What a year these past 3 months have been!
It feels like in the blink of an eye I went from running a business and managing preschool drop-off and pick-up to juggling business, daily activities for my kids, homeschooling, household, our relatives in different locations and the list goes on and on.
Am I doing a good job? Will everything fall apart? What will my kids future be? Does my family know I am trying my best? I am the rock of this household, so I have to hold it together!
Before the craziness of COVID-19 started, combatting mom guilt was hard enough.
In a moment of clarity and among other things, I am blessed to have women in my corner that can share wise words to help me mentally get through each day.
Meet our Expert: Monique R. Shields, an executive coach who helps ambitious women build the courage and clarity to define their own success and step into personally aligned careers.
Monique discusses a practical mindset shift that serves as a really wonderful jumping off point for the redistributing the mental, physical, and emotional load of being a mom. Read her article below!
Mom guilt makes sense.
The additional pressures of COVID-19 aside, the world has piled on to us such an abundance of, often conflicting and nearly always impossible, messages about what being a “good mom” entails: Have a spotless house with spotless children, who play in spotless spaces and have spotless behavior. But of course, not too spotless, because that’s suspicious. A good mom these days is also a #girlboss… but not the really busy kind. Busy moms are bad. Aim for a moderately active, extremely effective yet, perpetually balanced kind of girl bossing. Also, you must be sure to be married … blissfully so… to the kind of person who, you know, “makes sense” to the rest of us. And finally, if you can just be a size 2, post all of this on the internet and, for the love of God, never ever complain while you figure all of this out, that would be great.
The result of these modern motherhood mental gymnastics is, logically, the conclusion that “I do not now, nor will I ever, fully and consistently measure up to the role of mom.” The fallout from this realization for many of us is a never ending to-do list of things we can strive to achieve in hopes of, even if only momentarily, being considered a good mom.
In my own life, I call this The Imaginary To-Do List. This list is different from the grocery list or the task list I have for work each day because those lists align my actions towards a clear set of goals (i.e. we need food to eat dinner). The Imaginary To-Do List is insidious in its lack of direction or value. There may be (literally) 100 items that are piling up in my mind. Each item is valid on its own as a “good” thing I “could” or “should” do but, the value tends to end there. What I end up with instead is one idea that has now mutated into six other loosely connected new to-dos to support the original. This rippling effect goes on and on until either I hit a wall or something of actual importance gets missed.
In search of a better way of dealing with these swirling priorities in my overloaded brain, I attended a panel discussion for working moms and met a woman whose book changed the game for me. Her name is Tiffany Dufu and her book, “Drop the Ball” has become one of my favorite examinations on motherhood. Through the re-telling of her story of becoming a mom and trying to manage it all - two kiddos, a big visionary career, marriage, home management and time for herself - one of my greatest takeaways was that, as mothers, so many of us are stressing ourselves out and feeling terrible about our performance at a job for which we have never stopped to scope, set tangible goals or collect key stakeholder input.
I remember arriving at this moment in the book and feeling as if I was seeing the world again for the first time. This model made the way I’d been operating seem almost laughable. In what world would I ever accept a company role for which there was no job spec, no goals and no insight into the needs of the key beneficiaries of my work? I would have to go to work every day and just make up a bunch of nonsense to do and hope that it somehow would lead me to success… whatever that means.
It’s a practical mindset shift that serves as a really wonderful jumping off point for redistributing the mental, physical and emotional load of being a mom. I’ve since shared this sage guidance with a number of my clients who are both leaders in business and in their homes with their children and they’ve found that even taking a couple small steps toward this new way of positioning their role as mom to be life-changing.
The combination of the learnings from this book and the learnings that have surfaced in my executive coaching sessions have resulted in three tips that I am excited to share:
Set a Vision for your Work. Block 15mins to write and imagine the day you send your child off into the world. Perhaps you are helping them unload their items into a dorm room. Or maybe helping them pack up to move out or take a big post-high-school trip - really imagine the details of the moment. When they look at you and what you’ve meant to them over the past 18-ish years, what will matter most? And when you look at them and feel immense love and pride, what are you proud of about who they have become - the kind of people they are? Write these things down - these are the ultimate goals of your work as a mom. Outside of keeping our children fed, sheltered and safe, nothing likely matters more than what you discover here.
Write down your Imaginary To-Do List. If any form of this comes up for you, you have to get it out of your head and onto some paper. It’s almost a Marie Kondoing of your brain only, instead of asking if the task sparks joy, ask yourself, does this serve my highest vision and most important goals for my children? (see above)
- Ask your stakeholders for input (children - and likely your partner). Give your kids (toddlers too!) credit for knowing what they want and need most from you. In Dufu’s book, she shares the story of asking her two school-aged children what she did that let them know that mommy loved and cared for them. It boiled down to them waking up every Saturday morning to her fresh baked scones. Here she was, beating herself up for work travel and imperfect household systems and what they really needed were a few scones. From then on, come hell or high water, she would stay up, pre-bake, freeze scone to make sure her kiddos knew that mommy was taking care of them and she could let the guilt for the other non-essentials go. Over time, just as you would do at any other job, they would regularly review and amend the most important tasks so that expectations and needs were defined and met.
My encouragement for anyone reading this post, especially during this time when we’re feeling stress and pressure from so many angles, is to give yourself the permission to take the world off of your shoulders. I know the reason you are even reading this post is because you deeply love your children. Sometimes the best way to love our babies, is to let them teach us how they want to be loved. I am permanently imperfect at this (we all may be) but, I’ve found that the respect and connection that you will be able to foster from these kinds of interactions (along with lots of grace for yourself) can be the antidote to the mom guilt that you likely don’t deserve to feel.