Every new mom these days has a similar experience. You get pregnant and a few weeks (or months) later, you make an adorable announcement on your social platform of choice. The maternity pictures. The gender reveal parties. Ultrasounds. Late night ice cream runs. Baby showers. And through all of that, you hear one question over and over:
“So, what are you going to do about work?” The jargon begins to run through your head:
Working Mom <or >Stay at home Mom
Part time <or> Full time <or> Job sharing
Work from home <or> across town
Job with local, regional, <or> international travel
6-, 12-, 16-, 26-week maternity <and/or> paternity leave
You find yourself writing definitions and descriptions in your head that you can share with someone in 30 seconds or less.
I could tell you about my story. How my husband and I have had an open, honest (even at times progressive) discussion about our plans when we started a family. When, during my pregnancy, we realized we had to move to plan B and plan C, and finally plan D. Let’s not talk about what “plan” we are on now, we’ve just decided to wing it.
But my story doesn’t matter. My decision doesn’t matter. Because I’m not you.
When we hear speakers empowering women, they rarely have a completely blank slate. Some have an agenda, most view a mother’s choice though the lens of their own experiences, shaped by their own opinions. All will tell you the decision is hard and extremely personal.
But do we really remember that? As we make our decision regarding work after we have children, do you think, “This is gonna be hard no matter what?” I know I didn’t.
Attitude towards work DIRECTLY IMPACTS the emotional well-being of both mom AND her young children. In a 1985 study, William F. Alvarez studied women in two-parent households that were working outside the home. The study found that for women who had positive motivation to work, had spousal support, and gains in self worth viewed their children more positively. Women who felt they HAD to work viewed their children more negatively. The bottom line: if you’re working for the right reasons, you’re more likely to actually enjoy your children and create a positive environment for them to flourish. This study only looked at a working mother, but I would argue its conclusions apply to mothers who stay at home full time as well.
The important line in that study? The mother’s motivation.
Here’s what is real: we all have different vocations, different mothering styles, totally different preferences. Some women have jobs that change the world, and others feel like they push paper around. There are women who feel pressure to return to work, and some that fear they may be perceived as “old fashioned.” Others are told that they need to stay home (by family members or society) and they’re not all in in the idea because staying at home is not pj’s and parties all day. You may have to stay in the workforce due to finances, insurance, or just the need to get out and do something other than baby talk all day.
Check your motivation. Is it in the right place? Are you aligned with the goals of your organization and engaged where you are? That applies to both at home and at work. There is no one forcing you to keep your particular job – there are others out there. If your family rhythms are not working, you CAN change. You’re in it for the long haul with your partner and children; shape your life on your terms.
Even with the right motivation, I still have days that I struggle with guilt. I’m not writing this article because I’m perfect – I’m writing it because I need to hear it. A lot.
While at lunch this week, I ran into one of my full-time-stay-at-home mommy friends. I, dressed in a suit and full makeup, felt strangely juxtaposed against her well-executed mom style and yoga pants (she pulls it off flawlessly by the way). She and her son had just come from music class, something that we currently can’t afford both from a time standpoint or financially.
A pang of guilt swept over me, and I asked to hold her little boy while she was ordering at the counter. Just a little toddler time in the middle of the day. I wish, I wish. But I don’t. She is her. I am me. And the choices of my life reflect the multi-faceted wants and needs of myself and my family.
Your working situation is just that – a reflection of your personal choices and goals. No matter what you choose the temptation of always mommy-guilt is there, ready to jump in the moment you allow it. Don’t let it. Just do you.
Your family, your children, YOU will be better for it.
Guest post by Jessica Prater, longtime friend and total Girl Boss. She is the Chief Everything Officer of J. Prater Consulting, where she focuses on the mental well-being of employees in the workplace. She spent 7 years traveling the world with a Fortune Global 500 Company, and holds a Master of Psychology degree with an emphasis in Industrial/ Organizational Psychology from Middle Tennessee State University. In 2016, she gave birth to the two things she is most proud of – her son, Levi, and her small business.