Lies We’re Told As Working Mothers


Preface: I am writing from my own experience because it is impossible for me to truly know what it is like to mother full-time. I would LOVE to hear similar takes on this post from different perspectives. It is so important to understand and empathize with each other’s struggles— not to compare but to support the different obstacles we face as caregivers.

The other day I was chatting with a friend of mine who was about to give birth to her first baby. She fretted over all of the things most of us do— what will happen once the baby is here? The sheer amount of “what ifs” is overwhelming to all of us and perhaps that is why these little lies we tell each other have become a part of the motherhood vernacular. Because I have worked through all of my pregnancies and early after the birth of both of my babies, there is a particular set of lies that are told to women who are worried about what kids will do to their trajectory in a professional sense. Much like my 20s, motherhood has been a series of experiences that have opened my eyes to the truth about being human— and that there is no sure thing in life except death. In all the lies we tell ourselves and others, we perpetuate the belief that things will always work out for the best. And you know, most often they do. But does it help to avoid considering the worst case scenario, too?

You’ll feel torn between your career and wanting to stay home with your kids.
Truth: You’ll feel guilty about enjoying the time you spend at work. You may find yourself looking forward to having the time and space to shed your “mommy” title for an hour or two only to feel saddled with regret an hour later. Motherhood changes us but it doesn’t strip us of who we were before we brought our babies home.
You’ll find a new support group through other working mothers.
Truth: You’ll find support in unexpected places, not always with other working mothers. Some feel your experiences should mirror their own, and others had an easier time adapting to the change. The important thing to remember is that what you are experiencing NOW is your journey. Anyone who doesn’t see that or tries to change your outlook or view of what you are experiencing isn’t going to give you the support you need.
You’ll be the person you were after baby.

Truth: It is impossible to predict the ways pregnancy and childbirth will change you. But if you can lower your expectations for the kind of mother you WANT to be and focus on becoming the mother you can be, with all your hopes, dreams, passions, and preferences in mind, you are able to focus on what you care about. The key is to give up control because we really can’t worry or hope our way into having the child we want. Motherhood helps you understand that control is never truly tangible, it’s something we invent to deal with the uncertainty of what we cannot change or influence.

Your instincts will kick in.
Truth: It takes longer for some of us to connect with our babies. No pregnancy, birth, or adoption is the same and many of us have mixed feelings when the baby does arrive. That doesn’t make you any less loving or able to give your baby what they need. Emotions are not black and white. The breadth of the human condition is constantly living in the gray area between these extremes.
It gets easier!
Truth: It’s a rollercoaster. There are moments of relief but in many ways, it gets harder. Trust that we become more experienced and with experience comes the ability to endure hardship with greater ease because we trust that we can survive it.
If you’re not breastfeeding, you’re not committed to giving your baby the best. 
Truth: There are so many reasons mothers elect not to breastfeed. In my case, I was healthier and my family was safer when I was able to manage my ADHD with medication when already sleep deprived. That meant choosing to stop breastfeeding. Please do not let anyone make you feel like less of a mother because you made a choice that was right for your family. There is no room for shaming when you’re already struggling to find your own rhythm in this life. We cannot control the guilt that other mothers project on to us, so we all have to figure out how to use good boundaries or remove ourselves from toxic relationships masked by friends and family who believe they have the best of intentions.
 
You’ll never sleep again.
Truth: You’ll never feel fully rested again. But you will sleep. And you’ll get used to being tired and find ways to cope.
Your baby will come before everything else. 
Truth: You will be conflicted about putting the baby’s needs before your own because intuitively you know your baby’s survival depends on you staying well. Unfortunately, so much of our attention goes towards what the new baby needs we fail to understand, unpack, or process what we’ve been through both physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can take some of us years to realize there is trauma behind the most beautiful moments of our lives. The trauma doesn’t have to be intertwined with our babies, but when we don’t turn inward to ask ourselves what we need, we begin to resent our babies and our partners.
 
You can be fulfilled and happy with your roles at home and at work. 
Truth: There will be moments, even days and weeks when you feel like the balance is just right. But that’s the tricky thing about balance— it takes an amazing amount of work to stay in that position and none of us can do it forever. At some point, something has to give. The trick is to know that’s just part of life. Harmony and balance are to be enjoyed when we achieve them because it’s special— fleeting even, and if we’re so busy trying to suspend that feeling we forget to enjoy it when it arrives.
Postpartum depression feels like the baby blues but more intense, and it happens right after giving birth. 
Truth: It can happen anytime within the first 18 months of giving birth and is also triggered when life feels like it gets to be too much. Postpartum depression can also look a lot like anxiety. They’re related and so often we think worrying is just part of being a mother, but excessive worry isn’t something you have to endure day in and day out.
Your relationship with your partner will improve.
Truth: I like to think of marriage— or any commitment you make to another person— is a whole separate entity that plays a role in your nuclear family. When you share in the role of parents, naturally someone is left doing a little more heavy lifting than the other. When you throw your work life into the mix, especially if you are managing people or have a high-pressure career, when you have to carry the burden of the brunt of childcare, it is really easy to feel used or unappreciated. Even if your partner expresses appreciation, our love languages are all different. Having a child can dig up all sorts of emotional baggage that plays out in bizarre ways. Knowing this may happen is half the battle.
 
The takeaway I’ve gotten from writing this list is this: When we— as mothers, put everyone else before ourselves, we carry a weight that even the strongest cannot bear to hold forever. You have to dictate your own standards by which you navigate the role of mother and career woman. When we are in tune with ourselves, we are better in tune with our babies and the people in our lives. When we can advocate for our needs, we teach our children to do the same. There is no type of mother that does this better than the other. It’s about looking inward and knowing what we need to be the truest version of ourselves. When we treat ourselves with respect, we give ourselves room to fail, room to feel a range of emotions, the permission to be irrational, petty and childish at times. We are able to make room to mother ourselves in a way that is so instrumental to being human. When we have empathy for our own struggles, we are able to have empathy for the struggles our children, spouses, friends, and co-workers face.
If you are struggling with any one of these examples above, please comment below. I’d love for us to be able to help each other by sharing our experiences, both positive and negative in a way that promotes empathy.
  • I love this! I think your comment about balance is spot on. I’ve been lucky enough to have an amazing postpartum experience and going back to work has been much easier than I expected — but, like you said, there are some days where things aren’t balanced. One day recently, I took my baby to the doctor for her routine appointment. I left a work meeting early and picked her up from her child care provider. By the time we made it to see our doc, she had peed through her diaper and puked all over me. My doctor (who we adore and is the mother of triplets…) looked at me and said, “Some days you’ve got it, some days you don’t.” I think remembering that we don’t have to have it together at all times is liberating and helpful.

    Thanks for your candor in sharing your experiences as a working mother!

  • Kate – thanks so much for writing this, and for corresponding with me on DM about some of the lies I’ve run into about childcare (‘necessary evil’ vs. ‘great enabler’). These are all SO TRUE, and I especially like your point about finding your mom friends. I still struggle with finding my tribe even 10 months into motherhood, and honestly find blogs and social media contacts as a great resources of people going through similar things as me. Thanks for your honesty and non-judgmental approach to all of this!!!! <3

  • I have two kids. After the birth of my eldest, I began working from home. Needless to say, I received a lot of mixed feedback from people. I was even job shamed by a few. But the worst part, is trying to balance things. It is by far by biggest challenge on a daily basis. Now that my youngest is two and a half, I finally managed to finally make some me time, although I still struggle with that. But you’re absolutely right. If you can’t meet your own needs then you can’t really cope with the constant demand to meet other people’s needs. I really enjoyed reading this and relating to it.

  • Thank you. This is awesome. I live in a smaller, rural community where there are very few working mothers, so I didn’t have a lot of resources that could share their experience to help set my expectations. Finding posts like this can be so helpful!

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I just started back at work and have been struggling with the fact that it is feeling “easier” to me than other mothers I’ve spoken to. Does I miss my son everyday and is it really hard to drop him off at daycare? Yes. But do I also enjoy the time I get to spend on my career and the time during my commute reading or listening to podcasts? Yes. I think that this separation makes me a better parent and partner but it still feels like a taboo to admit this.