After my first son was born, I initially went back to my job on a part-time basis. This worked very well at first, until my biggest case got busy and I started working much longer hours. I remember feeling like I couldn’t be a good mom to my son and do as well at work as I would like.
And I know that I wasn’t alone. Nearly every working mom that I know has felt the same way at some point.
Understand Your Mama Brain
Adult human brains are exceptionally good at finding problems. Problems at work, in the world, and in our own lives. But when you become a mom, your brain gets structurally rewired and becomes even better at spotting potential threats.
These changes are great at helping us form strong attachments to our children and keeping them alive in potentially dangerous situations. But it can make parenting in our modern world while maintaining a career even more challenging.
Couple that with societal pressure to achieve perfection, as well as the tremendous demands of raising young children and having a busy career, and you have all of the ingredients for a perfect storm.
To make matters worse, nobody teaches us how to manage our anxiety-prone mama brains, so we find ourselves living on an emotional roller coaster much of the time. Mind management is required if you want to be productive, feel happy, and thrive as a working mom. Here’s the first step to doing that.
Look At What You’re Telling Yourself
The feelings of guilt and inadequacy that I experienced as a new mom didn’t just happen to me, and they don’t just happen to you either. They are created by the thoughts that we tell ourselves every day. We often repeat some thoughts so much that we’ve accepted them as true, as beliefs. Often our subconscious thoughts and beliefs are dictating how we feel and what we do in ways that we don’t realize.
For example, if your mother stayed home with you when you were a child, you may have the subconscious belief that “mothers should stay home with their children.” If you are working despite having this belief, you might find yourself feeling guilt-ridden every time you leave for work. It’s not because you work that you feel guilty, it’s because you’re thinking that you should be home with your children. Another mother without that thought can go to work and not experience a scintilla of guilt.
Likewise, if you’re telling yourself “I can’t do everything I need to do for work because I have to take care of my kids,” that thought is also likely to create the feeling of anxiety, guilt, or inadequacy at work.
But these feelings of guilt and inadequacy do not invite us to become our best selves. To the contrary, they usually drive us to overcompensate, burn the candle at both ends, lose sleep, and waste a lot of time spinning in negative self-talk, rather than taking productive action.
When you do that, you’re not showing up as the best version of yourself at work or with your kids, and you become mentally and physically exhausted, on the verge of burning out. It’s really hard to do your best work when you’re operating at this level and you’re likely to be unhappy with your results, both as a professional and as a mom.
The truth is that the negative thoughts that cause us to feel this way are 100% optional. And since they cause us to create negative results in our lives, there is really no good reason to continue to think them.
You Get To Decide How You Want To Feel
The fact is that you have 24 hours in the day and you’re a professional and a mother.
How do you want to feel about that fact? Maybe you just want to feel adequate at both your job and being a mom.
Here are some thoughts that can help create the feeling of adequacy:
- I can’t do everything (because I’m human) but I can do what is most important at home and at work.
- I’m figuring out how to balance motherhood and my career, and that’s okay.
- Working for income is an important part of taking care of my family.
- There are times when I cannot work because I choose to tend to my family, and that’s okay.
- There are times when I cannot be at home because I choose to tend to my work, and that’s okay.
Thoughts like these are likely to be very different from what you’re currently telling yourself. You have to believe them in order to feel better, so if you don’t believe any of these, write down thoughts that you can believe that are more neutral than what you’re currently telling yourself.
Begin to practice these new thoughts daily by consciously directing your mind to them. Your old thoughts will be competing with these new thoughts and they’ll be easier to believe at first because you’ve been practicing them for so long. But how you feel is the direct result of how much airtime you decide to give the old thoughts versus the new ones. And feeling better is the first step toward creating better results.
Now that I’ve learned to apply mind management to my own life, my dominant thought about being a mom with a career is this: I am a better mom because I have a career that I love. My career energizes me. It gives me time and space to make a contribution. After a good day’s work, I relish the time I spend with my children. This thought serves me so much better than the thoughts I had as a new mom. It makes me feel calm, peaceful, and motivated. And it’s available 24/7 to anyone who wants to borrow it.
How do you want to feel about being a mom with a career?
Go forth, grow, and bloom.
P.S. Because this is such a big issue for so many moms and there is so much to cover, this post is divided into two parts. See Part 2 for more tools to help you manage your mama brain.