There are some who will criticize you for being a woman.
There are some who will criticize you for being a working woman.
There are some who will criticize you for being a mother.
There are some who will criticize you for being a working mother.
There are some who will criticize you for being a stay-at-home mother.
There are some who will criticize you for joining the PTA, not joining the PTA, packing children’s lunches, letting children buy their lunches, etc, etc, etc…
Every day I wake up, I know I will receive an abundance of encouragement, whether from my husband, daughter, colleagues or friends. But I also know that there is the possibility that someone will criticize me for something. I don’t wait in anticipation, but I try not to be surprised by it either.
Recently, I met with a hundred colleagues from across the country and the world for the first time to celebrate successes from the previous year, to discuss strategies and initiatives for this coming year and to encourage one another.
There were many highlights, but my favorite moment came during lunch on the last day as I sat with three woman. Three working mothers. Three working mothers who travel domestically and internationally, two of whom had recently come back from maternity leave. What struck me throughout that week of meetings is how often someone said, “It’s great to have you on the team, Nhung. I take it you don’t have any children.” One of these fellow mothers said the same to me, and I couldn’t help but ask why.
She asked me to look around the room. There were only a handful of working mothers of young children, and we were all sitting around the same table. One of the other women was introduced to me as a working mother of an infant before I even heard her name! Forget strategies and initiatives. I was captivated by their conversations of the challenges of being working mothers who love their children, love their work and even love the travel. See, it’s the same whether we are in a Fortune 500 company, in a secular non-profit or in ministry.
Beyond the smiles of experiencing motherhood for the first time, I saw the uncertainty. Is it somehow wrong to love our work and the travel? Are we good mothers even though our time is divided? How do I deal with other people’s criticism that I am a working mother? Is it possible to continue doing what I love and still show my family that they are my first priority?
I have been working since Lexi was five months and wrestled with all of these uncertainties, but she is six now, and I can see the young woman she has progressed into, and I marvel at the times I wasted wondering if my daughter knew that I loved her more than I loved my work. When I toyed with the staying at home indefinitely this past summer, it was Lexi that said, “Mama, you have to be doing something to help children. That is what you love and who you are.” No uncertainty on her part about which child I love most. For her, it has never felt like a tug-of-war.
I shared with these wonderful, beautiful, confident and yet uncertain women that it’s almost a rite of passage to feel all of these emotions as a working mother. And for every five compliments we receive about the tremendous job we do at work and at home, there will be one voice asking whether we really can do both well and whether we should even try.
Since I ask myself the same question periodically, I shouldn’t be surprised that someone else is thinking and voicing it. I’ve had someone suggest asking Lexi whether she would prefer I stay home or go to work and go with that answer. I love my child, but she isn’t always the best gauge on what’s best for our family. If I went that route, we would eat macaroni and cheese for dinner every night, stay up until no one can keep their eyes open and go roller skating 80 times a day.
So what is a first time working mother to do? Pray. A lot. It can feel overwhelming at times, and we weren’t created to shoulder the weight of our burdens alone. Constantly assess with your family to make sure that what you’re doing works for your family. We might be juggling competing priorities when it comes to tasks at work and home, but I have never met a working mother who didn’t hands-down identify her family as the priority over work. Talk to other working mothers who have crossed that same stage as you.
Yes, there are some who will criticize you, but my experience has been that there are so many more that will encourage you and lift you up.