By Sarah Davis, Project Manager© 2020 Morgan Whitney Photography | https://morganwhitneyphotography.com/
I am a third generation working mother.
My grandmother graduated from university in 1947, an impressive feat for a woman of her generation. She went on to raise three daughters through the 1950s, 60s and 70s when women transformed from the glorified housewife icon pictured pushing a vacuum cleaner into paycheck earning professionals contributing to the financial income of their family. During this era, my grandmother assumed both roles. She was a stay at home mother until her daughters were school age and then became a working mother where she taught at an inner-city school in Detroit, attended night school to obtain a teaching certificate, and kept a spotless home. My grandfather lovingly obliged to driving my grandmother where she needed to be as she never obtained a driver’s license. He supported her in her ambitions to make an income to fund a university education for their children. Grocery shopping and dinners were prepared by my grandfather. I suppose he too was ahead of his time.
My grandmother’s youngest daughter, my mother, joined the workforce at age sixteen and graduated from university in 1980. Six short weeks after I was born my mother returned to work full time to ensure that I had the same opportunity as her to be raised in a safe and supportive environment, and to attend university. My mother sought out a loving nanny who looked after me until I was four years old. “Suzy-mom” as I called her, was a part of my life until she recently passed away. Growing up, I deeply admired the professional woman my mother was as well as the stylish clothes she wore. It was a sight to be seen my mother, working out at 5am, sending me off to school, working from 9 to 5, picking me up from after school activities, ensuring the evening routine was in place, only to do the whole thing over the next day. My mother and my father were equally involved in my upbringing. My mother handled the finances, while my father made dinner, and we collectively cleaned the house, ran errands and went grocery shopping on the weekends.
Decades later it is my turn at becoming a working mother and between all the roles, responsibilities and to-do lists, this is what I have learned:
- Reset your expectations. Today, picture perfect social media often highlights our cultural misconception of women being exceptional at the office, at home, and to look glamorous while doing it. We hold ourselves to an overwhelming burden of motherhood excellence, operating more like machines than humans. This is a result of trying to do it all to both external and self-imposed expectations. The physical, mental and emotional toll trying to “have it all” is not worth sacrificing ourselves. When you consider heading back into the work force, I ask that instead of diving in headfirst and fulfilling all your pre-baby commitments, expectations and interests, re-evaluate your priorities and what makes this ‘new you’ thrive. You have transformed, and so have your priorities. This is OK. ·
- Build your dream team. A robust and agile support system is behind many successful working mothers. This enables us to achieve a work-life harmony that supports us as individuals in our endeavours to fulfil all parts of our life. And most critically, when our worlds collide as a child’s temperature soars the morning of an important pitch. Be aware of your needs and advocate for them fiercely. Find your support team. Know that you will face adversaries with this new identity, including other women and mothers. Surround yourself with those who build you up and want to see you succeed. Show other women the same love and respect you want to receive. Be transparent with your expectations of your team. Work closely with your partner, family, friends, childcare provider, boss and colleagues to establish a solution that you can comfortably maintain without living frantically or feeling overwhelmed. The dream team exists, and once you get yours sorted you will never look back. ·
- Be present. If there is one thing that we can do to benefit ourselves, our family and our career we need to stop thinking about how we fed our child a food they were allergic to (true story) when we’re in a meeting. Stop taking that phone call on the day we are out of the office and pushing our child on a swing. We must simply be with who or what is in front of us in the moment. When we are at work, be fully at work. When we are with our child, be fully with the child. We lose when we waste our energy on things we cannot control. What is worse is that our families and colleagues feel when we are not fully present with them, and our precious time becomes fragmented or lost. Find what works for you, communicate your methods to those around you, and make it your new routine. ·
- Carve out time for yourself. Throw away any misconstrued ideas and beliefs that time to self is selfish. On the contrary, alone time is the most considerate thing you can do for yourself and your family. Whether this looks like locking the bathroom door and slipping into the tub for an hour, drafting a business strategy for that idea that’s been growing in your mind for years, or a weekend retreat alone (my personal favourite) or with close friends. Your identity has changed and will continue to do so as your family ages. Time with yourself can assist in getting to know this evolving identity, being confident with it, or finding solutions to cope. Everyone needs to reconnect with their own mind and body to be the best possible version of themselves. You are not an exception. ·
- Connect with other mothers. Believe it or not, there is no right way of raising children while having a career. The sources and methods are innumerable, and the outcomes are just as varied. What I found is that mothers are some of the most impressive problem solvers on our planet. We develop a wealth of knowledge to resolve any issue that may arise and the only thing more fulfilling than a positive outcome with our own child is sharing it with another mother in need. There is strength in community and while it’s a bit more like ‘Goldielocks and the Three Bears’ than ‘one size fits all’, you will never be without a solution amongst mothers.
My grandmother, mother and I all gave birth to our daughters at the age of thirty-one. I feel a great sense of connection and continuum in this detail. That, and the supportive partners and tribes we chose to walk through life with. These examples are undoubtedly the reason why I married a man who cleans the house before heading to coach rugby on Saturday’s. The reason why I depend on a nanny (affectionately known as Saint Pía), daycare, and have reduced the number of days I work to ensure I am able to find my unique harmony. The reason why no matter how many times I fail, I can get back up and try again.
It is empowering to observe the way each generation has evolved. The lessons we have learned thanks to these remarkable women and men who have paved the roads before us, lessons we ourselves may not have to endure because of their strength to change the narrative. I am reassured that my own decisions, actions and blunders as a working mother are not only shaping me but shaping the way my husband, children, friends and colleagues will perceive the ever evolving and enduring force the working mother is. If we keep it up, we will be reading articles about the “working parent” in another decade or two. I'm here to remind you, you've got this.
I'm going to be real with you. I have been avoiding posting this article for several months because it put an uncomfortable spotlight on how I was failing to uphold the things I outline as my approach. Thanks to supportive colleagues, family and friends, it is now out there in the world in all its gloriously imperfect wisdom as a reminder to all of us to honour ourselves and share in our successes and failures.
I look forward to hearing your stories and tactics!