Is it possible to be a working Mom and an excellent Mom?

I try to be a good mom and good at my job. It means you have to be flexible at times – like when you leave work early to be with the kids after school and you have to get your work done late at night or in my case early in the morning. (I work hard not to send emails before 7am, but sometimes I stockpile them and hit send all at once. So gratifying…). I am fortunate to have a somewhat flexible job, so I can take time off, for example, to take the kids to appointments or see an afternoon presentation if it works with my schedule. Sometimes I don’t even have to try to be a good mom – one night in Vancouver, I woke up out of a deep sleep and texted a reminder to Kevin about Kathleen’s orthodontist appointment. When I eventually woke up, I texted again to ask if he would have remembered without me, and he pleaded the fifth. My point is that I believe there is some mechanism deep within women that helps us be good Moms, without always trying.

But all of this runs off the rails when someone gets sick. Now I have already written about the time Jacob barfed at boarding school, and about the time I barfed when we were first married, so it is only fair that I write about Kathleen’s barfing at home experience … clearly this is a theme for me! Something about that experience that forces the big questions…

So there I was Sunday night holding back Kathleen’s hair as she lay with her head in the toilet. Poor thing knew it was coming and, based on what was going around, I knew it would happen all night. I was faced with a choice: I knew my Mom (who typically drops everything when the kids are sick) was not in town; I knew Kevin had a big meeting but could be home for parts of the day (I had already checked); and so I had this dilemma. If I canceled my trip to Vancouver, I could be an excellent Mom to my teenaged daughter. But this was a pretty important trip for me, with two days of meeting with students, admin and boards…which are tough to reschedule….my board chair was joining one of the meetings… never a good idea to reschedule a volunteer….But then what if I got sick? Do flights still have barf bags? Do they even call them that?

I decided that this was not a life-threatening illness; her father would be there with her at some points, and she would be fine to stay home alone. But the motherhood guilt about leaving had kicked in, so I got up three of the next four times she got up, which meant I was in pretty rough shape myself when my alarm went off at 4:45am. As I left the house, I felt incredibly guilty. Then, when I got her first text, and she told me that she was hoping to watch Dance Moms, I felt ready to nominate myself for Worst Mother of the Year Award…

My point is that doing both requires a strong support network and tough choices.

Much as I would have liked to be home to bring her soup in bed, I think she benefitted from taking care of herself and filling her day – she actually chose to watch a documentary on North Korea so she could understand the hype about The Interview. (If you haven’t checked out the free-range kids movement, Skenazy’s new show aired last night.) I hope she will come to learn that women – in particular – have to reprioritize sometimes when things don’t go as planned.

As for me? I am trying to focus on the recent discussions about the need to take a long view of “balance” in our lives, and hoping that the same can be said of parenting.

4 thoughts on “Is it possible to be a working Mom and an excellent Mom?

  1. The daily dilemma for all mothers who work outside the home is this — what choices do we make and can we make so that our professional lives and our children’s well-being are in balance?
    Newsflash: it’s not a pie you can evenly slice. Someone always gets a thinner piece. I think what CAIS schools can and should do is ramp up the dialogue about how the women in our communities tackle this every day — mothers, teachers, administrators, alumni, volunteers etc. We are all in this soup together. And consciously or not — we are modelling to our own kids ‘how to be a mother AND be a person in the world’…Was Kevin as wracked with ‘guilt’ as you were about going to his meeting and leaving Kathleen? I would love to know! One day Kathleen will come to fully appreciate how difficult (and also rewarding and complex) your chosen career path is — to be her very best mom and ALSO to be an extraordinary CEO and leader of change in Canadian education. Lets hope we have broadened the conversation and bolstered the supports more deeply by the time she starts her journey in the working woman world!

  2. A great Mom shouldn’t be an ever present Mom. In fact, a great Mom teaches their kids (particularly teenaged kids) independence, resiliency and self awareness. A great Mom is always supportive but should not always be present ‘to save the day.’ Teenagers need to learn how to save their own day… your departure showed that you trusted your daughter to take care of herself. That’s a precious gift from a great Mom (especially if you’re a Mom who may be preparing her daughter for boarding school life).

  3. I just finished reading your most recent blog post titled, “Is it possible to be a working mom and an excellent mom?” and just wanted to say that you made my day. Since returning to work from almost four years of mat leave, this same question flies through my mind on a daily basis. I continue to reflect and think about how working has it’s benefits for both my children and myself. I too love my job and I know that it helps me be a better mom, even when challenging at times. I also know that my children benefit from being surrounded by great educators and friends at daycare, and when needed they can spend quality time with their grandparents. When we can be home together as a family, we definitely take advantage of our time together. We make the best out of our weekends and vacation time.
    It is evident that you are a great mom and great at your job! How you do it, I am not always sure, but as many of us mom’s can attest, with support and guidance and some reflection, we can make it work (and hopefully not feel guilty about it!)

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