Work-Life Lessons I've Learned as a Working Mom
What was supposed to be my last day in the office ended up being my first day of motherhood. Margaret Ashton Wussow arrived one week early in all of her newborn perfection, and my life was changed. Specifically, it changed into a dumpster fire.
Those who are closest to me can attest that having a baby was the single hardest transition I have ever gone through including my parents getting divorced at age 20, getting married at age 23, and moving to the Middle East with two toddlers. I truly felt like my life was over. I would never function as a normal person again, never sleep for six consecutive hours again, never be on time for anything again, and definitely never be a contributing member of the working world again.
By God’s grace, in time, things got better. My baby stopped crying all the time. We started sleeping at night and leaving the house during the day. I even started taking on freelance consulting work.
I wish I could say that my struggles as a mom ended there. In many ways, things are much easier now than they were when I had two kids under two. But there are still so many challenges, not the least of which is the never-ending game of tug-of-war between motherhood and my business (in which I am the rope.)
Women, myself included, are flocking to entrepreneurship as a way to create harmony between their desire to have families and their desire to continue pursuing vocation. It’s exciting. We are forging new paths. But path-forging is hard, messy work. I’ve made lots and lots of mistakes along the way.
The great thing, though, about making mistakes is that it leads to lessons learned. I’m sharing some of these lessons today, some that I have learned in the past and others that I’m still learning.
Lesson 1: Decide what’s important (and what’s not)
When I went back to work, I felt the (completely self-imposed) pressure of being 150% amazing at motherhood and consulting. I wanted to crush it at work, while at the same time being Susie-domestic who made homemade baby food and went to mother-baby story time and created Montessori-inspired art projects out of materials foraged from a nature-walk. As you can imagine, it didn’t really pan out.
What I had to realize was that being a working mom means making hard choices about where to spend your time and energy. These choices are hard, but they become a bit easier if you have clear priorities.
For example, in our family, we’ve decided that it’s important for the kids to be with a parent after school most days and have dinner home as a family most days. Because we’ve decided that this is a priority, it means that other things can’t be. It’s not a priority for me to chaperone field trips, volunteer at field day, or be a room parent. Our family afternoons/evenings also limit my ability to go to events and travel for my business. Both my kids and my business make sacrifices to protect our priority of family time.
Lesson 2: Take care of yourself
As women, we get really hell-bent on doing things for people. I think it’s mostly well intentioned, an effort to show our loved ones that we care. What I’ve realized over time though is that my kids don’t really care how effective I am in my role as doer-of-the-things. They don’t really care if the house is a mess, if they had to eat school lunch (again), or if we’re late to ballet.
What my kids do notice is my angry snapping at them to go faster in the morning, my lack of energy when they want to play in the afternoon, and my anxious, distracted refusal to be present with them in the evenings. If I’m not “getting it done,” they don’t care. If I’m in a bad place, they definitely care and it affects them.
It doesn’t matter how much I’m doing for my kids if I’m not the person I want to be while I’m doing it. Therefore, taking care of myself has to be a priority if I’m trying to not just be “productive” as a mom but present, connected, and FULL as a mom. For me, this means nurturing and caring for my marriage, working out, eating (relatively) clean, reading the bible and praying daily, and developing deep friendships. And, chocolate.
Lesson 3: Savor the seasons
What I always tell new moms now, and what I wish I understood when Maggie was a baby, is that parenting is extremely seasonal. My life and business look different now than they did when I had two kids under two (praise the Lord). And, at any time, if something major were to happen with one of my kids, my business might get have to go on the back burner for a while.
The seasons are always changing, and over time you will develop the ability to adapt and change along with them. I’m personally trying to grow in my ability to savor different seasons instead of fighting against them.
Lesson 4: Ask for help
If you’re a small business owner that has kids, you’re going to need some help. No, not some, a lot. There are a few ways lately that I’ve been intentional about asking for help.
From your spouse. Travis and I try to have regular, honest conversations about the division of labor in our personal life. If I notice I’m becoming bitter and resentful about my workload, it’s probably because I haven’t even bothered to ask him for help. He’s always, always ready and eager to help when I do ask.
From your kids. I’ve recently been asking my kids for a lot more help with housework, and it is a game-changer. Not so much because they’re awesome at cleaning (they aren’t), but because I feel so strangely supported and loved when they contribute. Somehow my 5 year old cleaning the windows jolts me into thinking, “oh yeah, this doesn’t all rest on me.”
From your family and friends. This hasn’t been easy in the last two years since we are new to D.C., but I’ve been so blessed by our local church family. They covered ALL of my childcare (for free) while I went on a work trip. I tell them what’s going on in my business or with my kids, and they are so kind to follow up with me and to pray. Being open with people opens the door for them to bear your burdens.
From professionals. I got a babysitter on Tuesday afternoons. I hired an assistant who helps with my administrative tasks. Maybe you need a housekeeper or a dog walker or a social media manager. I don’t know what this looks like for you, but you need to get comfortable paying people to take things off your plate.
Lesson 5: Don’t lose perspective
When I got pregnant with Maggie and was working at the consulting firm, I remember feeling guilty about all of the work I was leaving behind for others. I shared this with my co-worker, a stellar human being with two kids of her own, and I was taken aback by how forcefully she shut me down.
“Don’t feel guilty. You’re replaceable here. No one can replace you as your child’s mother.”
I’ve never forgotten her words. They still encourage me when I’m struggling with feeling like I’ll never have enough time or energy to make my business what I really want it to be. They encourage me when I’m in the trenches of the mundane with laundry, dishes, homework, and carpool and wishing I was in front of my computer instead. They remind me that when I’m 80 years old I probably won’t care how many people were on my e-mail list in 2018, but I’ll care about my relationship with my daughters.
Let’s keep forging these messy, hard paths together. Let’s grow businesses that thrive and care for our families well and wrestle hard with all the mess and chaos that comes with trying to do both. But, in the wrestling, let’s not forget that what we do in business is always replaceable. But your place in your family never will be.
What lessons have you learned along the way about work-life balance?