Give Yourself Some Grace :: Your Kids Will Be Fine
A few weeks ago, I was out in the evening with one of my younger, working mom friends. People kept asking her if her husband was “babysitting” their kids so she could go out. She would shyly smile while I would assert “No, he is a parent too. He’s parenting.”
One week later, I hosted a big event for my husband’s milestone birthday. We had over 100 people in attendance – old friends, new friends, work friends …. the list goes on. Two young moms, one pushing a stroller and the other looking around frantically for her little one, asked me: How do you do it all and do this too? After I stopped laughing, I reminded them that I’ve been doing this much, much longer than them — and that my 11-year-old is much more self-sufficient than their little ones. I’ve been there sisters, and I have stories to tell.
Both experiences got me thinking: What does it mean to “have it all” and “do it all?” And is that really the goal or does life just happen in stages? I’m in my 40s now but when I was a 20-something young woman working on my career and starting a family, I had NO idea what I didn’t know. And I was so hard on myself for making mistakes. If I’ve learned anything in the past 20 years, it is to give yourself a little grace. You are doing the best you can, with the resources and knowledge that you have. Maybe you didn’t wash the dishes today – you’ll do them tomorrow (or someone else can pitch in). Maybe you’ve put on a few pounds – they make pants in that size too. Maybe your kid ate Cane’s for dinner three days in a row (guilty!) – they will survive and they will be fine.
I’ve been on many a work trip when someone asks me where my child is while I’m away, who was “babysitting?” While I’ve always been tempted to answer that I left him with the hotel bartender, I usually counter with something about him having THREE other parents/step-parents. Ten years ago if someone asked me that, I probably would have cried.
My sister is a teacher and one time I called her, frantic about some issue I can’t even remember when my son was in first grade. She told me: The fact that you are even worried about that is proof that he will be fine. She was right. This has stuck with me ever since. I began to wonder, how can I tell other moms what it took me 20 years to learn?
I started asking my friends — what did you wish you knew when you were starting out? What do you wish someone had said to you? The answers are still coming in and they can be summed up in these key themes:
1. There is No Right Answer
The guilt, the joy, and the guilt of being joyful. Want to go back to work immediately after birth because it brings you joy? Great. Your kids will be fine. Want to stay home and soak up all that baby time? Great. Your kids will be fine too. Whichever path is yours, there is no ‘right’ answer and there is no need to feel guilty either way. (Personally, I went back to work when my son was eight weeks old because, for me, work was way easier than caring for an infant. Facts.)
2. Realistic Self Care
We can’t all spend every weekend at the spa or by the pool, especially if you are a single parent, but what can we realistically do to protect our mental and physical health? Even if it’s sitting quietly by yourself for 20 minutes. Let your kids have some screen time. They will be fine.
3. Maintaining Your Identity … Or Shifting It
I am a mom. But I am also a lot of other things: a wife, an aunt, a friend, a daughter, a volunteer, a fundraiser, a sister, etc. I can be all those things and it does not take away from my role as a mom. In fact, it probably makes me better.
4. Sorry, Not Sorry
I’ve taken to starting my delayed emails with something like: “Thank you for your patience,” rather than “Sorry for my late email.” We are all busy and you do not owe someone an immediate response. Use your best judgment, of course. But remember when we didn’t have phones in our pockets and if someone wanted to chat they had to call you at night or on the weekend? Remember that? It was fine. Just because someone wants your attention right now, that does not mean you have to give it to them.
5. It Takes a Village
Cliche, yes but when my son was 13 months old, we moved across the country to Louisiana, 2,500 miles away from everyone and everything I’d ever known. Those 100 people at my husband’s birthday party last week? The village we’ve built in the last 10 years. It is people at all stages of life, it is diverse, and it is inclusive. The broader your network, the stronger you will be and the more you will learn. In New Orleans, everyone is family and, as working moms, we should take advantage of this uniqueness. (Shout out to the other parents who run carpool for me! You are the best, carpool is the worst.)
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
That includes the kids! Kids can make their own lunches, do their own laundry, pick up their toys, and take out the trash. Consider it teaching them life skills. I often tell my family that no one gets paid to work here so we are all responsible for maintaining our home. It is the ultimate group project and everyone has a role to play – no matter their age. Fun fact: I’ve been married twice and never have I ever done someone else’s laundry.
7. You Are Not Alone!
Whatever you are going through, someone has been there before. What’s that thing about nothing new under the sun? Others have done it, survived it, and want to share their experiences with you. ASK. And then ASK AGAIN. Do I want more kids of my own? No thanks. Will I come over and hold your baby so that you can take a shower? Absolutely.
8. Say No Without the Guilt
My favorite line from a Friends episode is when someone asks Phoebe to go to a party. She answers “Oh I would, but I don’t want to.” Best. Line. Ever. Do you want to have a quiet night at home? Great. Do it. No guilt. Do you want to have a couple of glasses of wine out with friends, sans partner and kids? Awesome. Do that.
Anyone who has lived through a sociology class knows about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging (friendship), esteem, and self-actualization. No one reaches self-actualization every day. Or every month. Or every year. Some days, providing food, clothing, and love are all you can do. But you are doing your best. Give yourself some grace.
About the Author
Stephanie Davi McNeely has been in and around the nonprofit fundraising space for nearly twenty years. She oversees development and strategic partnerships, for the ACE Mentor Program of America, a national nonprofit mentoring program based in Philadelphia. There she is responsible for corporate and individual fundraising initiatives, as well as the growth and development of national partnerships with design and construction firms. In her spare time, she plays mom’s league softball, watches her son play soccer, takes French class through the Alliance, and serves as the First Lady of the University of Holy Cross in Algiers.
She resides in New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband and 11-year-old son.