Why I Don’t Feel Guilty for Being a Working Mom

IMG_0251I recall the exact moment I decided that something had to change.

I’d taken on a part-time position with a local museum which I’d taken specifically for the hours when my husband would be home with our three kids. And while I actually enjoyed the work, I also missed out on a lot – my daughter’s last year of competing at nationals for climbing as well as weekend camping trips, family suppers, and just hanging out in the back yard with the kids on a warm Saturday night.

But the moment that pushed me over the edge was when I arrived home at 3 AM on a Saturday night. I tried to open our garage door but met resistance. Pushing a little more firmly, I realized I was actually scooting my youngest son across the tile of our foyer. At some point after being tucked into bed, our youngest woke up. He did the only thing a little boy missing his mother knew to do – wait at the very spot he knew I’d return. And so he waited on the cold tile until he finally fell asleep.

I picked my son up and carried him back to his bad, pulling up the covers up and kissing his forehead. I sat at the edge of his bed for a few moments, tears welling up as his little hand gripped tightly around my finger. And in that moment I knew that no job was worth doing this to my son.

Within the month I’d resigned my position and metamorphosed from stay-at-home mom to founder of a tech company. Not that being an entrepreneur eradicated Mommy Guilt. It didn’t. But it did mean I decided what I was going to feel guilty about, because I was the one choosing the trade-offs of what I’d miss to give time to something else.

There are times now that I am definitely judged as being that mom – the one who ends up parenting her kid via cell phone while boarding a plane, who is rarely available to volunteer for anything during or after school, and the one who has more than once sent her kid off to school with a still-damp uniform after forgetting it was needed for a game after school. I’m the mom who celebrates my kid’s somewhat crappy-looking science fair entry while happily ignoring the silent condemnation of his classmates’ parents who see my hands-off approach as unsupportive. Truth is I have no desire to see if my participation in his project will earn him an A. It’s his learning experience, and if I’m judged as the mom who doesn’t help her kid with his projects, I’m ok with that. I’ve made peace with being that mom.

But I’m finished with feeling guilty. Or, at least, I’m finished letting anyone else decide what should make me feel guilty. If I blow off one of my kids or ignore them when they really need me, and I do it because I am far too immersed in my own thoughts to be present and listen, I should feel guilty about that. It is a poor choice that leaves me as inaccessible as if I wasn’t there. If I don’t parent by making my children accountable for immoral, inconsiderate, unkind, or dishonest behavior, if I don’t provide comfort and perspective when my children are wounded by life, or if I’m not accessible for the average, ordinary conversations that are actually the courage-building moments when one of my children might share one of those big issues that they’re carrying deep inside – if I am not available to be that parent, I should feel guilty.

But I’m finished feeling guilty for being gone on travel and not available at a moment’s notice to help one of my children get out of a momentary problem. Yes, I’m unavailable. But, no, it’s not the end of the world. And more often than not, it simply results in the learning moment where my kid discovers they have the inner resilience and resources to manage the issue for themselves.

I’m finished feeling guilty for not being there every morning to cook breakfast. Guess what? Cooking skills are empowering. When my teenage kid discovers he can forage in the pantry and make something to eat without setting the toaster on fire – that isn’t neglect – that’s fostering independence.

And I’m finished feeling guilty for not being invincible. There are days I’m barely treading water because of the overwhelming amount of responsibility that I have on my plate, and allowing my children to witness my own moments of weakness, vulnerability, and fear – that is a gift I am giving them. When they witness the same raw emotions coming from me which often hold the same power to derail their own pursuit of goals and dreams – and when they see me get beyond those momentary emotions to move forward – I am sharing with them the honesty of the journey, the reality of the pain and emotional toll that is taken from each of us if we are to grow to meet the challenges along the journey. I refuse to feel guilty for sharing that with my children.

IMG_3102The truth is that I absolutely love what I do now. I love our company, our vision, the problems we are helping others solve because of what we’ve built. I love the dynamics, talent and energy of our team. And I love the opportunities that have arisen along the journey – the chance to build rewarding friendships, the opportunity to launch an organization with a dear friend which is focused on empowering other women, and the privilege of being inspired by others who are pursuing their own dreams. I also love being a mother, even if the mother I am today isn’t what I imagined. I’ve made peace with the messiness of it all, because it is the mess of it all, the ebb and flow of blending all of these roles together into one reality which has helped me finally feel at peace with who I am.

Why Mothers Are Just Different Than Anyone Else

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I’ve been thinking a lot about moms, in part, I think because of gaining a new level of respect and regard for my own mother over the past few years as I’ve witnessed the grace, gentleness and kindness she’s shown caring for my dad who has Alzheimer’s. It’s also on my mind because of the changes in my own journey as a mother now of adult children. I’m realizing that I don’t tell my mom nearly often enough how much I appreciate her sacrifice, her unwavering love, her steady example that helped me become who I am today. Our relationship with our mom is just different than any other relationship we’ll ever have. As a mother of three, I’ve found this to be true. I am a mom, and with that has come a completely different perspective.

Mothers Believe

file0001547158812Dads? They usually serve it up to you straight and tell you that your dream of being the first astronaut allowed to go into space despite having severe asthma is never going to happen and that you might as well focus on being a research scientist or engineer that helps other healthy astronauts get into space. A dad tells you your math skills are too weak to get into a NASA program anyway and that you’d better buckle down and start doing more math problems or you’re going to end up on the street because you sure as heck aren’t living in his basement when you figure out you can’t support yourself because you didn’t do your homework and apply yourself while you had the opportunity. It’s probably a good thing that most dads are usually realists.

But Moms? We believe in you. And we move mountains to help you make it happen, because we know with just the right opportunities you’ll rise to the occasion and shine bright for the world to see the amazing you that we’ve seen since you were born. We lobby Congress to pass laws forcing NASA to accept astronauts with asthma. We lobby drug manufacturers to discover a new drug to cure asthma in time for you to have a chance to make your dream come true. We quit our jobs and move across the country to enter you in a reality show where the winner gets a chance to go into space – and then fight for you to get on the show. And when, a few months later, you change your mind and decide you want to be a race car driver, we start researching the rules to see if there is anything we need to fix to make this new dream possible.

Moms Correct

Your friends may feed the bad attitude you’ve tried on for the first time, reveling in your bravery to mock the awkward kid sitting alone, talk back to your teacher, give attitude to your boss, or act badly with your spouse. Your girlfriends or your buddies will pat you on the back and tell you that you’re perfectly in your right to have said or done whatever deed it is that has you in hot water. They’ll back you up – even if when they secretly judge you when you’re out of earshot.

file1941291214177But Moms? Ours is the voice that rings in your head when you act badly. Facing our disappointment and disapproval is often the driving force that prevents you from acting on your urges. We are the first one in your life that makes you sit in a chair and think about what you did. We are the first one to make you say you are sorry to your younger sibling if you ever want to see your toys again. We’re the one who sits you down privately and tells you of the pain you’ve caused someone else, of the shame you should be feeling over your choices, of your responsibility to make it right before things get worse. Moms are your moral compass until you grow your own.

Moms Forgive

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you forget your spouse’s birthday or your anniversary, good luck finding anywhere else to sleep besides the couch. Screw up a major bid at work, and your boss is not going to give you a hug and tell you that you’ll surely do better next time.

But moms forgive you, even when you haven’t yet found your own way to genuine remorse. You can neglect her, not call her for months, even forget to call her on Mother’s Day, and she’ll still be the first one at your door with homemade soup when she sees from your latest Facebook status that you’re flat on your back in bed with a nasty bug. Even when our hearts are breaking on the inside, we set aside our feelings to support you when you need it, when no one else around you understands your struggle or how to help you grieve through your failures.

Moms Love

A lot of people will love you over the span of your life, but none will ever be as unconditional or unwavering as your mother’s. Your friends will love you, but if their lives change or they find a new love interest, you’ll quickly take a back seat in their life. Your spouse will love you, but that love comes a more strings than you’ll find at a Cats In The Cradle Competition and will take more effort to keep alive than you ever expected. Not that nurturing these loves isn’t worth the relationships we enjoy because of the work we put into them; they are.

IMGP6064But Moms will love you when you fail. Or succeed. When you’re petty or magnanimous, when you lie or tell the brutal truth. We will still love you when you have to move back in. Our love is unwavering whether you meet your goals, move the goal post, fall flat on your face, or when you mess up so badly that no one believes you are capable of redemption. Moms will fight for you when you have lost the strength to fight for yourself. We’ll struggle to reach you when you don’t want to be found. Mothers love. Always.

No, I know this isn’t true of all mothers – and I honestly do not understand a woman who doesn’t feel this way about her children. But by and large, this is a universal truth. This Mother’s Day or on her birthday or just because it’s Thursday, tell your mom how much her love means to you. It will be the best gift you’ll ever give her. I promise. It is the best gift I’ve received.

Make Sure The Payoff Is Worth The Price

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I spent this morning’s flight fleshing out the chapter Negotiating Agreements from my upcoming book, All I Ever Wanted To Be Is A Stay-At-Home Mom, a look at why I believe mothers are uniquely prepared to become entrepreneurs.

The following excerpt follows a story of negotiating an agreement with my then toddler daughter and reaping the consequences when it went terribly wrong. Here is an excerpt:

Make Sure The Payoff Is Worth The Price

When I negotiated an agreement in order to get a nap, I decided that the payoff of that rest was worth trusting the judgment of a toddler. In hindsight, I was the one who was irrational, but I was so desperate for sleep, I was willing to believe that a bad agreement could work, simply because I needed it to.

As an entrepreneur, we are often faced with making alliances with partners that, if we had more money, more employees, more space, more of whatever it is we’re missing, we probably would never agree to make in the first place. I would suggest that often we should go with our gut and not make the agreement, no matter how much we think we can hold our nose and make it work. When we partner, hire, or take on a client out of desperation, it rarely works out the way we’re hoping it will. More often than not, we find ourselves facing a situation we were afraid might happen or that a colleague, investor or friend suggested we should consider as an outcome but that we dismissed due to wanting it to work more than we wanted to look at reality.

The Get-Along Rug

IMG_2973I am working on a new book that will share insights not only into my own journey but why I think women, and mothers in particular, are very well equipped to launch and run startups, even if they have spent years out of the professional workforce to raise their children.

I’m currently working on a chapter I’m titling The Get-Along Rug and thought I’d share a sneak peek into the project. Hope you enjoy.

The Get-Along Rug
Dispute Resolution and Making Nice With The Enemy

In every home we’ve lived in, there has been a throw rug designated as the “Get-Along Rug”. When the kids were small and squabbles escalated to unkind behavior, there was nothing quite so effective for bringing resolution to the problem as the children sitting on the rug holding hands until they were ready to talk things out in a more civil fashion. My daughter struggled a bit more to get to a place of civility, while her younger brother would quickly change from an angry little boy into a happy child when sitting with his sister on the rug. I always assumed it was his affectionate, peace-loving nature that made him happy to sit holding hands with his older sister. It wasn’t until recently when his sister was home visiting from college that he confessed that his happiness stemmed not from any pure motive but from sheer joy in the knowledge that his sister was suffering. It was the one sure way he could gain the upper hand with someone older and bigger; he knew just how much she hated sitting there holding his hand. It was his ultimate revenge.

When we embark on the entrepreneurial journey, we are opting into a pressure cooker of stressors and challenges. We quit stable jobs, walk away from a defined set of tasks and required skills and set out to create something from nothing. We’re forced to not only learn to wear hats we didn’t even know existed, we’re often working alongside individuals who are facing just as much risk and stress as they stretch to meet the challenges of launching and growing a startup. Learning how to manage our emotions and appropriately respond to the inevitable disputes is vital for surviving the startup life. If you think marriage or raising kids are hard, try living day-in, day-out with people who don’t share the same bonds of affection and commitment to vows made in front God and mothers-in-law. According to several studies, 62% of all startups fail due to cofounder breakups. Add that statistic to the fact that 80% of all startups fail within the first three years, and you have a tremendous challenge to overcome to be one of the few startups that find a successful exit.

Mothers spend a great deal of their time negotiating tentative cease-fires between siblings, and the skills we build through the process come in quite handy when it comes to keeping a positive environment in a startup.

International Women’s Day: It’s About All Of Us

I’ve had the remarkable opportunity to participate in two events this week that were scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day and with Women’s History Month (March). And it struck me today as I read post after post on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Reddit about how to celebrate today, that this day is about all of us as women. It celebrates women who have bucked the status quo to remove the glass ceiling and create new opportunities for women. It is about those who have fought for women to have the same civil liberties as men. It is to recognize the contributions that women have made across a wide span on industries and companies. And it is also to celebrate the very meaningful work that women do as part of raising society, of bringing up the next generation.

Both of the events I attended focused on my career and on the work I have done in the community, and I am so very honored to have been a part of those. I recently discovered that several of my former colleagues within the writing industry had actually taken bets on how long it would take me to fail when I was audacious enough to think I could create a tech company coming from a background that didn’t seem like a good fit. (This certainly explains the lack of press our company got when I first launched.) And I’m not offended by this – it’s actually amusing, because the company has outlived the length of all of their bets. And as I’ve spent the past week celebrating these accomplishments, I’ve been both humbled and encouraged to press boldly into the future with the amazing team we’ve assembled at APPCityLife.

Lisa Abeyta, 1994. Shown with son, Jonathon, with 1 year birthday cake.

Lisa Abeyta, 1994. Shown with son, Jonathon, with 1 year birthday cake.

And while no one has ever given me an award or written a news story about the job I’ve done as a mother, I am every bit as proud of the time I’ve spent caring for my family and raising my children. I spent part of my afternoon today riding along with my twenty-year-old son, and as we talked about interesting articles he’d read, about ideas he is formulating for his future, and even about the weather, my heart filled with joy that this grown man still wanted to share his ideas and his life with me. I love being a mother and the privilege it has given me to get to know each of my three children as they’ve matured and become individuals that I am so proud of.

And so on this day, International Women’s Day, I am celebrating the contributions of women from every walk of life. I am also reminded of the tremendous responsibility that all of us have to elevate the standard of living, the opportunities for education, the freedom and equal rights of women around the globe who are still raising the next generation of children despite tremendous barriers, disadvantages and sometimes horrific conditions. For those of us who have had the opportunities to spend our days and energy pushing the boundaries further forward, we need to remember our responsibility to those who have yet to taste of the opportunities we currently enjoy.

I am reminded of my great grandmother, who was one of the toughest women I’ve known. She homesteaded land in the Southwest in the middle of the Dust Bowl, often living alone for months on end while her husband was away. When she was in her eighties and not able to walk very well, I was still a little girl and loved to sit and play games with her. When I was losing, if I started to cry, she would say, “Oh, boo hoo. You can cry and feel sorry for yourself and lose anyway, or you can dry your tears, get mad and decide you’re going to try harder than last time to beat me.” Those were pretty tough words to hear for such a little girl, but my great grandmother understood the value of teaching a little girl how to be tough, to fight harder, to push forward despite feeling overwhelmed, sad, and beaten. She lived in a time and place that gave her no special exceptions for being a woman, and she learned how to survive and thrive and define her own life in the midst of it all.

If you have a woman in your life who has helped you grow, have the courage to try something new, or has made you into a better person because of their influence, take time to thank them. If you are a woman, celebrate your accomplishments and contributions to those around you. Whether you are changing an industry or a diaper, your work matters. Take pride in what you do, and do it well. Be bold, be courageous and challenge yourself to be better with every day – not only for your sake but for those whom you influence.

In keeping with my advice to others, I am learning to take pride in my accomplishments and celebrate them. I am so proud to have been named not only a 2014 Women In Tech Honoree but also a 2014 NM Women of Influence Honoree. Here is some press on those two honors:

Women Of Influence Honoree Interview

 

The Real Blessing

My teenage son and I were leaving the grocery store when I noticed a tiny, elderly lady walking past our vehicle. As my son and I placed our bags of groceries in our vehicle, I kept an eye on her as she slowly walked to the edge of the parking lot, looking left and right as she moved along. As my son climbed in, ready to leave, I set my purse down in the driver’s seat and told him I’d be right back.

I walked to where the woman was now standing, put a hand on her thin shoulder and asked if she was okay or if she needed help. She nodded, tears welling in her eyes. She told me that she was getting ready for her granddaughter’s wedding and was thinking about a hundred other things when she’d parked the car to run into the store for some sewing needles. When she came back out, she couldn’t remember where she parked.

In a moment that came from living in a different era where it was safer to trust a stranger, she asked if I would drive her around the parking lot to help her find her car, saying it was hard for her to walk at this stage of her life. I helped her into our vehicle and slowly drove her down a couple of rows as she told me all about the upcoming wedding and the garments she was sewing for the event. She eventually spotted her car, and with her voice breaking, she thanked me and told me I’d been her blessing that day.

She was wrong. She was my blessing. She reminded me of what actually makes us happy in life – true, lasting happiness, not the fleeting excitement or roller coaster of emotions that are so easy to chase to get back to the high of the emotional ride. True joy is not found in buying what we want, winning an argument or receiving accolades for accomplishments. It doesn’t come at all when we put self first. True joy is discovered in those rare moments when we find the opportunity in front of us to help another, to give a small part of ourselves to make things better for someone else.

You Are My Sunshine

This morning my youngest woke up with a stuffy nose, a bit wheezy … and thinking he had a good chance of developing a believable case of Yellow Bus Fever. You know – the kind that goes away when the school bus drives by. And as I booted him out the door to make it through the day, I was reminded of a day that seems now like another lifetime, but one that changed absolutely everything for me as a mother. I rummaged through some old files and found the original essay that actually won a prize in a contest about a life-changing event. It’s a bit long, but here it is:

Good news never comes at three in the morning.

It just doesn’t.

I answer the jangling phone with apprehension, wondering who has died. Maybe it’s a wrong number.

It is a young man asking for my newborn – by name. That was fast. Barely on the planet for a week, and the little guy’s already receiving phone calls.

“This is his mother,” I reply.

“Uh, sorry, ma’am. I see now that he’s a newborn.” He stumbles over his words. “I know this may sound odd, but I need you to go check your baby and make sure he’s not running a fever or anything. Just make sure he’s okay.”

Now I’m scared. I sit up and ask, “Who is this?” My husband rouses long enough to mumble for me to hang up and go to sleep.

“This is the medical lab. I’m the night technician.”

Fully awake, I cross our bedroom and head for the baby’s crib. “What’s wrong?” I ask. It’s been two days since blood was drawn for a fever. They already found a strep infection in his blood, and I’ve been faithful with the medications sent home with me.

“Uh,” he pauses. This is one articulate guy. “Well, actually I can’t tell you that. I just need to verify the baby’s okay.”

I drop the phone on the counter and run to my baby, my breath coming in short, shallow gasps.

I feel his tiny forehead.

Normal.

I put my finger under his nose and sigh with relief as his breath warms my hand.

He’s fine.

I walk back to the phone and find I am trembling. “He’s okay,” I assure this technician. “Now I want to know what is so wrong with my son that you’re calling me in the middle of the night.”

“You’ll have to ask the doctor.”

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, but it does nothing to dissipate the anger building inside. “I want your name. I am filing a complaint first thing in the morning. This is ridiculous!”

We sit silent on the phone for a few moments. I am hoping he is weighing the risk of a customer complaint against getting in trouble for not following proper procedure.

Finally, he speaks. “Your baby’s neutrophil count is 8. The protocol when it’s that low is to call immediately to make sure the patient isn’t in immediate danger.”

Neutrophil? “What is a neutrophil?” I ask.

“It’s the part of the white blood cell that protects against bacterial infection. It should be in the hundreds of thousands.” He speaks with an authority that is somehow reassuring, even while he’s delivering bad news. “Your doctor will be notified and will call first thing in the morning. That’s really all I can say, okay?”

I spend the rest of the night researching the internet.

Cancer.

Leukemia.

Blood disorder.

Every new site seems worst than the last, full of words that no mother wants to hear about her own child.

I turn off the computer and sit in the dark, thinking of the day I discovered I was pregnant again. I’d suffered through seven miscarriages early in our marriage trying for children and was already blessed with a beautiful daughter and son. And when this last baby tried to come into the world too early, I stayed in bed for almost twenty weeks to ensure his healthy birth. I took every precaution imaginable.

I watch the stars twinkle in the night sky and remember his big sister just days ago holding our newborn in the hospital, her face shining. I recall our young son telling the nurse what good care he is going to take of his little brother. I picture my husband, his face softened with joy as he holds his youngest child in his strong hands and recall the smile we share over this new miracle of life. And then I wonder how we will ever bear this terrible news. Our family is already falling hard for this little guy.

As the sun finally rises on my shattered world, I hear the baby fussing, hungry again. He suckles on my breast as my tears drip onto his cheek. He opens his eyes, flails a tiny fist and grabs tightly to my finger.

I wipe my eyes and pull myself together.

I have been given another day with this little bundle of blessing. Whatever the future holds, I will be grateful. However short the time, I will cherish it.

I swallow hard and smile.

“My precious little guy,” I whisper and begin singing softly.

You are my sunshine. My only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey…

Update: Seven long months, many consultations with specialists and hundreds of tests later, our son was diagnosed with Cyclic Neutropenia.