Early in my career, my motto was “work hard and you shall receive.” So I worked around the clock… religiously. My life was my work. I owed my employer everything and owed myself nothing. My perception of individuals (mothers in particular) who left on time or, heaven forbid, 15 minutes early was that they weren’t dedicated. Why should they “get a break” when I was staying late and working so hard? I assumed that they couldn’t possibly care about their career, and, therefore, I didn’t value them as much as I could or should have. Subconsciously, I allowed my perception to become my reality—defining these individuals as lazy or not dedicated. I judged, tried, and sentenced them all within a matter of seconds. Then, I became a mother and my subconscious got a huge wake-up call. The idea of a “break” fleeted from my mind and the tables were now turned—suddenly I was the one on the stand.
Obviously, I haven’t always been a working mother. Although my work was my priority, I found the time to fall in love, get married, and start a family. (See the double standard there?) I worked for seven years before my husband and I had our first child. In my experience, our first was relatively easy. There were some adjustments, like learning how to function on two hours of sleep a night for weeks on end, and channeling our inner patience x10 when dealing with a fussy newborn. Inevitably, we got through it and had a decent work/life balance for our new little family. Insert baby #2 and any form of a schedule went out the window, along with that precious patience I had become so good at. Seriously? But one was so “easy”… Yes, I’m laughing at myself as I type those words.
I won’t forget going back to work after my second child. As I began to think “Oh crap, how the hell am I going to pull this off?” I was promoted to manager. On top of working full time and being a parent of two under the age of 2, I now had multiple direct reports who relied on me. Throw in some health issues for our youngest child, and life got very real, very quickly.
I found myself working from home more often, leaving early/arriving late due to doctor appointments, fevers, daycare pick-up/drop-off, gymnastics, etc.—all the while trying to never miss a beat at work. If I left early, I made it up once the kids were in bed. I was terrified of being judged—the same way I had judged other moms before I was a mother myself. If I wasn’t in five places at once and everything to everyone, surely I was failing at being a wife, mother, and manager. I was barely sleeping, and felt like I was turning into a robot. I was losing touch with myself and who I was. I questioned myself constantly—could I really have it all?
Full speed ahead, and I hit a wall. My sister, who manages a huge staff at a metropolitan hospital and has three children under the age of 8 (How. Does. She. Do. It?!), gave me some great advice. “Lauren, work smarter—not harder.” Simple, yet powerful. Now I just needed to learn what this meant to me.
I’ll admit I’m still figuring it out. It means something different to me on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. There are days it means that I have to delegate design work that I desperately want to do myself. Some weeks it means having my groceries delivered because taking two young kids to the grocery store sounds like my worst nightmare. Most importantly, it means that it is okay to ask for help and forgiveness at work and at home. Let me repeat that—it’s okay to ask for help. I’ve learned that it’s not only okay, but it’s essential to put myself and my family first. This lesson alone makes me a better wife, mother, and manager, not to mention much more efficient on a daily basis. I finally learned that I can have it all—it just looks a little different than I had originally envisioned.
So listen up—working moms work just as hard as our peers, perhaps just in a different capacity. Our clock doesn’t start at 9 a.m. and stop at 5 p.m. And don’t worry, we recognize that yours doesn’t either. Having a child doesn’t make us special. It doesn’t give us a free pass to miss a deadline or leave work early. At the end of the day, the work still gets done whether we’re in the office, at soccer practice, in the gym, or at home.
I’m just one working mom, but from my perspective moms don’t need a break; we need others to have faith in us and in each other. Let’s all advocate for one another and lift each other up. It just might force us all to question our perceptions and challenge our assumptions of one another. Perhaps then, we might change our reality and start thinking differently.
Photography by Emily Ziegler
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