We’re All Guilty When it Comes to Judging Other Parents

rockstarmom

When I said that I was running a conference and getting ready to go on stage and couldn’t get to the school before school let out for the day, the assistant high school principal told me that maybe it was time I made my son my priority.

She has no idea.

She has no idea about the changes I made in my life to be more available for my youngest, who is twice exceptional and has had a very difficult time navigating the innane structure we call public school. She has no idea how difficult it was for me to make the decision to go to work after being a stay-at-home mom for well over a decade. She has no idea the number of hours I volunteered when my older kids were in school, or how many of those hours were spent volunteering my own time answering phones in the very office where she now sits every day. She has no idea of my own heartbreak when I would arrive home from my part-time job at 3 AM on a Sunday morning to find my youngest asleep, curled up in a ball on cold tile near the garage door, where he would wait for me until he fell asleep. She doesn’t know that it was his inability to cope with my job that motivated me to launch my own company where I could be the boss and decide my hours. She has no idea how hard it was to have to fly out of state that first time I left him at home with his dad and his older brother — or the growth in confidence I saw in my son because of my travel. She has no clue about the number of times I have walked out of meetings in New York City, San Francisco, and everywhere in between to help him talk out his frustration and walk through his options to make a better choice in a difficult situation. She has no idea — none at all — about my life, my commitment to my family, or my own personal struggles in making all of the different demands on my time and my life work on a daily basis.

She has absolutely no idea.

But, all the same, she made my life — and my son’s life — incredibly hard that day, if for no other reason than to teach me a lesson because I wasn’t the mom she decided I should be.

Let’s don’t do that to each other.

Life is hard enough, and we’re all just trying to figure it out. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I’ve worked part-time from home. And I’ve worked as an entrepreneur where I basically work ALL the hours in a day when I am not taking care of my family.

None of these roles is easy or perfect. And none of us gets to decide what works for someone else.

So the next time you start to tsk-tsk and judge some other mother or father, remind yourself: YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

In fact, all you have is a wrong attitude.

And that, at least in my book, means you have even more to work on than whomever you are judging.

That woman who judged me? She works as an administrator at a school. That is a full time position with many evening hours required. I can bet that I am often at home more hours in a day with my son that she is with her kids (if she has any). But she judged me in that moment, because I am a CEO who travels to other cities and who runs conferences and has obligations that sometimes mean I simply cannot drop everything to drive to school to sign a piece of paper that says that I understand my kid had his phone out in a class when he wasn’t supposed to. I sent an email — while standing backstage. I spoke to someone by phone (while my cofounder took the stage in my place). But when I couldn’t make it to school by 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, she made a decision to refuse to release the phone at the end of the day to my son. She made that decision after I begged her not to — not because I didn’t want my son held accountable but because it created a risk for my family. She was well aware of the consequences of what she was doing — leaving my son without a phone to call 911 in an emergency. She chose to send a kid home without his cell phone, knowing he had no home phone. I think the most astounding comments from her and her colleagues were that I was the one who decided to get rid of our house phone (really — what about every kid out there without a house or a phone?) and the suggestion that I could just go buy a burner phone (um, maybe the part about me not being able to leave didn’t quite sink in — and, besides — really? Do you know more than a handful of parents in your school that have money to blow when an administrator makes an arbitrary decision to keep personal property overnight which also serves as a child’s sole access to a phone line? How did administrators become so elitist that this is a valid response in their mind?).

So I’m left to wonder who cared less about the kid in question. The one begging the administrator to find another way to punish a kid other than leave him without a way to call 911 or the one who decided his phone could stay locked up overnight after being made aware of the consequences of her decision.

Well, that’s a lie. I don’t wonder. I know. And I believe that any school district that doesn’t think about the consequences of withholding phones overnight when many children no longer have home phones — and many don’t even have homes — and that if school boards and administrators are not considering the liability of lawsuits generated from such a policy, they should be. It will happen, and it won’t be pretty. And for the family that suffers the tragedy that results from that policy? They will never recover the loss that some school personnel decided was a negligible risk and worth the possible lawsuit.

I’ve been guilty of judging other parents myself, so I’m including myself in this admonition: Let’s do better. Let’s support each other. Let’s make life a little better, a littler easier, a little less lonely for the rest of the parents who are trying to do their best, the same as you or me.

Put yourself in the shoes of the parent you are judging. Could you live with their stress, with their obligations and responsibilities? Probably. Most of us rise to whatever we have to face. But why do we feel ok about ourselves, even self-righteous, about tearing someone else down whose parenting and lifestyle looks different than our own?

It’s a tough gig, this parenting thing. So is teaching. Maybe instead of assuming we’re at odds, we ought to find ways to support each other and make it work better for everyone.

That’s the world I want to live in, no matter how many hours a day it takes to make that happen.

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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.

A ‘Glamorous’ Week in the Life of a Woman Entrepreneur

Enjoying an outing with my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews.

Enjoying an outing with my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews.

I was recently at the private opening of a new establishment with my cofounder of Hautepreneurs, a company we founded to enable women entrepreneurs in our state to think and create bigger, successful companies – a passion project in addition to our main careers – which, for me, is APPCityLife, a global civic tech platform connecting people and cities, and for Jessica, a serial entrepreneur, includes a myriad of companies like Untoxicating Beauty, a monthly subscription box curated organic and eco-friendly makeup, as well as Leverage Legal, an award-winning virtual law firm.

After negotiating schedules, it turned out that this event provided the most convenient time to connect with someone whose schedule was even more packed than ours. Thus I found myself in a somewhat surreal moment – weaving my way through paparazzi (if you can even call it that here in Albuquerque) and excusing myself through a long, snaking line of people who had, for hours already, been waiting their turn to get in.

When we finally reached the front of the line, a gentleman wearing dark sunglasses, a dark suit and an ear piece curly-quing its way to the back of his shirt, barked his question at us without looking up.

“Name?”

We answered, he checked his clipboard, and turned to a woman nearby, giving her instructions as to whom we were meeting. As we were waiting for our dinner companion to free up, a friend commented to us that she found our lives exciting and glamorous. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I laughed out loud. I’m not saying I don’t love what I’m doing or that I haven’t enjoyed some incredible opportunities and experiences, but glamorous? Being a founder of a startup – especially as a woman – is usually anything but glamorous.

After her comment, I decided that perhaps it was time to share a few snippets of my week so that others get a view of what it is like to do what I do. I have no idea if this is what it is like for other women growing companies, but I’m pretty sure their lives are just as crazy busy and full of the regular messiness of life.

Monday

It is 4 PM when I realize I have completely forgotten about parent night which starts at our high school in just a few hours. My day began at 4:30 AM, and I am so not in the mood to scurry from one end of the high school to another and back again to follow my son’s schedule and hear the same thing in every class: I am your kid’s teacher, this is my name, this is how you can reach me, I don’t answer my phone during the day so don’t bother calling, this is how I grade, and this is what I think of the class your kid is in. But I go, because I need to meet them, and because my son needs to know I want to meet them. I am not as available for the school with this child; I can’t volunteer for bake sales or drive kids places; my schedule just won’t allow it. I walk home from parent night feeling a bit like a gladiator who gets to live another day.

Tuesday

In the middle of a meeting, I realize that I forgot to pick up my kid’s band uniform from the dry cleaners, and he needs to be in it by the end of the day when he rides the bus with his band members to an event. I text my older son who is currently on campus at the university and ask if he has time to get it. He bails me out. I go back to paying attention to my meeting. After my meeting I listen to a voicemail message from the school nurse reminding me I still haven’t turned in the form they need on file.

Wednesday

I spend the day buried in work. Somehow without me noticing, the clock skipped from 10:30 AM to 4:52 PM, and I am nowhere near finished. I take a break long enough to throw some clothes in the washer, yell upstairs to my son to come set the table, and stare into the refrigerator as if by doing so something will magically appear that I can serve for supper. I peel away the wrapping on a frozen clump of ground turkey and drop it like a rock into a cold skillet and fill a pot with water, setting it to boil. It isn’t until the noodles are almost cooked and the meat almost ready that I realize I don’t have any marinara sauce. I used to be a food writer, spending days tweaking a single recipe. If I have thirty minutes to put supper on the table now – that is a good day. My teenager recently told me, “Someone at my school was saying something about this business lady they read about, and I realized they were talking about you. I don’t see you as a business lady. I just see you as the lady who used to have time to make homemade pizza but doesn’t anymore.” We can all live without homemade pizza, but I hear the wish behind the words and purpose to make him pizza later in the week.

Thursday

I attend a community event where I receive an award. I sit among my peers feeling incredibly grateful for this honor, making sure to savor this moment of my journey. It is far too easy when building a startup to not actually celebrate milestones or awards or special occasions but to see each as a goal to check off of a list in order to move on to the next. The fear of losing momentum, of not building more success on top of the last success can often inhibit our ability to fully celebrate the good stuff. I text my husband that the event has run long, and I won’t be home in time for dinner. He heats up something for the family and is putting the food away when I finally get home. As I’m standing at the sink cleaning dishes from a meal I didn’t even get to share with my family, wearing my favorite apron to protect the nice dress I’m still wearing, I joke that where I am at this moment is closer to the true reality of a woman founder of a company instead of the glamour that others see when they simply read the blurb in the paper the next day about the awards ceremony. And it isn’t that I don’t have help – my husband has been incredibly supportive; it’s that I can’t let myself off the hook. I don’t want to give up being mom, and so I push to try to do it all, even when it means doing dishes in a fancy dress at ten o’clock at night.

Friday

I finally make pizza for the family and look forward to a chance to relax a bit and decompress. Instead, I find my mind wandering, and I begin to making mental checklists for the weekend, for the team next week, for upcoming deadlines. I find it hard to let it go, to actually think about something else. In quiet moments, whether they hit at 2 AM or 9 PM on a Friday night – I end up with my thoughts back again with our company. I feel lucky to have a spouse working in the same startup. While it means that some days may end up feeling like a 24-hour board meeting, it also means having a spouse who gets the obsession, the intense focus – it becomes a shared thing rather than something that can tear a couple apart when only one is building a company.

Saturday

With a business trip coming up the next day, I spend the entire day getting ready to leave. It isn’t the packing or prepping for the meeting that takes so long – it’s getting everyone else ready for when I’m gone. I make sure there is enough food to heat up so the 14 year old has supper if his brother gets in late. I make sure everyone’s laundry is at least clean, if not folded. I go over my high schooler’s schedule and talk to him about what he needs to do while I am gone. I make sure he has found a ride home from the game so that I don’t have to worry while I’m gone. And when evening hits, I decide that packing can wait for the morning. I share a flurry of back and forth emails with a potential investor and schedule a time to meet when I am back in town.

Sunday

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

Lawrence and I hanging out with Chris and Aileen Gemma Smith at 500 Startups in San Francisco.

This is usually our day, the day we set aside, but we don’t have that luxury this particular Sunday. An early meeting is scheduled on the West Coast for the next day, so my husband, who is traveling along with me this time to address the technical aspects of the project, and I have to fly out a day early. We land in San Francisco late afternoon and spend a nice evening visiting with friends that we met earlier in the year in New York City and who are now part of an accelerator in the Bay Area. We talk about startups and open data and civic tech; it is a nice evening sharing common interests with friends. We check into our hotel late that evening and prep for our meeting before calling it a night.

Monday

A new work week, and it starts all over again. There is no place to get off of this ride, and if there was, I wouldn’t want to take it. I love what I’m doing, and I love what our team is building. We’re solving big problems with global reach, and we’re meeting the challenges necessary to not only keep our company afloat but to build it quickly enough to meet the growing demand. It’s not what I would call glamorous by any means, and we have all sacrificed a lot of personal time and money to make it happen. But when you’re in the middle of something that sparks your passion and where your vision sees the end game, you don’t see the sacrifice – you just see the value of the journey.

 

I Have Become “That Mom”

"Mom Making Breakfast" by Thomas Abeyta at age 4.

“Mom Making Breakfast” by Thomas Abeyta at age 4.

I have become that mom.

I’m the one who shows up over three hours late for school registration and endures the rolling eyes of parent volunteers who can’t imagine anything more important than standing in long lines to fill out identical information on eleven different forms – the same information, by the way, from the packet I sent back to school only a week late last year.

I used to be on the other side of the table, the one who watched the moms who showed up at school in their business suits, fresh lipstick and high heels. I used to sigh quietly, judging them just a bit for their choices, for not putting their kids first, for picking their career over family. I used to feel pretty smug about it, too, because I saw myself as making all the right choices.

Sure, I talked the right talk and said polite things in public. I’d say things like, “Oh, I admire working moms, because they have it so much harder than me. I don’t know how they get it all done. I could never do that.” Or sometimes when I was talking to a working mom, I’d tell her, “You know, it’s all about choices. As long as yours fit your values and your lifestyle, that’s all that matters.” But inside I had my own opinion about the kinds of values that a working mom must have to make the choices she did.

On the inside, I was judging. I was weighing her choices in the balance and believing that mine were far superior. I was so involved with my kids that I often lobbied for new PTA committees that I could run. I was the teacher’s right hand man. I was “in” with the school administration, and it felt really good.

And to be honest, I loved my life the way it was. It worked for me, and it was a privilege to get to stay home. I wouldn’t trade any other choice for the time I got to do that, because it made me happy and, thus, made my kids happy.

When my husband and I sat down five years ago and talked about the changes that would come if I did, indeed, launch my own company, APPCityLife, we talked about what it would mean for our home life. We made the choice together that it was worth it and that I should pursue this passion.

Let me just say I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I knew I’d be busy and that my time wouldn’t be completely my own anymore. I knew that there would be events at school that I’d have to miss and that sometimes my youngest would have to let himself into an empty house. I figured that there would be a trip here and there that would mean that the older kids would have to step up and help out with things around the house and with watching their younger sibling. But I had absolutely no idea the extent of the demands that would be placed on me or how little of my time would actually be my own. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what was coming, because I might have missed out on one of the most challenging, exciting and rewarding experiences of my life.

And so now I’ve come full circle to being that mom – the one I used to judge. Now I miss some of my kid’s school events because of a meeting with a client. Supper is late almost every night, and it isn’t the gourmet version we enjoyed when I stayed home. Actually, far more often than I ever thought possible, supper is a carton of leftovers eaten cold at 9 PM when I finally make it home. I’ve had twenty-four hours on the ground between business trips in separate countries, and the bottom of the laundry basket hasn’t been spotted in months. The fold and delivery service I used to provide to my family has become more of a that-basket-of-laundry-is-clean-so-dig-around-and-find-what-you-need service. And I’ve even had to tag team a pediatrician appointment with my husband so we could get our sick kid to the doctor and still make our meetings. I’m sure that one raised eyebrows, but I was too busy rushing out of the examining room to get to city hall on time to even notice or care what anyone else thought.

So the next time you look at someone and judge her as being that mom – whichever side of the table you find yourself on – just remember that life might just give you the opportunity to walk in her shoes, and you may find you like it.

If you relate, you might want to join our I am That Mom Group on Facebook

This blog was also published on Huffington Post.

Why one Group of Travelers Hope I Don’t Win Mother of the Year

imageFor me, one of the strangest parts of traveling for business is how much it has changed me as a mother. Gone are the days where I am accessible all day every day, and it’s meant I’ve had to give up on the idea that I can somehow control the outcome of things happening several time zones away. It also means that sometimes, when things go south on the home front, I end up having to parent through an iPhone. This leads to some seriously awkward moments.

Here is what yesterday looked like:

4:00 AM: Alarm on my iPhone informs me that, whether I like it or not, four hours of sleep is the limit. I drag out of bed in the dark, fumble around to find the “on” button for the coffee maker and get dressed in the dark, hoping that my husband can get a few more minutes of sleep before he has to get up to take me to the airport.

4:15 AM: I make a cup of coffee and say good morning to my husband who is now awake and drinking coffee. I mumble um-hmm’s in my husband’s direction, hoping I haven’t distractedly agreed to anything I’ll later regret.

4:30 AM: I dump out my untouched cup of coffee, realize I didn’t tell my sons goodbye the night before and leave for the airport with a pang in my heart that I missed a goodbye.

5:00 AM: I kiss my husband goodbye and roll my carry on suitcase into the airport only to realize that our usually empty TSA line is snaking through enough velvet rope to host a red carpet event. I spend the next half hour regretting that I didn’t get up earlier, wondering if I am going to miss my flight.

5:30 AM: I am at the front of the TSA line and hand the agent my iPhone to scan the QR code for my ticket. Why do I always worry that this isn’t going to work despite having done it many times? She hands back my phone and grunts for me to move to the right. I wish I’d saved my fresh cup of coffee for her; she needs it worse than me.

5:35 AM: I join another line of people in varying stages of partially disrobing before entering the scanner so another TSA agent can finish disrobing me with their camera. I’m waved over to a rubber mat where yet another TSA agent asks if she can touch my hair. What am I going to say? No? She probes around my up-do, asking if there is anything under there besides the barrette she feels. No, I tell her, there isn’t. If I was wearing a beehive, I’d get the question. I used to hide all kinds of things in my mom’s beehive while she was sleeping.

5:45 AM: I run into a couple of friends who are building another tech startup in our state. We chat for a few moments about the challenges of building a startup in the middle of a desert – and about the fact that we wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else. I text a flurry of I-love-you’s and goodbyes before boarding the plane.

7:30 AM: I land in another city and turn on my phone. It starts buzzing as almost three hours’ worth of texts, emails, and social media interactions vy for my attention.  I check my texts first.
HUSBAND: our youngest says he is too sick to go school
SON: Dad is trying to make me go to school sick.
HUSBAND: he is taking a shower but says he is going to throw up
SON: (litany of complaints about the unfairness and cruelty of his present circumstances.)
I sigh. You have to understand, this is an ongoing issue and due more to anxiety over a change in routine than to any real illness.

7:40 AM: I find my suitcase at the gate and make my way to a very long, slow line waiting for a shuttle to the main terminal. I decide it is time for some iPhone Parenting.
SON: (croaking and weak voice for effect) hello?
ME: What’s going on?
SON: Long, dramatic story of how horrible his life is at the moment. His voice has miraculously recovered.
ME: You’re going to school.
Strangers turn their head slightly, only hearing my side of the conversation.
SON: Impassioned plea for mercy. Gory details of throwing up.
ME: You’re going to school.
SON: But I’ll throw up.
ME: That’s fine. You can throw up at school. If you stay home, you will lose your X-Box until summer break. (By the way, I haven’t thanked Microsoft properly for giving me such a wonderful bargaining chip.)
SON: Unidentifiable mumbling and a grumpy goodbye.

7:41 AM: The man in front of me turns fully around and gives me a nasty look. Another couple exchange a “look” and shake their heads visibly so I will know they disapprove. Another woman cluck-clucks her tongue.

7:43 AM: I receive a text from my son. He is going to school. The lady inside my head does a little happy dance and then sits down in the corner to feel just a tiny bit guilty about being such a mean mom.

It’s a different life, this journey of being a CEO and founder of a company while being a mother, wife and daughter. But I’m figuring it out one day at a time and making peace with the realization that I’m going to have to do by making up my rules all along the way.

11:45 PM: I receive a text from my older son.
SON: It might be the food I made for supper, but I’ve been throwing up…

11:46 PM: It dawns on me that I probably sent a sick kid to school and infected his classmates and teachers.