I will never pretend I don't have children again.
My children are everything to me and being a mother is a huge part of my identity. It has been for almost 15 years. That is except for the one year I was asked by my former boss, who also happened to be a woman, to tone down the "mommy thing."
It still haunts me. I decided to return to work after being home with AD for 20 months. My oldest, AL, was 8-years-old and I had also recently had my daughter B. She was only 4-months-old and I was still nursing, yet I accepted a job in the corporate office of a franchise company to manage their communications. I wanted to give my "career" a chance. Looking back, I now realize I was overwhelmed at home and suffering from a major case of the grass is always greener.
I knew on my first commute into work that I had made a mistake. I cried as I drove around the beltway to work and again as I drove back home in the dark, but I wanted to give my new opportunity a chance. I told myself I would do it for one year and just see how I felt then. I ignored my instincts.
On my first day I sat in a room with my new department and we took turns introducing ourselves. Of course, I went on and on about being a mother to three children. No one else mentioned their kids. In fact, I didn't realize anyone else on the team even had children until later. After our departmental meeting, my new boss pulled me aside and "suggested" that I don't lead with the "mommy thing." I was stunned and insulted and embarrassed. I figured she had to know what she was talking about. I had never worked in the private sector before. My experience had always been with not-for-profit organizations, trade associations, or at a newspaper. Again, I ignored my instincts.
Instead, I fell in line and kept talk of my children to only my closest work friends. I didn't lead with the "Mom thing" and I was miserable A LOT. I was asked to travel to their North Carolina office for a two-day meeting and I couldn't even acknowledge that I didn't want to go because I was a nursing mom and the thought of leaving my baby for two nights brought me to tears. I brought my pump, but my chest almost exploded because I didn't feel like I could ask for pumping breaks during this marathon meeting of all men and my boss who didn't have children. The pain was excruciating, but I just suffered silently. I went back to my hotel room and tried to relieve my breasts, which felt like rocks, and I cried and cursed myself.
I hated working in an industry where I was usually the only woman in the room. Everyone was respectful and plenty of people could see the value I added to the company, but I wasn't always comfortable because I wasn't able to be me. I wasn't able to be true to all of me. I couldn't chat about the late-night feedings or the weaning of my daughter or the amazing no hitter my son pitched. I had to miss Thanksgiving lunch at my son's school and tell my boss I had a doctor's appointment instead of admitting I was going to a parent-teacher conference.
I grew resentful and didn't feel like there was a compromise to be found. I decided that I couldn't have the career I wanted and be the mother I wanted to be -- at least not at this company. So, exactly one year after starting I left the company and started my daycare. I promised myself that I would never again compromise who I am. I would never again pretend I didn't have children. I would be a better advocate for myself and for other women.
This is the biggest lesson I have learned the hard way. Being a mother is not a detriment, nor does it impede my ability to be a professional. I will not compromise my heart for the sake of someone else's insecurities. I won't make apologies for being a mother or a woman to anyone. This is an asset. And this is why I enjoy working with and surrounding myself with other women business owners.
When I joined Femworking, which is a Washington, D.C.-area networking organization for female bloggers and business owners, I finally understood that I was not alone. Plenty of other women and mothers have come to the same conclusion. We are not going to simply "lean in" and accept some screwed-up standards or rules on how to be successful in the workplace. We are going to forge our own paths.
We are creating our own businesses and controlling our own destinies. I love being my own boss and not feeling one ounce of guilt for attending Thanksgiving lunch or a parent-teacher conference.
I am one of the hardest working people I know. I juggle so much and I never complain because I am the one putting each responsibility on my plate. I am deciding how much is enough. I am prioritizing my own life and my family is always on top. I lead with being a mother in all my interactions, because this IS who I am. And being true to you is how to be a success.
Have you ever felt like you had to choose between being a mother and being a professional? Is this what motherhood in the workplace is like for you?
This post originally appeared on Tiny Steps Mommy.