I grew up with a mother who worked outside of the home. Maternity leave was almost non-existent in those days and my mother worked everything from retail to corporate.
I am now a mother who works out of the home and I know how difficult it can be. What I also know is that if it’s tough now it was nearly impossible 30 plus years ago. Workplaces didn’t care if there were children at home. My mother didn’t have the luxury of working from home when her kids were sick. Managers didn’t allow for parents to sneak out for an hour so as not to miss a school play. When my brother and I both fell victim to Chicken Pox in elementary school, my mother had to head into the office late into the night, as soon as my Dad arrived home from his job, to make up for the time she missed taking care of us during the day. It was hard.
Yet as hard as I know it was on my mother, I learned so much from her getting up every day and going out to work. While she was just trying to get through each day she unknowingly was imparting lessons that would stay with me forever.
It takes a team to run a family: Teamwork is what made our family function. When my Dad worked shift work, it wasn’t unusual for dinner to be sitting on the stove when we all got home. My Mum would often head out late at night to shovel the driveway so that when my Dad came home after his late afternoon shift he could get pull in. I did dishes, my brother took out garbage. It was an all hands on deck situation. My mother absolutely had the lion’s share of the work but she taught me that it didn’t all have to fall on her shoulders. It taught me to expect the same from my husband. Just as the house I grew up in ran like a team with some wins and some losses so does my home now.
You’re not always going to like being a working mother: Some mothers work outside of the home because they have to and some mothers work outside of the home because they want to, yet every single mother has moments when they question their choice. When she had to leave her sick child with a neighbour because missing work wasn’t an option. When I can’t tuck my kids in because I am traveling for work. I have moments when I come home from a long day and the dishes are piled up in the sink and I have to feed the kids to get them out the door for soccer practice in 20 minutes and I don’t even change out of my work clothes until well after the kids have gone to bed when I wonder if I’m cut out for this. I remember the look on my mother’s face when she rushed through the door at the end of the day and tossed her keys to the side and rather than flop herself on the couch she rolled up her sleeves and started cooking. I now understand that look. Exhaustion. Defeat. Frustration. All mixed up with love. I know that look because I feel it burning in my own cheeks. Yet just as my mother did, I get up the next day and do it again and I know that it’s okay if I don’t always love it.
Learning never ends: My mother went back to school when I was about seven or eight. Going back to school when you have a family is not easy but she did it. I went to University right out of high school and got a job offer right away. I thought that was it. I had my degree, I had my job, I was done. Yet I wasn’t done. I soon realized that learning was something that never stops. When I decided that I wanted to change the direction that my career was heading, I knew that going back to school was a great option and I went back, part time, in the evening after working full time and having a baby. It took me a few years but I did it. When I think about the possibility of writing full time it fills me with both fear and excitement. I know that I’m never too old to learn something new.
There will always be someone who won’t want to see you succeed: Throughout my mother’s career she has come across people who have made it more difficult for her. People who gave zero flexibility, who refused to make it easy, who plainly didn’t want to see her succeed. Yet she kept on keeping on and was very successful in her career. There will always be those who try to bring you down in order to make themselves feel better about their own choices. I have come across people who are willing to step on me to get ahead as well as people who refuse to cheer me on in my successes. I can’t control them but I can control me so I will keep giving it my all with confidence. I will continue to support other mothers in the choices they have made for their families. We are all trying our best and I don’t ever want to be the person who wants to make this journey harder for someone.
Your reputation follows you: I never understood just how hard my mother worked until I joined the corporate world. She gives everything 110% and more importantly she treats everyone that crosses her path with the utmost respect. She treats the machine operator on the shop floor with the same respect as the Vice President of Finance. Because of this, people like her. People trust her. She taught me that everything I do will follow me, my reputation will follow me. Doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, is so important.
And the biggest lesson that I learned from my working mother is that:
Someone is watching me: My mother didn’t have an easy start. She overcame a lot of obstacles to get where she is now. But she did it and I was watching. When she left the house every morning wondering if we were missing her while she worked, I was watching. When she studied late into the night trying to get her education, I was watching. When she picked herself up after difficult days, I was watching. My daughter is now watching me. She is watching me work hard at my day job. She is watching me try and break into the writing world. She is watching me succeed and fail and love what I do and hate it. I want my daughter to know that she doesn’t have to give up her dreams to become a mother. I want her to know that it’s okay to be confused about what she wants and to change her mind and then change it back again.
I want my daughter to know that she can have it all and that having it all means totally different things to different people and that the meaning of “all” will change throughout her life.
I want to set that example for her.
I never remember my mother missing out on any parts of my life because she was working. By the same token, I don’t remember my Dad missing out either, but no one ever questioned that. I don’t remember feeling angry or abandoned or like I was missing any amount of love or attention.
I know it wasn’t easy for her, but I hope my mother knows that mixed up in all that chaos were lessons. Lessons that I learned from my working mother.
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