Am I a Bad Mom?

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I was in Marketing Class for my MBA and we were learning about journey mapping- a process of drawing each step of the consumer experience in order to analyze the ups and downs. The idea is to use this framework to elicit consumer feedback and identify areas for product improvement.

To really grasp the concept, our study groups were given an hour to map the MBA experience from the standpoint of a “persona” that was based on one of the group members’ identities. Even though my group includes some incredible stories of how my fellow members, all men, came to the program- they really liked the idea of mapping the journey of the working mom… which we dubbed “mom on the go”. I was touched by their interest, and at the same reminded that I’m an endangered species. Working moms are small in number in business school programs.

As we got to work mapping the activities and emotions of the experience (from applying for the program to our first day of class) – I relived some of the highs and lows: There was the moment I first decided to apply and felt the rush of excitement in pursuing a long-held dream (high!) and the support of my husband who encourages me to pursue my career (high!). Then there was the price tag and the logistics of figuring out how to pay for school on a non-profit salary (low). There was the moment I was accepted and learned that I had been awarded a partial scholarship (high!) and then the moment I was handed a 10-lb corporate finance textbook in my welcome tote (low). Among many additional moments one stood out…a question that didn’t really sink in until after I had been accepted and made the decision (my emotions often follow my decisions, not precede them).

The question lurking to the surface was, “am I a bad mom?” Put another way: do good moms, given the choice to further subdivide their time when already working and raising young children, decide to add business school?

As I wrote the question down on a post it note and stuck it on the board in front of my colleagues I felt a lump rise in my throat. The reality is the language of “good” mom or “bad” mom is not helpful. I’m not either all the time. Good and bad are words from a fixed mindset, a perspective that says the world has two types and you can only be one and once you’re classified it’s hard to change. Good moms stay good and bad moms stay bad. Asking myself in the quiet moments whether or not I’m a “bad mom” is a false question.

Yet in the absence of a better question, this is the one I have asked myself – over and over and over again – since my first daughter was born over 6 six years ago. Such a question is exhausting, disheartening, and can even lead to feelings of grief and regret. I love my daughters with all that I am. In fact, I recently told an expecting mother in my MBA program that being a mom is the very best job in the whole world. But I also feel called to my work, and so the tension pulls at me as I keep trying to serve out love, productivity, instruction, leadership, and care-giving in big spoonfuls from a bucket with sometimes low supply. Some days it’s fuller than others.

Which has led me to my new statement- which is no longer a question at all. Instead of asking “am I a bad mom?” I affirm, “I am a growing mom”.

In all areas of my life, every day, I’m growing. I’m growing in how I lead my team members and give them direction. I’m growing in my ability to be present and love my kids even when I’m so freakin’ tired. I’m growing in love for Eric, even though our relationship is different than when we were first in love. I’m growing in how I respond when I make mistakes and get corrected. I’m growing in self-discipline and self-care so that I can have more energy to fulfill this purpose I feel called to.

Which brings me back to the question for the MBA. Was it right to do this now? Is it benefiting my family? Can I handle everything? To which the only answer I am sure of is that I am growing. Hell yes I am growing!

My pastor said a few weeks ago that Christian discipleship is not about saying yes to a single decision, it’s about submitting oneself to a process. A process inevitably involves daily “micro decisions”. This struck me as a similar shift from a fixed point of view to one of growth. Growth can be hard and painful and scary and overwhelming and uncertain but for those who believe their growth is done under the watchful eye of a good God – there can be sense of rooted-ness. A sense that the growth is formation of something more beautiful in time. A sense that in the careful hands of a good gardener, the process will lead to redemptive ends. This has been true thus far in my life, so how can I continue to ask “am I a bad mom?”

I shouldn’t, and I won’t anymore. I am growing, and so are you.

❤️

No New Year’s Resolutions for Me!

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My daughter took this photo outside the Ritz Carlton after I gave her my iPhone to control a building temper tantrum… not bad for a hungry 6 year old in a bad mood!

This year I arrived at Christmas like a runaway train, flying above the tracks. Having just started an executive MBA in September, studying for finals and writing papers had to mix with Christmas shopping and holiday traditions, the busiest quarter of the year at work and conference travel (with kids). The month of December required a high level of momentum (and a low level of sleep) to survive. I was on the track, but just barely.

It wasn’t until we were driving to visit family that the frustration started seeping out. I was in the process of trying to write my last final paper in the car with two kids, two dogs, and an equally tired husband. My neck, shoulders and back were aching with stress. It didn’t take long in a contained space for Eric and I to start arguing. We were complaining about each other, but deep down we both knew the real problem – we’ve got too much to do and too little time and energy in which to do it. We need more help and rest, and in the absence of that, we were both doing the very best we could.

Once we arrived at our family’s house we received the kind of medicine that only parents can provide- a safe place where our needs were provided for and where extra rest was possible. We ate well, took naps, played with the kids, and watched the cartoon version of The Grinch four times. We drank mimosas and ate oatmeal (the slow cook kind) and wore matching pajamas on Christmas Eve. Eric put together a Barbie Dream House, I went for a slow run. We welcomed the leisure with open arms. Our dispositions changed so quickly that I was stunned – a little rest and margin went a long way.

I am often asked when I speak at conferences “how do you do it all?” The one thing I want people to know is that it’s not pretty – I’m a runaway train a lot of the time. I’m usually tired, I wish my thighs were thinner, I am inconsistent in disciplining my kids, I should study more, I should drink less caffeine and alcohol, I second-guess myself every day… Most of the time, I feel like I’m behind on one or more critical commitments. It’s not perfect or easy, but it’s my best.

I thought about this today in relation to upcoming New Year’s resolutions. The idea of setting another requirement on myself under which I could fail is not appealing. I’m not going to diet, work longer hours, run every day, or stay up later studying… I am already doing my best.

Life provides ample opportunities to adjust and improve in this daily experiment we call a dual-career, intensive-parenting family. Who has the luxury to think about change once a year? We are constantly evolving.

For this New Year, unlike all the past, I’m not asking myself for more. Instead, I’m going to affirm that I am giving life my very best- down to the last drop- every day. I’m going to celebrate, and as I look toward 2020 I’m going to commit to doing the same things I’ve been doing – giving my best and trusting that God’s grace and mercy will continue to take my inconsistent, disjointed efforts and turn it into something beautiful. And in that, I’m reminded that the New Year is less about focusing on what I need to do differently, and more about giving thanks for the miracle of life.

Prayers for my MBA

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Me taking a selfie in my first business class! That’s professional, right?

I know what you’re thinking because I’m thinking it too…

You started an MBA program? Are you crazy? Isn’t life already busy enough?

Yes. Yes, and Yes.

But a door opened and I felt the nudge to walk through it, so here I am.

Starting a weekend Executive MBA program at the Goizueta Business School is one of the most uncomfortable and awesome things I’ve done in a long time.

It’s uncomfortable because I basically just traded in the precious free time I had to go to school. Hard school. With really smart people and exacting professors.

It’s awesome because I’ve already learned so much about leadership and the business world and it’s only been one week. Between now and May 2021, I’m sure to be transformed. I hope this program makes me a better leader.

But wow, is it scary. So much so that I can see the far edge of myself is within eyesight and I’ve still got 2 years to go.

But, I know that this was the right step and I have a supportive spouse, so I’m stepping into the unknown with a ginormous corporate finance textbook and a few prayers…

  • Lord, please give me supernatural energy to do it all. Help me to keep all the balls in the air and not neglect any of them. Help me to be deeply grateful for a full life.
  • Lord, help my husband and family to know that I love them fiercely even when I’m not home. Help them to feel my presence when I’m at class.
  • Lord, may my girls see in me an example of what women can do and pursue their dreams with abandon as they grow up.
  • Lord, bless my husband with everything he needs to fill in the gaps I will leave behind for studying, attending class, and group meetings. May he be blessed in abundance for his sacrifice.
  • Lord, may I know in my heart of hearts, even when it gets hard, that you have placed me here and I can run without hindrance toward the goal of becoming a better organizational leader.
  • Lord, may I live with peace and kindness rather than guilt and worry. Make me a person who is expanded and improved by being stretched, not diminished.
  • Lord, may I use this degree to do more good in this world. Help me pave a way for organizational work to be done with more compassion, excellence and urgency.

May I be everything you have called me to be. Amen.

We Make Sacrifices

DSC_0590.JPGI went to college at Emory University where very few people (except me) graduated from school and promptly got married. Throughout my liberal arts education there was a strong theme of women’s empowerment and gender equity- something I am so grateful for and has played a big role in shaping my life. However, there was another message that was indirectly communicated: you (women) can have it all. This is a new day and age and people are enlightened and you can mix family and work and reach for the stars. Go forth and conquer!

This energy is so much of what has fueled and directed my career- encouraging me to make leaps to numerous different organizations early on to advance in leadership. It’s what has inspired me to take on management roles, to write a book with another mom colleague, and to say “yes” to opportunities (even when they scare me) because, why not?

But along the way I’ve also taken on another big (huge) job: becoming a mom…twice. Initially, Eric and I didn’t even know if we were going to have kids. We’re practical people and when we looked at our careers and looked at what it takes to be parents- we didn’t see how it would work. There just didn’t seem like there were enough hours in the day (spoiler alert: there’s not!). But ultimately we did have kids and I learned something new: you can’t have it all. There are sacrifices.

I’ve heard executive women say, “you can have it all, just not at the same time” – but I’m not even sure this is true. In those early weeks, months, and years with your babies there are choices that are diametrically opposed. I can’t breastfeed exclusively on demand for a year and go back to work. I can’t be up all night with my baby and be mentally present the next day in the big meeting. I remember distinctly two moments that reminded me of the fact that being a working mom with an office job comes with sacrifices. Specifically, the sacrifice of time.

I was visiting my cousin after her first baby was born and Aubrey (my oldest) went with me. We had a ton of together time, including sharing a bed and hours on hours of just hanging out. I remember being surprised by some of the things she said and did, observing pieces of her personality that probably came out at daycare but not in our brief morning or evening time together that is highly routinized. It was like I was getting to know her a little deeper, and as I studied her face while she talked animatedly about her classmates I also noticed she was older. She wasn’t a little girl anymore and I felt a sad twinge in my heart for how fast it went by. I know time flies for all parents, but it really races past when you’re working.

The second was when I was pregnant with Emma and thinking about how to do maternity leave and returning to work well. I wanted to make a way for more time at home before going back. In trying to engineer a different way, I realized there were things I wished I had done differently the first time around. I felt the first real sting of regret and cried big tears. I remembered those mantras of empowerment I had been educated on, but I still felt sad… was I doing something wrong? Having it all was hard and confusing.

I’ve been tempted over the years, in the face of uncertainty, to “opt out” of the working world. At least I would eliminate the GOMO (guilt over missing out) – but at what other costs? What would it cost my spirit to leave a vocation that I love? What would it cost my organization? What would it cost the world? I believe my work deeply matters.

I don’t have all the answers; I just wanted to name the costs…to open the cage and let the birds fly out. I see so many new moms, completely overwhelmed at the start, and I know what they’re thinking… “Is it supposed to be this hard?”, “Is it normal to miss my baby this much?”, “What do I even want for my life now?” I am convinced that more support for new moms in the workplace, in the following forms, would make a difference:

1) extended leave (3 months is not enough for most moms, it was not enough for me)

2) mentorship with a mom (or a group of moms) who have been there (more Mom Posses! https://www.mindfulreturn.com/working-moms-posse/)

3) flexible options for returning to work and creative advancement opportunities without getting “mommy tracked”

Maybe if we re-engineered the system, there would be less sacrifices… maybe we could then, in truth, have it all.

How do you hold on to awesome?

sangriaIt’s Friday and I’m off early. After a long couple of marathon months I find myself sitting at my favorite Mexican restaurant, alone, on a perfect sunny day sipping (gulping?) my second glass of sangria while munching on chips and salsa. I’ve cleared a few recent hurdles- out of town trips, high stakes board meetings, new program launches, and I’ve found myself in a brief moment to just stop and eat and rest.  If you want to know the way to my heart- it’s a taco salad and red wine soaked fruit in a fancy glass- every. single. time.

As I sit and trace the beautiful puffy clouds, I’m back and forth checking my Facebook feed… which is chock full of memories from years past and photos posted from Emma’s first birthday party last week. There is so much beauty and joy and life in these photos- yet, at the time I was so focused on stuff I needed to “do” or what was coming next, or making sure peoples needs were met, I didn’t see it shining so brightly like the sun in the middle of my life. I intentionally try to focus on the awesome every day, but it’s hard to hold on to. I long to increase my capacity to just hold awesome. To give it a big bear hug and not let go.

If you’ve read my book you know my family experienced a fairly difficult decade in our 20’s that had a traumatic impact on our mental health. One of the consequences of this is that, even though life is better and safer now, I can’t forget how hard it can be. I still worry about life turning hard again, and the awesome moments only exacerbate that- making me want to double down and protect what I have that’s good.

But life is not about controlling awesome, it’s about being grateful when it comes. I can’t make everything go smoothly for my family for the rest of our lives (I wish I could). But I can see the awesome and appreciate it, letting it linger. I can hold my sweet baby a few minutes longer and forego bath-time tonight. I can let the weeds grow knowing that a walk to the park after school is time better spent. I can leave work early and take time to exercise, because my health matters. I can be human and finite and limited and still choose awesome.

And like the magnet says that hangs on my refrigerator…

Anyone can be good, but awesome takes practice.

Stop Feeling Bad!

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Eric in full “Grandpa Dad” mode at the neighborhood Easter Egg hunt this past weekend

Over the last few weeks I’ve attended a number of work related weekend conferences, evening and morning events. In order for me to say yes to these things, Eric has to do a lot more at home. He doesn’t complain at all, but I notice this sinking feeling in my gut that is always there… I feel bad. I feel bad that he’s shouldering more than me at home and, even though I would gladly do the same for him, my instinct is to apologize. “Honey, I’m sorry I left you with everything to do last night and this morning so I could be on two back to back panel discussions…”

But as I drove to my early morning event last Thursday it struck me why this is unhelpful thinking. Or more specifically, unhelpful feeling.

Feeling bad firstly steals the joy and energy I have for the work that I do, which is not a great posture from which to show up as a speaker. But more importantly, feeling bad puts the focus on ME. It’s a place of analyzing what I’m doing or not doing. It’s an internal conversation that doesn’t really help anyone.

What if instead of feeling bad, I felt grateful? Instead of thinking about how I’m not home to make dinner or color with Aubrey, I think about how Eric is so good at engaging his two girls and will likely make stove-top s’mores and play soccer in the house while I’m gone. Eric affectionately refers to himself as “grandpa dad” when I’m away. Grandpa dad is loving, fun, and allows for dessert before dinner or Cheerios for an evening snack. What if instead of my mental narrative playing lies about how I’m slacking as a mom, it played a chorus of thank you’s out loud to my husband?

  • Thank you for always saying yes to my work opportunities and covering the home front while I’m gone.
  • Thank you for supporting my career and believing that there is value in my work. To that end, thank you for making adjustments so that I can show up for important work events.
  • Thank you for letting me be a leader, even though that means I’m always “on” and sometimes distracted by work. Thanks for stepping in when I need help.
  • Thank you for being a good dad, a present husband, and a man who demonstrates his support of women in how you love and parent.

From now on I’m not going to feel bad. I’m going to feel grateful.

Take that Momma to a Park!

ParkI normally don’t enjoy running. So much so that one of the blog ideas in my queue is to pen an “open letter to running” and catalog my numerous complaints about the uncomfortable exercise that is the only thing that helps me shed pounds. Dear Running, I really don’t like you (sorry, not sorry).

But this weekend… my run was nothing short of beautiful. On Friday I felt a minor panic attack building up in my chest as I irritably confessed to Eric that I feel overwhelmed. Book stuff has ramped up, work is on full blast (you know that’s the case when a board member says you need a vacation…), and Emma has regressed hard on sleeping at night. Eric and I have been alternating hitting total burnout and it’s not pretty. I came into the weekend with nothing in my tank. I wasn’t even sure a run was a good idea… but somehow my tired, zombie self put on my old school running shoes and earbuds and walked out the front door of my in-laws house right after arriving for a weekend visit. Thankfully they are gracious people who understand and support me even when I miss the mark on social graces!

But the run. So good. It was perfect warm sunny weather with a cool breeze. The air, significantly cleaner than the Zip code where we live, was noticeably fresh and crisp – I wasn’t just breathing, I was taking gulps. The gorgeous landscape was speckled with blue birds, cardinals, and two majestic swans. Kids were playing sports and laughing and the flat, well marked road stretched for miles and miles. At the edge of a small lake I took a deep breath and the incredible tension that’s been building in my neck and shoulders started to release. I filled my Park Prescription today and took a double dose. Green space heals.

The truth is, as my dear friend Antonette Montalvo (rock-star working mom of two) so eloquently wrote about earlier this week in a post titled The Price of Purpose,

What I have recognized in this #visionary pursuit of purpose, is that it often comes at a price. A price that often feels beyond me, and, in some instances, too costly for me to handle. But, what I have also come to realize is that the obstacle, challenge, or hardship that we think may break us, can also be transformed into our greatest resource in finding our purpose.

The purposes I’ve chosen to give my life to: mothering, working, writing, advocating for healthy equity… take their toll. They are rewarding and awesome but they are costly. My heart, my body, my spirit are all engaged in this work and they feel all the feels- the highs and lows of a full schedule and life…the highs and the lows of trying to change the world to be a better, healthier place.

This weekend, standing on the edge of the little lake I was bone tired, but grateful. Grateful that at least one consolation for the weary traveler, or the “wounded healer” as Henri Nouwen calls it, is they get to drink the deepest when the moments of rest saunter by. Rest doesn’t visit much, but when it does, I drink it down to the last drop.

So that girl in the pink workout gear rolling around in the grass, skipping through the trees, and blowing kisses at the sun? Don’t mind her. She’s just taking a long overdue dose of green space on the journey to make sure that everyone, in every Zip code, can do the same.