The Professional Poison of Being a Mom

careers coaching corporate culture equality generational intelligence glass ceiling impact jobs maternity leave mom mindset momguilt moms that work motherhood people pleaser perfectionism serving others sexism social expectations work from home Jul 17, 2019

Do you ever struggle with wishing you could take back all the years of foundering on being a mom? Do you feel like some mom’s just somehow had it all figured out and have been living their best life, a career, moving on up and you’re over here thinking you still don’t know what you wanted to be when you grew up? Do you feel like being a mom has really messed with your mindset professionally, and holds you back from what you wanted in your career?

I hear you, and I am regularly thinking these thoughts. I do my best to stop myself from second-guessing the experiences, opportunities, and choices that I have made in my past as a mom with a career. And I’ve found that I've needed to do the same to fix my mindset on what I want professionally. Not stopping this mindset in its tracks, keeps me in a place that tells me I didn’t do it right, or that I’ve screwed up my chances at my professional dreams ever coming true.

If you’re like me in this situation you look at the things you’ve done professionally since motherhood and think they are menial compared to that of raising your children. Because let’s be honest, being a mom is your most important work, right?! Or is it? At least that is what we are told, that is what you are pressured into believing, and it’s what our culture deems appropriate for you to spend all your time on perfecting. Because of course, there is such a thing as “the perfect mom”!? We see it all day long as we scroll through our Instagram feeds. We spend hours guilting ourselves that we have to get better, and we can spend lifetimes wondering where we went wrong. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it and I’ve felt empathy for those who have gotten stuck in it.

If only we spent half that time contemplating how to get better in our careers, pursuing our personal dreams, following our talents, skills, and gifts.

What I’ve come to realize is that you and I haven't only drunk the #momguilt poison but most likely we've drunk the Kool-Aid that serving others over ourselves is what's necessary to get anywhere professionally. The truth is, businesses know this and the world prays on us as moms, they belittle us for being moms all while promoting they are for moms. The cycle of being stuck in this poisonous trap where we don’t see ourselves as having more potential bounces back and forth from our internal #momguilt to our professional guilt of not achieving our dreams. We hold ourselves back for fear of being found out that we believe our potential matters as much as the potential of our kids. We give in to serving others, ALL THE OTHERS, over ourselves because that is just what is socially acceptable for us to do.

Over the past few years, I’ve done some pretty amazing things in my career. I’ll be the first to admit that the work I have done mattered to me and I will brag that many times I am the hardest working in the room. I’ve developed contracts, overseen mergers, and I’ve helped build and develop programs where not only I was able to feel good about the work I was doing, and where I could feel pretty damn good about the work I was doing for making a better life for my family. I believed that what I was helping build was going to be different and change the world. And in many cases, each opportunity did just that, for others. Looking back though at my career, while I was doing the good deeds, working hard, and making an impact I can't say I was being a great mom. I didn't need to feel like I should apologize for having something of my own, because, at the end of the day, it wasn’t only helping me it was helping others. That made it okay to culture's perspective to say, "my kids are seeing me make an impact" and have it be culturally acceptable for it to be a worthwhile career. After a long time of building, transitioning and growing opportunities for other people, I looked at what I was doing and couldn’t recognize any of the reasons why I did any of those jobs for me. I could see where I did it for others, I could see where it was a good thing for my kids, and I could kind of see where it was benefiting me financially. But if I am really honest, I couldn’t see where or why I was doing any of them, and over a period of time, I'd begin to resent each position. And because they all always had an outcome that was doing good for so many others, I felt extremely guilty for feeling like I was being neglected. I felt like the only way my work was validated or acceptable was if I was unselfish and kept the “me” out of the equation. The pressure of the guilt that was keeping me stuck was so heavy I began feeling taken advantage of, resenting the experience or opportunities, and finding myself isolated by only those who were a part of that work. I saw where I had been marketed to as a mom, preyed on with guilt for not serving to the level expected, and my identity was wrapped up in who I was supposed to be for the positions. My identity wasn’t my own. I felt like needing to have a “one thing” in my work, and the importance of committing to that “one thing” was the only way I could ever receive validation of a job that would be seen of importance professionally.

I did this until I realized, just like #momguilt held me back from being the mom I never had growing up. My guilt of feeling that the only way my work was valued if I took on the identity that whatever corporate or social culture was saying was acceptable for a woman and a mom. The identity that we aren’t allowed to be selfish, or self-serving, or do things that are professionally just about us, had poisoned me and held me back from my dreams. I am sure just reading that might make some of your skin crawl because when I first confronted myself with this realization it made me feel sick to my stomach. The thought of doing something solely for myself felt wrong. And then I asked myself the question, “Why does doing what I'd tell my children to do for their futures feel wrong of me to tell myself to do?

I share this because as moms we are told that once our job becomes "being a mom", we are expected that our only job is only to serve others. Don't get me wrong, we already were given some of that expectation being born as a female, but add on becoming a mother it is, even more, a part of our daily struggle within our careers. I feel it puts us as women in a trap of not only feeling pressured to serve in our role as a “perfect mom” but in the other roles, we hold professionally. We get pressured to be the “perfect serving leader”, “perfect serving volunteer” or the “perfect serving worker”. We can be easily swayed from our own beliefs, dreams, and convictions over a period of being told how much something we do matters to others. We are convinced this makes us unselfish, and forget we are individuals and that should matter more and put ourselves first sometimes. Many times the end result is that who we are begins to not matter as much to us at all, and as a bi-product, we don't address the guilt we are given to serve within our careers.

I’d love to hear your experience professionally as a mom. Do you feel that because of the cultural perspective of a mom being someone who serves others, that moms are more susceptible to being convinced to do something for a career where they are helping someone? Do you think you're bypassed for opportunities because you're a mom? Do you think being a mom has sometimes let you tell yourself to look past the things that are belittling you or keeping you from moving up professionally? Or do you believe that being a mom is separate from how you interact with the rest of the world? If so, why do you feel you have that perspective, is it how you were raised, a mindset you conquered?

I’d love to hear how your mom-mindset has affected your mindset professionally.