The unexpected reason being a working mom might make you a better one

I used to be fairly certain that my kids would have been happier and healthier with a stay-at-home version of me.

Because, let’s be real — it’s exhausting to work full time in addition to , preparing meals, running to the store, , keeping track of permission slips, attending after-school and weekend sports, and maintaining a mental list of everyone’s current shoe sizes.

Do you know why the female audience of the movie Bad Moms was laughing so hard they were snorting popcorn?

It’s because we could relate.

When my kids were growing up, working-mom-guilt was a perpetual feature in my psyche: that voice in the back of my mind reminded me constantly that my kids would someday be on a therapist’s couch, talking about my failures.

But what if working-mom guilt isn’t justified?

What if the truth is that our expectations of motherhood are just wrong?

Television parenting isn’t real.

Remember June Cleaver, from the 1950’s black-and-white TV show, Leave It To Beaver? The one who cleaned house in her prom dress? She didn’t work at all, and I’m pretty sure her husband, Ward, only put in about 20 hours a week.

The parenting portrayed in shows like Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, Family Matters, Growing Pains and Boy Meets World reflect energetic moms who always have exactly enough time to be there for their children. While there were issues to be navigated, they could always be solved in 30 minutes, and the limited bandwidth of the working mom was rarely addressed.

These templates from television shaped our ideas and expectations of “normal” parenting.

Today’s template shapers are the Pioneer Woman, Joanna Gaines, and…well, everything on Pinterest.

Now, not only are we supposed to be awesome at solving our kids’ problems, nw we have to do it in a room paneled with shiplap and homemade cupcakes on the table that look like Minions.

But the templates that influence us aren’t real.

Think about motherhood on a farm in pioneer days. With 12 kids, no one had time to shiplap anything. The kids raised each other while moms made sure everyone was fed, clothed, bathed, and learned to read, n the margins of the hard work of homestead life. Kids on a farm running around unsupervised have time to experiment. They do dangerous — and often stupid — things. (According to my husband’s stories,there are usually very tall haystacks and arrows involved.)

What about the shop owners that lived above the family store? Kids were sorting, helping customers and sweeping as their parents ordered, stocked and kept the books. They were learning skills from a very early age that would one day make them successful in the family business.

None of these scenarios have moms with 100% focus on their kids.

Kids have to make choices in order to learn about cause and effect.

Kids develop an internal compass when the things they’ve been taught are tested. Rules don’t always apply consistently to every situation. Moms tell their kids, “Don’t run into the street.” This is good advice if your ball just rolled off the curb because a car could be speeding past. But this is terrible advice if a tree falls toward you and that’s your best path of escape.

Complete reliance on rules doesn’t develop a capacity for judgment — which is critical in the split second of a tree vs. rules situation.

What if the limited bandwidth that comes with being a working mom is a gift, because it keeps us from intervening on every problem?

In his breakthrough book, Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud shares the conversation of parents who are meeting with him about their 25-year-old son who is struggling with drugs and unable to hold a job. The parents explain they’ve given him everything. They complain the son feels he doesn’t have a problem.

Dr. Cloud responds, “He doesn’t have a problem. You do. He can do pretty much whatever he wants, no problem. You pay, you fret, you worry, you plan, you exert energy to keep him going. He doesn’t have a problem because you have taken it from him. Those things should be his problem, but as it now stands they are yours.”

When we try to recreate motherhood as portrayed in television sitcoms, we interrupt the pattern of cause and effect. We work against natural karma by taking away the results of our kids’ actions.

We worry that learning things the hard way will warp our kids - but we forget that there is no idyllic childhood.

I had my kids start doing their own laundry as soon as they were tall enough to reach the buttons on the washing machine. It seemed a safe task to offload.

Over the first few weeks, as my son got used to his new responsibility, he often complained that he didn’t have any clean socks.

“Didn’t you wash them?”

“No. I forgot.”

“Then pull some out of the dirty clothes to wear for today; then you can wash them tonight.”

Smelly socks do not equal a tragedy, and wearing them all day helped my son remember that he had to plan ahead in order to have clean ones. (My daughter went through a similar experience when she was tall enough to reach the buttons.) But it wasn’t just the aspect of learning responsibility that was good for my kids. Doing their own laundry also gave them a better mom.

By helping with the very simple household chore, they took something off my plate - which gave me the gift of more energy and time.

We never tied money to the idea of doing chores. In our family, you did chores to help all of us. We gave our kids an allowance disconnected from work so they could learn to manage money. The amount was age-appropriate, increasing each year, and it was 100% their responsibility to figure out what to do with it. (As parents, we learned which of our kids was a spender and which was a saver, which allowed us to provide additional coaching.)

Kids who have to live with the results of their own choices become independent and unafraid to make decisions. 

The best tools for alleviating mom-guilt are morning and evening routines.

Childhood isn’t all about learning responsibility. It’s also about learning that you are loved, and that you are part of something.

Linda Mason shares a brilliant strategy in her Working Mother’s Guide to Life. In it, she says that the best ways to create the culture of your family are in your morning and evening routines.

Why routine? Because love and connection are created in the little things we do over and over.
The bedtime stories.

Bath time.

Meals at a table together (even if it’s just pizza delivery).

The things you say to each other before leaving for work and school each day.

How breakfast is done.

Inside family jokes. (My husband and son now have matching tattoos around one of our inside jokes.)

Games played around the table. (Poker had a $1 buy-in at our house — part of the reason our kids needed an allowance.)

The text messages you send.

Holiday traditions.

Repetition creates culture, and with a strong family culture, our kids will know there is somewhere they really, truly belong.

Also - the beauty in the repetition of routines is that if we miss one, it doesn’t wipe out all the other days. Which is important…

Because sometimes, we are seriously going to drop the ball.

Have you ever left your kid at an event?

I have.

I was running from thing to thing on autopilot and Bethany asked if she could go with me to choir practice. Knowing there was childcare, I agreed and took her with me. She hung out with other kids while I sang.

Then I got in my car and went home.

I was sitting on the couch drinking iced tea when my husband asked, “Where is Bethany?”

“She’s in the shower,” I replied hearing the water running.

“No,” he said, concerned. “That’s Chase in the shower. Bethany is with you.”

My heart dropped into my stomach as i jumped back in the car and frantically headed back to get my daughter.

A lady was waiting with her in the lobby.

“We tried to call and couldn’t reach you.” (It was the 90’s. Stupid dial up internet.)

I thanked her profusely and took my daughter home.

Was that experience traumatic for Bethany? Yes.

But now, she loves to tell that story and watch me cringe.

The reality is that we are going to drop the ball as moms. And while our love helps shape our kids, it is the total screw-ups that shape us. (And tend to hang around as family stories…)

Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel guilty about all the times I was on a conference call and couldn’t pick up to answer my kids. (My son, who now has his own career, told me recently he realized just how tough it must have been to field all those kid-calls during a work day because they were bored, didn’t want to eat the groceries I’d purchased, or needed a referee for a sibling dispute.)

I wince when I remember all the times I became Banshee-Mom because the frustration of negotiating with middle schoolers became too much. But the truth is, those aren’t the moments that defined my parenting.

The routines did.

There is no work-life balance. There is just life.

We can’t leave work and don a June Cleaver persona the minute we walk through the door and create a TV sitcom life. And even if we could, we shouldn’t want to.

We can give love without having to solve all the problems in 30 minutes.

So lose the guilt, focus on the love, and come up with some kick-ass morning and evening routines. We need them to counterbalance the screw ups.

And stop stressing about your own limited bandwidth. It might just be that it’s a gift to keep us from protecting our kids from the very things that will make them into the people they were always meant to be.
Want more? Check out Mom Brain is Real! 5 Ways a Journal Can Help You Survive It

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