I am an executive vice president at a large, fast-moving communications company. I started here as an intern. I love this company, my job, and my team—but most of all, I love to work.
I have been married 15 years and have four kids, ages 4-12. My husband has a great job with a lot of flexibility and works from home often, so he deals with the sick kids, the parent/teacher conferences—all of the things normally considered Mom stuff.
My problem is the constant judgment that comes from other women—old friends who stopped working when they had kids, neighbors who stay home with their kids, and even women in my company who have chosen to not go for senior leadership because they want to spend more time at home. I am sick to death of guilt-inducing questions such as “don’t you worry that your kids will resent you?” and “aren’t you worried that you’re missing their childhood?”
How do I respond with grace and aplomb?
Oh, my dear, I pray daily for grace and aplomb. I empathize with your position—in fact, I can clearly recall how the chorus I lovingly called the Mommy Police constantly criticized my deep passion for work when I became a parent.
The crazy news is that there will be people who judge you no matter what decision you make about working after baby arrives. If you had decided to stay at home full time, a different set of Mommy Police would judge you for slacking. Crazier still is that to some folks it’s okay for you to be a mom who works if you have to, but it isn’t okay for you to love your work. You have to hate it.
Rest assured, there is probably no mother in the western hemisphere (the whole world?) who doesn’t feel judged. The bottom line is that you have to make your own rules for yourself. You have to decide for yourself what it means to be a good parent and a good employee. With that choice comes a chorus of judgment from every possible angle. All I can really offer you is that if you are comfortable with your choices, you can just tune it all out.
The guilt is also a choice. To deal with it, you must be crystal clear about what is most important to you and what your standards are for being a good parent. Then design your life to comply with your own standards.
When my first kid was born, I read every possible parenting book. It was a nightmare. I got 27 different opinions about how to be a good parent. When I realized that I wasn’t a person who could stay home with a baby all day and stay sane, things really got complicated. I ended up having to work with a therapist to figure out my own point of view on how to be a good parent. Thereafter, I worked with a coach at every stage to redefine it for myself. How to be a good parent is such a deep mystery and so desperately personal that it’s no wonder we all judge each other mercilessly—it’s simply a projection of all of our worst fears.
Thomas Leonard, one of my dearest and wisest mentors, suggested discussing the situation with your whole family once they are old enough. Let them weigh in on a vision for how much Mom (and Dad, or other parent) works, and what Mom (and Dad or other parent) stuff is non-negotiable at home. Once you have worked it all out, you can have regular family council meetings to revisit how things are working for everyone. That way, everyone in the family at least has a voice.
So when someone questions your choices, the answer is something like this: “I think about my choices and evaluate them extensively on a regular basis. I recalibrate as needed. I discuss them with the entire family. And I love it all—my family, my work, and my life. How about you?” (I only wish I had had those words when I needed them!)
So go be a great mom, be great at work, and tune out the chorus.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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