GRACE & MESS
Tips for power moms
I am a 42-year-old, divorced, mother of 4-year-old twin boys, workaholic, perfection-obsessed president of a successful public affairs firm. My therapist recently explained that I have a lot of work to do on defining my definition of grace in motherhood and life. My vision: robot-like perfection. Hers: messy acceptance.
Like most moms (and humans) out there, each new day is a new round-of-applause-worthy balancing act. Pure struggle and conflict are reasonably more raw and accurate descriptions of the always present, but rarely accomplished quest for balance, happiness and the ultimate domination of motherhood.
If you are anything like me, your personal experience as a mother co-exists, often in the messiest, full impact, self-loathing and guilt-ridden kind of way, with an intense drive, commitment, joy and pride for and in your career. I’ve given tremendous thought to the rewards and incongruities of motherhood and professional success, counseling other professional women on the subject and speaking to groups on work life balance and the barriers placed on women by inherent gender bias in our society. But still, I would be lost without a very purposeful approach to addressing and more important – to accepting my own definition of grace and authenticity as a career-driven mother every single day.
And so, in honor of Mother’s Day, I offer a few lessons and tips I’ve picked up and not thrown back along the way to all fellow career-focused, uber-achieving, bad ass moms out there who are just – you know – trying to do and have it all.
LESSONS THAT HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE
- Control does not exist. I’m a control freak. It’s why I’ve been successful in business and why kids really F with my sense of worth when they take my plans and trash them 70 times a day. Real control over our experience is only realized when we understand that we have absolutely none over anything except how we choose to perceive our reality. So much time is wasted agonizing over perfection, feeling like a failure when it’s not accomplished and wallowing in the guilt and shame of not being the best at everything. There is no day that your kids will be perfectly dressed for school, having eaten the most nutritious breakfast, while you’ve had time for a morning meditation and 45 minutes on the Peloton after which your seamless, crying-free school drop-off is followed by hours of focused, uninterrupted work time before meeting potential clients for dinner and zipping happily home to an unphased and empathetic partner for a healthy, homemade dinner before quiet baths and sweet bed time rituals with thoughtfully curated reading selections until they fall gently asleep so you and your partner can enjoy effortless conversation about your days, enjoy each other’s company, talk a bit about how much you appreciate each other, have sex and then hop back on your computer for a few hours of wrap-up and planning before getting 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Repeat. Instead, set priorities and realistic goals for your day and implement processes that help meet them. Never forget that this very moment is the only one we are guaranteed – so live in it. Celebrate every minor accomplishment – at work and at home. Embrace the fact that life is messy and surrender to it. Be thankful you woke up today and practice gratitude for that and for everything you have. Ask for help and accept that taking it isn’t a sign of weakness. Be patient and kind with your kids, your partner and yourself and forgive yourself when you are not. Surround yourself with friends and/or family who celebrate and bolster, while understanding that your time with them is often limited. And forgive them when they don’t like it. Know you are doing your best. It’s all you can do. And it’s probably pretty damn good.
- Quality over quantity. One hour of absolute attention and presence with your children is more valuable physically and emotionally for them and for you than any full day of half paying attention, phone-checking, conference-call taking, stressed-about-a-client-project hanging out will ever be. The ever-growing body of research around joy, happiness and contentment makes clear that the single most common predicter of happiness is an individual’s decision/ability to be present in the moment. For many of us, multi-tasking is a way of work and life. Attempting to overcome the guilt we feel for not spending enough time with our kids because business dinners or long work hours or travel keeps us away more than we wish can foster painful, stressful, guilty days of mindless half attention with our kids so we can accomplish some standard of appropriate time with them. When we surrender and get real with our lives and our schedules and ours and our children’s basic human needs, we can develop schedules and patterns that allow for beautiful and meaningful interactions. For me, among other things it’s waking up at 5am every day so I can meditate and work for an hour or two before the kids wake up and investing in help to get my kids to and from school so I can get to work 30 minutes earlier and come home 30 minutes later. This allows me to give them my pure and undivided attention when they wake up and in the evening before bed. Once I made this commitment to focused time with them, we are more often able avoid rushed, stressed and hectic days, our relationships evolved exponentially, and we’ve found a joy in our time together that never before existed.
- Give the finger to gender bias. Society has ingrained in us – and reinforces every day – that good mothers live and breathe only to raise their children. The pressure is real to prioritize our children over everything in life at all times, which leaves me feeling shame and sadness when I focus instead on work or even . . . myself. And to be clear, my own self-judgement on this is right on par with that of the broader public. But it is impossible to be your best self for your children when you don’t invest time in getting to your best self. Those among us who choose to commit so much energy to our careers should engage our children in our work and accomplishments. We are role models for ambition – for following our dreams and doing something that we love. We must embrace the fact that choosing to love our career does not mean we choose it over our children. What I choose is to take time for things that make me a better person and a better mom, like mindfulness practice and exercise. I prioritize time with friends who have kids so we can blend social need with family bonding, and I allow myself social time without the boys. I pour love and affection on the kids when I am with them and engage them in conversations about how proud I am of my accomplishments and how that relates to what they can accomplish in life. We also talk about why I work long hours and can’t play with them as much as I wish I could sometimes – how that makes them and me feel and what it means for our family. I hope one day they will look back and feel inspired by my passion for them and for my work and that they are better for it – no matter where they eventually find their joy in life. And I forgive myself when the occasional sad look in their eyes as I leave for the airport makes me question if I’m a good enough mother.
TIPS & TACTICS
Schedule and Organization
- Schedule your work day with laser precision. I do work in blocks of focused time, literally in :30 to :60-minute periods planned in advance. This allows me to focus on priorities, avoid distraction and be the most efficient with my most precious work resource: time.
- Say no a lot. What made so many of us successful in the first place – our “can do,” “say yes to everything” approach is what robs us of time to focus on real priorities. Be thoughtful about setting concrete intentions for work and life and say yes to only those things that further your goals.
- Delegate. Once upon a time, I believed my inability to do everything was a reflection of weakness. Instead, I realized it was only a reality of being human. Today, I look for ways to lighten the load. For some that means a nanny or a housekeeper. For others, it may be utilization of low-fee virtual assistants and online grocery delivery. Whatever it is, make an investment in things that free you up to focus on the important stuff.
- Plan. As I mentioned above, I know I can be most present with the kids when I’ve gotten the stress of the upcoming work day out of my mind, which means a 5am wakeup call and a commitment to uninterrupted blocks of time with the kids every day. I can only do this when I plan and schedule in advance, setting blocks of time on my calendar just as I would with any work meeting.
- Read. Explore blogs, books, online groups and other mediums that allow professional moms to learn, share and connect. It is an overwhelming relief to know that your experience is shared by others and there is no shortage of valuable advice for the taking from both peers and experts online and in bookstores.
- Socialize. Make it a point to connect with other working mothers socially. Again, shared experience is uplifting and an important reminder that we all struggle. This can be organic within your own circle or through one of many professional networking organizations specifically intended to connect businesswomen for business and personal advice, mentorship, friendship and inspiration.
- Share. Be vulnerable and tell your story. Celebrate your successes and share your failures with friends, family and colleagues as appropriate. The times I’ve answered the “how are you” question at a professional women’s event with something like “actually, my kids are lunatics, I don’t think I spend enough time with them, I may be on the verge of nervous breakdown and my marriage is feeling on the rocks because of it – but business is great – how are you” are the times I’ve received the most compelling, inspiring, empathetic and smart advice that has had an enduring impact and often spurred lasting friendships.
- Mindfulness. I am an absolute proselytizer for mindfulness and meditation because it literally changed my life by completely changing my perspective. I’ve seen it do the same for others. The time spent in this practice reduces anxiety, evolves thought processes and internal perceptions of happiness and allows for better connections in work and life.
- Be authentic. I’ve got a lot of work to do still, but the moment I learned the importance of letting go of who I thought I should be and accepting the reality of my own journey was the moment a certain fog began to dissipate in life. The energy and time we spend worried about who we are perceived to be, what we are and aren’t doing well enough and how to convey a certain image to the world is energy and time wasted. Live in the beautiful gift of the present moment.
- Sleep. I read recently somewhere that “sleep is the new status symbol.” Our brains literally can’t function at any level close to what is necessary to meet the demands of our kids and our work without enough sleep. While I once wore my energy-fueled work ethic undergirded by no more than four hours of sleep a night as a badge of honor, I now do everything I can to average seven hours a night. This often just isn’t possible, and I don’t beat myself up when it doesn’t happen. But it’s a daily goal.
Ours is a beautiful struggle. I hope some nugget above helps to lighten the load and soften your experience, if only simply through a shared appreciation for the daily, graceful mess of my career-focused, kid-loving, ever-evolving days. In the future, I will share specific websites, tools, tactics, women’s groups and other tips that I’ve found useful within the buckets above.
A happy belated Mother’s Day and cheers to all you power moms out there.