and makes it difficult to connect with other people. I’ve adopted the philosophy that good enough is perfect, and I use this idea across all aspects of my life. Did I send an email with a typo? Oh well. Are Christmas presents thrown in gift bags and not in Pinterest-worthy gift wrap? You bet. Is company coming over, and the bedrooms are a disaster? Shut the door. I’m not going to make it to every school meeting, and I say no to work sometimes because I’d rather spend time with my kids. My entire day is a lesson balance. It’s good enough, and that’s just fine with me.
Let go of perfection. No one is paying that much attention to you anyway.
You Can Have It All
No one, in the history of history, has ever told a man that he can’t have it all. It might be more difficult for us (it is), and we might have to work harder (we do), but we can have and accomplish anything our heart desires. The thing is, we can’t have it all and do it all by ourselves. We need help. Asking for and accepting help when offered doesn’t make you weak or mean you’re failing. It means you’re smart. We have to flip the script. For years, in the early stages of building my business, my girls spent a ton of time at my parents’ house. If they hadn’t helped us, we would not be where we are today, but back then, I felt terrible about accepting for their help. Then, one day, I realized that it was an incredible opportunity. Not only did I have uninterrupted time to work and not worry about my children (because who is better than your parents to care for them), but we saved a ton of money on childcare. The best part, though, is that our kids have an amazing bond with my mother and father, and you can’t put a price tag on that.
Take all the help you can get, and then pay it forward and help others when you’re the one in the position to do so.
Rewrite Your Script
I would encourage you to do the same self-talk exercise I did. You’ll be shocked when you see how frequently you have negative thoughts about yourself. Even when doing something as simple as washing my face in the morning, the very first thought I had was, “Ugh, when did I get so old?” Take a day to write down all your thoughts, and make yourself rewrite each sentence in a more positive way. Doing this will help you start to rewire your thinking about yourself.
Your words and thoughts have incredible power; make sure to speak as kindly to yourself as you do to others.
Be Proud of Yourself
Can we all just give ourselves the credit we deserve? Seriously, being a mom, running a home, and building your career is tremendously difficult, and every woman I know balancing it all is doing a kick-a** job. I was recently inspired by the self-help practice of taking a few minutes at the end of the day to write down what you’re grateful for, but I changed it, and now, I write down everything I’m proud of each day. It’s incredible what a difference it makes and how it creates a new filter for looking at things. I’m proud of the example I’m setting for our kids and that they tell me they are proud of me for being able to contribute financially and for creating and fighting for a marriage that feels like a real partnership of equals, just to name a few.
Give it a try for 30 days and see how much better you feel and how confident you become.
Write Your Own Rules
Everyone has an opinion about what’s “best” for your family, but you’re the boss, so do what you know is best. For me, sitting down as a family for dinner every night is a lovely idea — and almost impossible in a home where everyone has something going on that conflicts with the other. In our family, someone is regularly going to or from the airport, the kids have track practice, there’s homework, and we’re managing multiple projects and clients, all at once. However, I know how important meal time is in building a strong connection with your kids, so we set up our schedule to have at least one meal together, every day, in some capacity.
Lately, breakfast has been our meet-up meal. I get up early anyway, so making some pancakes feels special but is super easy. Sitting around the table for a few minutes as a family is a perfect way to start the day. Once a week, we also go out for a casual dinner. I save a ton of time not having to plan, prep, cook, and clean up, and I get to be present in uninterrupted time with Bri and the girls. It works best for us right now.
Stop feeling like you have to follow arbitrary “rules” and do what works best for you.
You Need a Group of Working Mom Friends
A support network is essential for your success in your career and general mental sanity. Having a group of women, with kids of a similar age, dealing with all the same stuff and balancing a career has made my life so much easier and manageable. These girls know what it’s like to take a conference call in a closet or have shown up to an 8 a.m. meeting wearing two different heels. They’ve pumped in their office, dealt with nannies and babysitters who canceled at the last-minute, and ran through airports to catch an early flight, praying the entire flight home to make it to the Christmas concert in time (me). My one girlfriend thought she was texting a friend of hers and, instead, sent a super inappropriate message to a new hire because she was exhausted, making dinner, and had a kid hanging off her ankle. It was horrifying and hilarious. The point is that you must have people in your life who get your situation. Knowing that other women are dealing with the same kind of craziness empowers and encourages you to get through the tough times, and they help you celebrate the successes. They’re like your biggest cheerleaders.
Your friend group directly influences your success; pick them wisely and then take time to nurture those relationships.
It took having these two incredible girls and this journey of modern motherhood to get the confidence I lacked in my youth. Over the last decade, I’ve become fearless and, for the first time in my life, feel powerful as a woman. So when I have my days when I am at my wit’s end (which is frequently), I remind myself that this experience has allowed me to grow into the best version of myself, and most important, not only are my kids not suffering, they are thriving.