Three years ago, I spoke on a panel with Bumble with three fellow creative entrepreneurs from the fashion and media space. What was one of the identifiers that bound us to each other? We were working mothers, and we identified ourselves by our personal accomplishments and careers, not solely by our titles as "mom." Not long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is a new mother, and she was describing the visceral, intense feeling of losing her sense of self and not having anything left once she gave birth to her first child. It made me really upset for her - because I felt that overwhelming feeling of not having enough time and energy to give to everyone who needed it (including myself) once upon a time.
In 2021, 71% of the workforce in the United States were working mothers. I mean, it’s not surprising. To make ends meet, to keep our careers on track, and to maintain a sense of self, we often need to work outside the full-time job of motherhood. And of course, mothers are arguably the most efficient workers in the world, so who wouldn’t want to hire them? But this statistic doesn’t diminish the fact that it is not, in any way, easy to be a part of this majority. It got me thinking about how so many of us mothers lose a sense of self once our identities automatically shift from just “me” to “mother.”
Firstly, there are the expectations of being a mom, and those often lead to feeling that lack of self. The one expectation in particular that stuck with me is that you have to be a perfect mom 100% of the time - which is, of course, impossible. You can’t even be a perfect person 100% of the time! And that’s without a mini person looking to you for guidance and attention constantly.
Erin Kleinberg was with me on the panel. She’s the Co-Founder of Metier Creative, and she told us that being a working mom gave her the power to feel like a badass. Motherhood gave her a sense of self, rather than removed it. Something she said that really stuck with me is that some days you’re going to be a better mom and a worse leader, and some days vice versa. You just have to keep moving.
But how do you, as a mother, keep moving? Easier said than done, I know. Here’s the number one tip I’ve shared with other moms, after having three children and grown my business: put yourself first. It sounds selfish - but it’s been key to my sanity and success.
The biggest relationship change that happened to me when I became a mother was the relationship with myself. Before giving birth to Jake (at age 22), I had more energy to give to others. I could give more time and attention to my husband Gary, my team at work, and to my own self growth. But suddenly I had this tiny human needing me. I went through a period of time where I said “I can’t do this anymore.” That’s when I knew my priorities had to change, that I had to put myself at the top of that hierarchical pyramid. Here’s a breakdown:
At the top comes my own growth and happiness. I’m lucky to have my mother who showed me how it’s possible to fulfill yourself, achieve goals, grow yourself, and still have a family. We live in a society today, in comparison to our parents, where we over-parent. We hover over the children, and make them more fragile and scared; that’s something that I see at least. I feel like this never existed in me. I had an opportunity to find individuality and be independent, and I want to give this to my children. This happened because I saw my mom travel, go out, have friends, have her own interests, and that made me proud. I felt like she had her own life.
Next on the pyramid comes Gary (if you want to know why I put our marriage before our children, read our interview here). Children learn by example, and I want my boys to see my life doesn’t revolve around them - because the world doesn’t revolve around them. I take care of myself, I’m developing, and that’s important. That idea of motherhood really pushed me to keep fighting for my own ambitions. Motherhood and wifehood and households are so consuming, and you’re always making sure everyone is taken care of. That should include yourself.
Pictured: Verie, Mama Necklace
I’m inspired by women who go out there and do their own thing. Every year on my birthday, I check in with myself and make sure things are going the way I want them to. You’re the only one who is responsible for your own happiness. I don’t want to put that burden on my husband or my children. I want my children to see that, too. This influences my lifestyle and the decisions I make, and I never want to secretly, and internally, resent my children by thinking that if I didn’t have my kids, I would be a better version of myself. I never want that, and it wouldn't be true. So you have to find the strength to prioritize yourself, work on your growth, and in turn, you'll be the best mother for your children.
I had to accept that I will not always be my definition of a “perfect mother” and I am now finally okay with that. We try for this perfection so much. Trust me, the things we think our kids will remember - they won’t even care. They’ll remember the way you made them feel, and as long as they’re loved and supported, you don’t need to give them 100% of yourself. You need to give yourself that time back, because they will remember your happiness and stability. By placing them below myself on that hypothetical pyramid - I'm striking that balance of giving time to them while not leaving myself behind.