“At work, you think of the children you left at home. At home, you think of the work you’ve left unfinished. Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself. Your heart is rent.”
-Golda Meir, former Israeli Prime Minister and mother of two
For many working mothers, that quote pretty much sums it up. Whether work is a necessity or a choice, we don’t ever feel truly great at either job.
The guilt can be overwhelming: Missing your kid’s basketball game because you’re stuck at work; having so much on your plate that you forget the cupcakes for the school party; or just not having time to help with homework at night can make you feel like a failure. We agonize over what we don’t participate in and what we don’t give.
And while I have definitely felt those feelings of inadequacy as a parent, I also believe our kids benefit from being raised by working moms. I have firsthand experience in that area too.
For many years my mom was able to stay home with my brother and me while my dad worked. But when I was eight, my parents divorced and my mom had to go to work to support us. We lived in Alexandria, Virginia, and my mom worked in Washington D.C. Every morning she would get on a bus at 6:30 a.m. to get to work on time, and would arrive home on that same bus around 6:30 or 7 p.m.
Because of her schedule, I had to get my little brother ready for school, make us breakfast and get us to the school bus stop on time each morning. After school, I would keep an eye on him and make sure we both finished our homework before my mom came home from work. My mom counted on me to make a contribution to our family and I took that task very seriously. It taught me responsibility. I learned appreciation from watching how hard she worked and how much she sacrificed for me and my brother.
We didn’t have much money, but somehow my mom always made sure I always had a new dress for the prom and money for the school ski trip and always made birthdays and holidays special for us. As an adult, I realize she had to juggle finances and make personal sacrifices to do that.
As my mom earned promotions and better jobs with new companies, we moved several times and I had to switch schools, which taught me how to adapt and make friends easily. I learned to be resourceful, calling for the bus schedule to get myself to the orthodontist because my mom couldn’t take off work to get me there.
I played basketball in high school for three years and I’m not sure she saw more than three games because of her work schedule, but I always knew she wished she could be there. I learned to be independent and self-confident during those times when she wasn’t with me. It was also my mom who instilled in me the importance of getting a college education and finding a meaningful career that I truly enjoyed.
Being a mom is the toughest job in the world — even tougher for moms who work another full time job. On the days when you’re being tough on yourself, feeling like you’re not living up to the task of being a good mom, just remember all the lessons your kids are learning through your example of hard work and sacrifice.
Muppet-creator Jim Henson once said, “The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
I am so grateful to my mom for everything she’s taught me and it makes me proud to think my daughter might be learning some of those same lessons from me as a working mom.
Are you a working mom or a stay-at-home mom? What are some of the challenges you face with your parenting style? Share your experiences with me in a comment below!
Chrys Peterson is a correspondent for ProMedica HealthConnect and spokeswoman for Friends for Life, a monthly newsletter for women that offers health and wellness advice with a focus on cancer prevention.