There is no force in the world stronger than that of mommy guilt. It will take a woman down faster than an underwire bra coming through a sleeve after a long day. (That’s fast in this house!)
If we could figure out how to bottle mommy guilt, it would bring an end to all wars because our enemies would be frozen in fear, self-doubt and self-loathing. It’s powerful stuff.
Mommy guilt is a self-induced feeling not generally based on reality. We build narratives in our heads about how we are ruining our children’s lives through neglect or bad decisions. Each day we mentally detail the 768 ways we’ve failed — not being at their ball practices, not being the class mom, bringing store-bought cookies rather than homemade ones to school parties and definitely overfeeding them non-organic berries. You name it, we can create mommy guilt around it.
But last year I learned a great big, life-changing, slap-you-in-the-face lesson about mommy guilt. Allow me to share.
A year ago I was entering the final quarter of the biggest year of my career. My team’s goal: produce over one million in sales. In 55 years of my company, this feat had only been accomplished by a select few. I was determined to take my group of amazing women to the Million Dollar level, tripling our numbers and leading a history-making team. I was on fire.
I was working my tail off happily, but I was working a lot. Craig was incredibly supportive and had my back in this crazy season. My time with Ellason was spent very purposefully and I tried to make her a part of our mission, always talking about “our business” and “our goals.” She seemed to be excited, asking and saying all the right things — or so I thought.
One afternoon Ellason walked into my room with a picture she had drawn. A drawing of Mom, Dad and Ellason, each with a text bubble above their heads introducing themselves. Mine said, “Hi, I’m Dawn, I work all the time.” I can’t tell you what anything else said because I was so devastated.
What had I done to her? What kind of message was I sending to my ten-year-old daughter? This was craziness; this was not worth it. Why was I working so hard? This is wrong, I thought. I am the worst mom. What am I doing to my daughter? I wanted to call and resign my position right then and there, my poor baby girl. I was ruining her life.
I don’t know what on earth possessed me to say this next thing, but I asked her: “Does it bother you that mommy works a lot?”
Ellason had her back to me, her hair in a ponytail. She whipped her head around and said, “No! I want to do Million!”
And there you have it. To her, working hard was not bad. It was just what it was for this season, and she was totally OK with it. Had I not asked this one simple question, I would have continued to work in misery and self-loathing or, worse, quit working at that pace to attain the goal.
My goal was bigger than producing a number, bigger than accolades or money; it was about honoring my sister who had died in the middle of that Million Dollar year. It was about sharing a message that you can do the impossible, even through the most difficult of times. It was a God story that needed to be told.
We are so worried about ruining our children and not being there for them, but let me give you another train of thought: What if God created you to be a strong, working woman to be an example to your children? What if Ellason will one day run a large company and needed to see a woman setting an outrageous goal and reaching it so that she could one day do the same?
Ellason Barton’s dreams are attached to mine. If I give up and show a pattern of giving up, so will she. If I show a pattern of setting goals and accomplishing them, chances are, so will she. More is caught than taught, remember that.
You are not hurting your children by working hard; you are teaching work ethic and a million other lessons. Finding a balance in it all is near impossible, but finding harmony isn’t. Working in a way that allows time for the things that are most important is what it’s all about. You will never look back and wished you had worked more, but if you work in excellence when you do, you will raise children that do the same.