A Reflection on the Work Identity of a Mom

Me and my mom at my graduation from Northwestern. Dec 2003

Me and my mom at my graduation from Northwestern. Dec 2003

Ten years ago this month I had just graduated from Northwestern University with my M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications. I knew what I wanted and I had it – a great job back in DC with a large, high-profile and powerful trade association, applying much of what I’d learned in grad school. I was newly married, we were living in the city but knew we wanted to buy a place, I had life by the horns.

My first at 10 weeks. She was cute but would she ever sleep?

My first at 10 weeks. She was cute but would she ever sleep?

Eight years ago this month I was on maternity leave with my first baby girl. I knew I wanted and needed to go back to work. I roamed the cold streets of my neighborhood, lonely and wondered if this child would ever sleep. I cringed at the days that were too cold to walk and didn’t know a thing yet about worrying about decent child care, managing work and babies, or even handling unexpected sick days. I was only weeks into parenthood but I had tremendous clarity that being a working mom was right for me.

Five years ago this month I was on maternity leave with my second baby girl.  I knew I didn’t want to

Me and my youngest when I *just* stayed home.

Me and my youngest when I *just* stayed home.

keep working full-time, I didn’t know if I could handle being home full-time or what that would even involve or if it would fly in the face of my college minor in Women’s Studies. I knew I had the courage to quit the job I had after maternity leave but I didn’t know if I had the courage to walk away from my career completely.

So where am I today? How does it fit with where I thought I’d be 10, 8 and 5 years ago?

Today’s post is for anyone who once had certainty and no longer does.

Today’s post is for anyone who doesn’t have a label to call themselves.

Today’s post is hopefully also for anyone who isn’t sure they have the courage to make a big decision about their family and career.

After I walked away from the career I’d spent 12 years carefully and methodically establishing, five years ago, I really had no plan. This was not like me. But a different kind of opportunity knocked than I’d ever planned for, the kind that said we could make changes and afford for me to quit working full-time, so I took it. I took it with no other clear job in sight.  Not even a shell of a plan.

For a short time, I just stayed home. Note I mean that very sarcastically because until you’ve spent prolonged amounts of time home alone with your children – without a spouse or partner or nanny or mom or anyone else there – you honestly cannot appreciate it or how difficult, stressful and exhausting it is. This isn’t a jab at anyone or a judgement at all – it is fact. Pure and simple.

Then I started dabbling in other things along with being home. I started writing a parenting blog for Washingtonian Magazine, which opened some doors to events and activities I otherwise would have had to pay for. After 6 months, they stopped the blog and I faced my first big fork in the road – should I try to keep it going on my own platform or should I quit?

I decided I’m not a quitter and if I started it, despite a wounded ego and disappointment, I should keep going. So I kept going and rebranded as the beloved and world-famous WM.

Pretty much no one actually considered blogging work, especially then. Sure we got tickets to free things and to me that was like income – but well – there was no weekly payroll, no benefits, people thought I just “got things” – instead of realizing how much work went into building an audience and writing material that would make you want to come back and read me again. That takes work.  As does learning how to build an audience on social media, how to engage with people effectively on social media and how to write content that will get noticed in searches.  But again, to most people, mom bloggers just get free tickets.

Then I started becoming more aware of these labels we cling too everywhere we go. No work clothes? No steady pay check?

She stays home.

Blogging?

Totally a fad. Check out her lounge wear.

Doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, back in reality land, I felt like I was working my ass off. I loved writing, I loved blogging, I loved having access to events (which again, as any blogger knows, you work very hard for) but what was I doing, where was it going, why was I doing it?

I still didn’t know but I just kept doing it.  I also realized just how much I was learning about my own profession, which was public affairs/public relations, by actively blogging and tinkering on social media on a regular basis for WM.

At this point, I was also on the board of our preschool, I was maintaining a weekly newsletter for my old job, keeping the blog going and had the kids. But still, there’s no label, so I was a stay-at-home mom.

More time passed and freelance projects grew from a weekly newsletter to writing materials for other clients, to advising clients on social media strategy until bit by bit, I found myself with a legitimate company. I realized that my lack of a plan, my no real direction, quietly and slowly took the shape of a very real, strategic and smart direction: I had gained and developed an invaluable skill set on social media by being active in it as I wrote about my kids, my life and my experiences in DC. I kept working by doing, all those years.

By last year, I’d purchased a domain and named my company SOMA Strategies,  worked more aggressively to build up my client base and essentially began working full-time, squeezed into part-time preschool hours, from my house, wearing whatever I felt like it, sometimes wishing I did have an office to go to or a consistent outlet for childcare because business hours most certainly do not align with preschool hours. But like everyone else managing work and career and family, I wing it.

So who am I now?

I am a small business owner in yoga pants sitting at my kitchen table.

I am a social media strategist, blogger and mom.

What do I seem to others?

I don’t care anymore.

I’ve noticed over the last 5 years how dramatically the preschool parking lot and playground has changed. There are so many more dads. There are fancy bags tossed over the shoulder of lounge wear.

I’ve noticed that if you pay attention, nothing is at it seems and even in a company town like Washington, where most people wear their work identity on their sleeve, you actually have no idea if a suit or no suit means anything in the work department. Nor does it matter.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is no matter how clear your path once was, if you are open to opportunity, if you are willing to put yourself out there, if you can handle rejection and keep going, your career really can be a long, windy journey that ebbs and flows at your own direction.

Also, my somewhat anal self has learned that in life, you actually don’t always need a plan. You just always need confidence and you have to be hungry and want it more than anyone else in the room.  You also have to see how differently opportunity can knock.

What’s your work identity as a mom? Do you care? Is there a label? Has your direction changed course?

 

 

 

18 Responses to A Reflection on the Work Identity of a Mom
  1. Lisa Flowers
    January 9, 2014 | 4:47 pm

    What an awesome and insightful post! I’m going to bookmark this one so I can read it again.

    (Btw, I’m working on moving BACK to DC and doing what you’re doing. I hope we can connect for coffee at some point.)

  2. Kelly Z
    January 9, 2014 | 6:07 pm

    Great post. It really hits me. I just had my second child and commuting into DC and working all day is really starting to make me question if it’s all worth it. I’d really love to work part time – I guess it would be a combo title – work at home/stay at home mom – so I could get the time with the kids, but still have that work identity that is so important around here (and as an artist, an important part of my own self-worth). Congrats on having the courage to go with what you wanted and succeeding. I’m still working up the nerve.

  3. Suzanne Bastien
    January 9, 2014 | 6:14 pm

    I love it. I am so tired of the labels everyone places on everyone. Me? I love working outside the home, but it doesn’t mean that when I get home I put my feet up and stop working. I blog, I clean, I do laundry, I feed my kids and read them chapter books. I take them to swimming, softball, flag football and art classes. I get up and 5:30 every morning and don’t go to bed until 11pm. A working parent works, around the clock. A working spouse works, around the clock. We have to, our families count on us. Regardless on whether or not we have a commute, we still have a job.

  4. Sara
    January 9, 2014 | 6:14 pm

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Today has been a rough day for me, I stay home with two boys (2 and 4 mos.) with no family, no help of any kind and a spouse who commutes 1 hr each way to work. I worked in PR for 10 years here in DC and every day I wonder if I’m losing my skills by staying home, feeling selfish for wanting to go to an office like my friends & spouse, and never feeling like I’m doing enough by *just* staying home. I truly appreciate your words of wisdom!

  5. Jessica McFadden
    January 9, 2014 | 6:42 pm

    Best post I’ve read all year…and by that I mean a calendar year, not 2014. This is SO TRUE. I love every word.

  6. Jessica Smock
    January 9, 2014 | 6:47 pm

    I see so much of myself in this post! I too have no idea what to call whatever it is I’m doing. Am I taking a break from academia? Am I a freelance writer? Am I “just” a blogger? Mostly, I’m at home in my sweats on the computer, typing furiously in the few hours that my two year old is at preschool. Since I moved to a new city as I was finishing my doctoral program, at first it was easy; if someone asked me what I did, I said, “Getting a phD.” Now I usually just stammer and say something about writing at home a bit and staying home to take care of my son. But then I get angry at myself for not claiming an identity for myself that’s a bit more than “writer.”

  7. Jenna
    January 9, 2014 | 6:50 pm

    I left the newsroom in 2006, when my employer wouldn’t give me time off for an active miscarriage. I started blogging, and then managing blogs, and then editing, and then landed where I am today. For awhile, no one gave me the title of work-at-home-mom either, even though I was working my butt off. Even still, there are those that don’t believe I work every day.

    Thank you for sharing your journey. I feel like it mirrors a lot of others’ in this digital age.

  8. Monica Sakala
    January 9, 2014 | 7:21 pm

    Thank you so much for all these comments so far, ladies. I think it’s always so helpful to know you aren’t alone in something and I love hearing where everyone else is coming from!

  9. anna whiston-donaldson
    January 9, 2014 | 9:21 pm

    Great post!

    When I started staying home 15 yrs ago, it felt like ALL or NOTHING. I didn’t know about part-time work or how to adapt my skills to new opportunities. I ended up staying home for 9 years then going back part-time. Now, I’ve quit my “day job” after 5 yrs to focus on writing. Some days I just focus on Facebook.

  10. Natalia
    January 9, 2014 | 10:48 pm

    I loved this post. Thank you for writing it! I got my masters right before I married my husband (a Marine). I was so confident that my degree would make me employable anywhere….then we went to Japan. Jobs thin on the ground for those that didn’t speak Japanese! Since then my career trajectory has been pretty roller coastery! I was constantly applying and trying to fit a patchwork job history together. I finally was let go from a job when I was pregnant with my first baby and I realized that I had to construct a career for myself. I started my own business when my son was 5 months and it has still been a roller coaster. I love my business but I still struggle with the balance and with how to define myself. I so appreciate knowing I’m not alone in this.

  11. jodifur
    January 9, 2014 | 11:40 pm

    I pink puffy heart love this post.

  12. Monica Sakala
    January 9, 2014 | 11:46 pm

    love love loving all the other comments that have come in since I last weighed in. Really value the extra perspective added in here – between the longer view on how our options have changed over 15 years (Anna) and the perspective of having a spouse whose job moves you around – along with keeping pride in our identities as our careers shifts. Really great insights! Jodi – can’t wait to pink puffy heart love more posts this year!

  13. Michaela
    January 10, 2014 | 2:07 am

    Really well done, Ms. Wired Momma. Both in your life choices and managing to articulate the nuance so well. So often when we read anything involving work and moms, it leads to battle lines between work outside the home moms and stay at home moms. You have managed to convey the shades of gray while putting all moms on the same team. Regardless of whether you receive a paycheck, have a desk in a corner office, your home or not at all, we all have challenges and we all have rewards. Thank you for making people see we don’t have to identify with one label or team. Nice work.

  14. Jen Enriquez
    January 10, 2014 | 9:08 am

    Thank you. Just thank you . You have put my thoughts, anxiety, fears, in words. Chicago suburbs not as progressive as things were in Arlington but now I feel a little braver.

  15. MKelly
    January 10, 2014 | 4:05 pm

    Thank you for this, every mom is a working mom. My identity as a working mom is a telecommuting nurse case manager. I care because I take pride in helping patients and families, and for many other reasons, financial, intellectual, among others. I feel so fortunate to have flexibility with supportive management and family too. My direction changed course dramatically over 30 years as RN, my job and the technology did not exist when I graduated. Thanks again, I appreciate how hard blogging is, and inherently entrepreneurial.

  16. Rachael
    January 10, 2014 | 4:21 pm

    This is a beautiful article. Thank you for this!

  17. aimee @ smilingmama
    January 10, 2014 | 5:37 pm

    Love this! I have been everything from working part-time after my first son, staying home full-time after my second son and now I’m working full-time outside the home and my husband is a stay-at-home dad. EVERY scenario is wonderful and hard. I really try to impart to young women that there are different options and opportunities and that the important thing is finding what works for your family for now — and for now may be a year, a few months, years, who knows.

  18. tiny-trots mama
    January 19, 2014 | 8:58 pm

    I definitely relate to this idea of certainty, or I should say, uncertainty! When I was a little girl I thought I found “my path” and life is was so simple. Perhaps it’s how things used to be or what we were taught. Either way I learned quickly how complicated life can be, and it feels good to accept the unknown! Great post!

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