Owning Our Truth and Silencing the Guilt

Someone once said, “We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work.” In the last five years, I’ve had three children and elevated to equity partner at an exceedingly supportive law firm with an excellent parental leave policy. Still this quote stings with truth. I’ve spent countless hours torn: Present at the conference or be home for Mother’s Day? Attend the preschool graduation or participate in that major pitch? Cover the dispositive hearing or stay home with a sick baby?

I don’t claim to have consistently made the “right” choices. Indeed, the problem is I don’t always know what they are. Every decision is accompanied by guilt—the wretched feeling of delinquency, iniquity, and wrongdoing—because with every decision, working mothers lose. Often our male colleagues aren’t faced with the same challenges, or perhaps they simply don’t experience the same level of judgment or trigger the same repercussions.

Even with amazing employers who are generously flexible so long as we get the job done, the challenge remains: It’s getting the job done, and doing it to the same high level that is so important to us. Getting the job done requires giving so much of ourselves to our job, while already giving so much of ourselves to motherhood. Working mothers often exist straddling two worlds, holding our breath and feeling the weight of the mental load of inevitable conflict. We are often left exhausted and depleted, all the while hiding the chaos of our lives behind an “I’ve got this” smile.

I invite us working mothers to own our truth. Let’s be open and honest about the conflicts and tensions, and bold and brave enough to challenge ourselves and our professions to expand the space where working mothers’ personal and professional lives overlap. That is where we will find our more comfortable stance.

As I’ve begun to move forward in my career with more candor about the challenges of being a working mother in a demanding profession, I’ve found that most clients and colleagues appreciate it. They, too, are facing similar challenges. We are defying traditions and finding new space for ourselves: Instead of the golf course, we are networking at the playground. Colleagues understand my hard stop to manage school pickup.

The guilt has certainly not disappeared. It continues to rear its head, almost instinctually. But I do my best to let it go as quickly as I can. It has no place in the over-complicated worlds of working mothers, nor does it serve a purpose. The strain is not a working mother’s, alone, to feel, excuse, or organize. It belongs to society at large. Let us own our truth, silence guilt, and work together to find the space to more peacefully manage the complicated, demanding, yet beautifully rich lives we live.