As a working mother, I am constantly creating lists and spreadsheets for all my household and workplace tasks. And even though my Type-A personality finds major fulfillment in creating and completing these lists, I often feel overwhelmed by all the things I am supposed to do. So in addition to my evil-but-necessary to-do lists, I started writing myself a to-don’t list, a checklist of sorts to give myself a mental break from my crazy, demanding life.
1. Use Pinterest to plan my children’s parties.
I extend this to anything involving kids or meals. Pinterest has a sneaky and evil way of passing off posed and professional pictures as “homemade crafts” and I, for one, am tired of assuming that I have the patience or creative capability to fit these timesucks into my already-packed schedule, and my child will think her birthday was a failure all because I didn’t (poorly) make unicorn centerpieces out of balloons and construction paper.
Ah, the fundamental basis of any working mother’s anxiety—the comparison between herself and the stay-at-home mother who conforms to society’s expectations. It’s difficult to ignore the guilt I feel when I see my SAHM friends post about their Thursday morning visit to the zoo, but my self-reproach quickly disappears when I recall all the awesome perks of being a working mother.
3. Compare myself to other working moms.
This one is harder than the previous, mainly because this comparison is more apples to apples. Sure, it’s easy to justify Suzy Homemaker’s amazing cupcakes because she is home all week, but how the heck is Polly Professional doing it?! Instead of racking my brain trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong, I try to remember that everyone has their own order of priorities, and what’s lower on my list might be higher on hers. Her need for homemade cupcakes is likely the equivalent of my need for binge-watching The Office.
When I first became a mother, I had so much anxiety about leaving the office promptly at 5 p.m. in order to pick up my daughter from daycare. What would my bosses think? Are my childless colleagues pissed at me? Five years later, I’m much more aware of the fact that it’s quality and not quantity that matters, and I work hard to make sure my eight hours at my desk are just that.
5. Pay attention to stories about daycare tragedies.
You know what I love to hear immediately after I tell someone my kids are in daycare? A story about a child who was poisoned/abused/killed/eaten alive while under the supervision of a daycare facility. Those cases, while extremely terrible and heartbreaking, are a) a very, very small percentage of the total number of children enrolled in daycare, b) usually occurring in unlicensed facilities, and c) often tragedies that have also occurred under a parent or family member’s care as well. At first, I would really internalize these stories, but after so many wonderful years at my fully licensed and reputable daycare, I’ve learned to respond the same way I do when I hear a about a plane crash. I feel and express sincere grief at the tragedy but recognize that it in no way ensures the same fate for me.
6. Defend my decision to work.
I love what I do, where I do it and all the reasons why I do it. If you still want to question me on my decision to be a working mother, you can read this.
Prior to and during the 12 weeks I was out following my first daughter’s birth, I felt very anxious about how my absence would be perceived in the office. Was I a terrible employee for taking an extended period of time off from work and for getting fully paid for a portion of it? Fortunately for me, my wonderful bosses and coworkers not only sent me and baby off with well wishes and a super generous gift card but also absorbed my work, kept me off emails during my leave, and gave me the warmest welcome when I returned. As many of them were also parents, they understood that maternity leave was much needed following the introduction of a new child and was definitely not a vacation.
8. Worry about missing firsts and milestones.
If a child crawls for the first time and the mother isn’t around to see it, did the child crawl? Maybe that’s not quite how the original philosophical question was posed, but it certainly should have been. I don’t care how many times my daughter waves bye-bye at her daycare teachers, grandparents or even her own father; she doesn’t do anything for the first time until I am there to witness it. Why? Because I’m the mother and I said so.
9. Feel embarrassed about pumping at work.
I am a woman. I have breasts. My breasts were created for the biological purpose of nourishing a child. I work. I can’t be with my child all day. I pump in privacy. No one is forcing you to watch. If this seemingly simple logic still freaks you out, it’s your problem, not mine. The end. Disclaimer: Everyone I work with is absolutely fine with my pumping at work. This is more of an overall cry for breastfeeding normalcy in the U.S.
10. Beat myself up for not being the “perfect” mom.
Growing up, I had this vision of my life as a Stepford Mom. I’d have a sparkling clean house, where I’d serve my family a hot, healthy and homemade meal every night promptly at 6 p.m. My well-behaved children would happily eat the one dish the whole family was having and then quietly play with their educational toys. Then, real (working mom) life hit, and pancakes are dinner, YouTube Kids is the babysitter, and Dust is a fifth entity living in our house. I used to feel ashamed about my “imperfect” life, but now I realize that the flaws and messiness make it real and wonderful.
Nicole Beniamini lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughters. She is a Director of Research at Edison Research, where she is also part of The Research Moms, a team of experienced market researchers, who also happen to be moms.