I became a “working mom” 7 years ago. When I went back to work after my maternity leave, I had no idea that choice would create a badge on my identity forever. That I would constantly be categorized in the “working” group. That I was now somehow a different kind of mom. It was a strange feeling. The title of “mom” was still something I was settling into, I was not ready to be filtered into the subcategories of motherhood. And I’m still not.
So, like most people who are unsure of what to make of something, I turned to the internet. I read A LOT of parenting content. There’s no shortage of it: think pieces on the virtue of being a working mom vs a stay-at-home mom and vice versa, advice columns on how to “juggle it all,” opinion pieces on work/life balance, listicles on why being either a stay-at-home or working mom is better, and on. I didn’t know what I was searching for, honestly—I just kept reading.
After spending countless hours huddled over the blue dim of my computer screen, I can finally say I KNOW the secret in being a good working mom. And guess what? It’s the same as the secret to being good a stay-at-home mom. The secret to being a good mom is accepting that there is no secret. Really.
The secret to having it all is to stop looking for “the secret”.
There’s no magic formula. It’s real life. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes the water is smooth, other times the rapids are raging and you’re doing all you can to keep the boat right side up. Carrying the weight of other’s expectations only makes the load heavier.
Constantly searching for a “secret” or ways to optimize the most perfect form of parenthood, takes us out of being the parent we already are. It’s not too different than striving to make your love life replicate the formula of romantic movies. It’s an impossible and unhealthy thing to reach for. We parents (especially moms) need to be content with what we can bring to the table as individuals. No more. No less. Accepting our flaws and strengths in one big beautiful package. We need to stop putting ourselves against the measuring stick of other people’s experiences.
As a working mom, it’s taken years for me to stop trying to fit into a formula of what a working mom should be and just work towards what works for me. Being a “working” mom is one of those things that works for me, but doesn’t work for others. The tactical things that are a part of my formula probably won’t work for you. But I can tell you what happened after I stopped hunting for “the secret” that’s good for everyone:
I became more confident as a mother.
Listening to the incredibly contradictory voices of parenting “experts” pushed me into a pattern of questioning EVERYTHING. I was putting my own instincts in the backseat in favor of words from people who had never met me or my child. After I came to terms with there being no one-size-fits-all approach, it automatically bumped me into the driver’s seat and I felt like I had more control.
I became more vocal about what I needed.
Once I stopped trying to stitch together advice from other people to make it work for my unique situation, I was able to get a clearer picture of what I actually needed/wanted. I defined the priorities for my own family and relationships. With a clearer picture, I was able to fight harder for what I needed. I had my own guiding light, not someone else’s.
I gave myself more space for reflection.
This one was the hardest step for me, so in turn probably the most important. I hate being alone with my thoughts — they aren’t always pretty. Being alone with my thoughts usually got pushed aside by searching for the thoughts of other people. But it’s crucial that I take time to breathe and reflect about where I am and how I feel about it all. If I’m feeling good, great! If not, ok. At least I’ve taken the time to think about what is not so great so I can start thinking about how I can adjust it.
Being a parent is crazy! It makes sense that we want to turn over every stone to help us make sense of it all. I haven’t and probably won’t ever stop reading parenting articles or self-help content. What has changed is the weight I put on that advice. For too long, it controlled what I did instead of just being information. It made me feel weighed down and overwhelmed. Now, I listen to my voice first and strive to be happy with where I’m at today. And frankly, I hope my daughter notices that and strives to do the same.