With the New Year upon us, I felt compelled to write about some of the many learnings I’ve been fortunate enough to have over the past year as I made a major career shift away from corporate and into owning my own business focused on supporting mothers.
A little bit about me
For those of you that don’t know me, or don’t know me well, here’s a little bit about me to contextualize why I’m writing this article and how I found myself in the position to write it.
My name is Megan, and I am a mother to two young boys, aged 8yrs and 5yrs. My journey into motherhood started blissfully and well planned. I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish before I had children and like the innate achiever I am, I checked all of those off the list: go to college and work a few years, travel internationally, find a partner and get married, go to graduate school and land a job in a well-established organization, buy a home, get promoted to a leadership position at work, more travel. Check, check, and check.
Having found a way to accomplish all I had set out to do, I decided with my husband to embark on our next journey to start a family. I naively thought this would be another checkmark on my list, not necessarily the “check and done” type checkmark, but something that would happen and be wonderful and my life would continue to exist as it had with this amazing new addition. Oh, how wrong I was. It was wonderful. My son was an amazing new addition. But my life was completely turned upside down. The passion I’d always had for my work now had direct competition with the passion I had for my child. I thought I could power my way through. I was told to “go big” at work and “just get through these tough early days” at home. I pushed and pushed. I slept less and less. I stopped all self-care. This worked for a while. Then my husband and I decided to expand our family and I became pregnant with our second. I thought if I could find a way to have my to-do list only be work and my children, and outsource everything else, I could thrive.
Instead, I broke.
After being promoted at work several times and being given the big bonuses consistently, I made silly mistakes and the quality of my deliverables suffered. My confidence was shaken, and my leadership presence came into question. On the home front, I had no energy left for my husband, my friendships or my closest family members.
However, remember that I am an achiever in nature. I’m also a learner. I became curious and I never lost my determination. I wanted to understand why this was happening and what I could do to change it. I began establishing resources for mothers at my Fortune 500 employer. I began mentoring more and more young mothers wrestling with many of the similar challenges I had been trying to navigate.
After 8+ years of supporting mothers in a sponsorship / mentorship role, which was not part of my day job in finance, I decided to expand my reach. This required me to leave the cushion of my corporate job, a large part of which I actually loved doing, and risk going out on my own. My husband and I had saved enough to make it work which was not a decision we took lightly. My family unit always has significantly depended on my income.
So here I am, 1 year into launching my own business that focuses on supporting mothers – working mothers initially and still as my primary client base, but quickly moving towards supporting all mothers.
What I’ve learned in the 1st year
The lessons over the past year have been nearly boundless, yet I will do my best to capture some of them here. Not for my benefit but for yours. I believe there are learnings here that will help the motherhood community, the mother that feels burnt-out, the mother that feels like she is failing. There is no way to do each of these justice in this short writing, but there is a way to introduce these now and then follow-up on them in more detail in year 2 of this business (hint, hint).
1. Matrescence is as real as adolescence
Matrescence is the process (physical, emotional, hormonal and social transition) of becoming a mother. Matrescence was coined as a term back in 1973 by medical anthropologist Dana Raphael but is only now becoming a part of recognized vernacular. I think this is an incredibly important movement – the recognition that one becoming a mother is not just an event, but a major life transition. You do not simply have a child and continue being who you were. Your identity changes. Your body changes. Your hormones change. Your brain neuropathways change! We accept adolescence as a right of passage. We write-off becoming a mother as the “baby blues” or “sleep deprivation”. Matrescence legitimizes the motherhood experience.
2. FOMO is not just a fear, missing out is also real
FOMO or the “fear of missing out” is often a big part of a mother’s inner dialogue. Whether she works outside the home or stays home with her children fulltime, she will likely feel she is missing out on the alternative.
I experienced this directly. I still remember the heartache of missing many developmental milestones of both of my sons – first words, first steps and so many others. Having had a lot more flexibility in the last year, I have been able to participate in my children’s day-to-day activities a lot more and I realized I truly was missing out. For example, I had no idea how insightful volunteering in my sons’ classrooms could be to their social and educational health and development, or how important those conversations after school could be to discover the goods-and-bads about their days. However, I also realized that in these months when I was spending more time at home with my children, I was truly missing out on professional opportunities as well. In the first days of leaving my corporate job, it was extremely uncomfortable. The muscle memory of consistently checking email and messages on my mobile device was hard to reprogram. But then, as the quiet started settling in, I slowed down. I slept. I slept and slept and slept. I had no concept of how burnt out I was. I was unhealthily burnt out. I don’t think I will ever forget the day a few weeks after I left my corporate job when my husband turned to me and said “you are different” and he meant it in a good way. There was an edge to me that was gone. It took me nearly 6 months to reset and reenergize. So what have I now realized I miss out on when I’m spending more time at home mothering? I’m missing the opportunity to work with an amazing team of talented individuals that push me to be my best professional self, I’m missing the rush of grooming up and coming talent to realize their own potential, I’m missing the sense of accomplishment when I help an impactful organization reach their goals.
Perhaps said more succinctly – FOMO is a misrepresentation of the mothering experience. Our fears of missing out are actually our instincts telling us we are actually missing out because we are. So what’s the trick? To INTENTIONALLY decide on what we miss out, to not be passive about our trade-offs.
3. There are a lot of amazing organizations doing really wonderful work to support mothers
I was pleasantly surprised to come across so many wonderful organizations as I became more educated in the motherhood / parenting support space. Organizations to support PMAD (perinatal mood and anxiety disorders). Organizations to support the parental leave experience. Organizations to support pelvic health. Organizations to support mindfulness for mothers. Organizations to support the division of household responsibilities. Organizations to support women returning to the workplace. Organizations to support financial wellness for women. The challenge is knowing about these organizations and finding your way to them. More on this later.
4. It doesn’t have to be guesswork
Every motherhood experience is unique. Every child is unique. Every mother is unique. Yet, there are enough consistencies across all of this uniqueness that there can be somewhat of a roadmap. A “here’s what to expect through the different seasons of motherhood” – what you may feel or experience and where to go for support, the demands on your time and how that shifts, how to reallocate roles and responsibilities at home. We do not have to reinvent the wheel every time.
I am here to tell you that your motherhood experience is legitimate. You are not alone in the beautiful, messy journey. As I look towards year 2 of momiculture, I continue to explore ways to expand my reach, to support more mothers, to provide some clarity in the journey. Thanks for walking along with me.