Confession: I always feel a little bit guilty when I drop my kids off in the carpool line on the first day after the summer holidays. And I know it’s irrational. It’s irrational because of course they have to go to school. And it’s irrational for me to feel guilty that I’m not spending my days preparing for them to arrive home each afternoon. I know many moms are familiar with this feeling, whether they work outside of the home or not. It’s hard not to feel guilty at the best of times, never mind when you can tell your child is nervous to go back to school, or when you’re already going through your to-do list for work as you wave goodbye.
Growing up, although I took after my father’s fiery personality and independent spirit, I knew that people would expect me to take after my mother. She was the caretaker and peacekeeper of the house, as were the mothers of most of my friends. She was always gracious, always nurturing, always proper, and always unfailingly supportive of my father’s career. So, when I held an adoption fundraiser, which led to dreams of starting my own company, which then led to owning my own company, I had misgivings. The whole time I wondered whether starting Noonday Collection would put my Good Mom status in jeopardy.
What I found most galling and shameful about this back-to-school “mom guilt,” as I like to call it, was that most of it seemed to stem from comparing myself to other moms. Throughout the first few years after starting the business, I found myself constantly lining myself up next to Super Mom and finding that I fell short. When I say Super Mom, I’m referring to the do-it-all PTA participant who never misses an activity and doesn’t work outside of the home. Or, maybe you are that mom I’m describing, and the Super Mom in your head is a CEO who runs her business successfully and earns enough money to send her kids to all the camps and never has a hair out of place.
See, the thing is, Super Mom is just a myth, a creation that comes from each of our insecurities and worries. None of us, no matter how “perfect” we may look, are without our own unique brand of mom guilt.
Over the course of my journey as a working mom, I’ve been forced to come to terms with the fact that there’s no set definition of a good mom. Originally, I wondered whether I could be caring, nurturing, and attentive despite my career. But now I know that I am caring, nurturing, and attentive in part because of my career. Building my socially conscious jewelry business, Noonday Collection, from the ground up has lent me a sense of compassion and understanding that I don’t think I would have found anywhere else. And, eventually, I found that my kids were catching on to the vision and growing in compassion and understanding, too.
I realized that it’s up to us moms (and women in general) to actively decide not to define ourselves based on how we line up next to others. If we all banded together, we could accomplish feats that no one woman could do alone. And our children would notice and start to follow our example.
So, I have two pieces of advice for you: First, find ways throughout your day to encourage other women and moms. We all have our struggles and doubts, no matter what our individual stories look like. And second, trust your children. Teach them how to make decisions. Teach them kindness. Remember that they learn much more simply from watching you follow your own story than by anything you try overtly to impress upon them. Show your daughters what it means to lead an impactful life, whether through motherhood or a career or both. Show them what it looks like when a woman pushes aside the story she thinks she should be living, and boldly steps forward into a story that is all her own—imperfections and all.
To learn more about Jessica Honegger, check out her forthcoming book, Imperfect Courage: Live a Life of Purpose by Leaving Comfort and Going Scared (August 14, 2018).