mother's day

Mother Is Half A Word

Reflections with motherhood on the horizon from Account Director, Brett Depper Goldstein.

“Mother is only half a word,” is a joke repeated in my family. Although its origin may have been intended to be humorous at best, if not crass in nature, as Mother’s Day approaches – and I’m pregnant with our first child – I see a lot of truth in that statement.

I began my career in Public Relations over a decade ago right out of college. Since my early years in the industry, I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by many smart, creative, badass women, who have not only taught me the ins and outs of PR, but also the importance of passion and hard work. While there has been no shortage of strong women to look up to, I can recall working with very few mothers at the beginning of my career. Maybe it was because I was in my early 20s and kids were a distant thought, but motherhood and family-life seemed seldom spoken about around the office. 

And yet, I never felt deterred from chasing after a career and building a family. As the daughter of a working mom and stay-at-home dad, that was my norm and because it was obvious that our family dynamic was not standard, I grew up incredibly proud of and inspired by my mom. When I was in college, my mom started asking me to speak to her young female colleagues to reassure them that I didn’t grow up feeling as if I missed out on having my mom present. I always found this to be funny because the idea never even crossed my mind. Now with parenthood a few weeks away, I can better understand the source of this fear. 

Data shows that having young children lowers women’s employment rates, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. The study shows that when looking at parents who have a youngest child under 5 years of age, there are 39% more men in the workforce than women. There are many contributing factors for this, from the wage gap between men and women to America’s lack of paid family leave and universal childcare. The study goes on to find that “[w]omen are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to have their employment affected by caregiver responsibilities.” Moreover, “[t]ime out of the labor force and reduced working hours have lifelong ramifications for women’s economic security—from lost earnings today to smaller Social Security benefits and retirement savings down the road.” 

It is no surprise then that when considering to have a family, most women who aspire to have careers, must not only weigh the effects of 9 months of pregnancy and/or possibly countless months of trying to conceive and recovery postpartum, but also the long-term consequences of societal norms that are stacked against us as women. 

In recent years, I’ve been fortunate to watch and learn from impressive female colleagues, mentors and friends, all of whom have pursued a career AND personal ambitions, motherhood among them. I think it’s essential that we recognize it takes all kinds of kinds and I’m grateful for the many different examples of success before me. 

I appreciate that my mother never hid the fact that being a woman is inherently hard. It is because of her transparency and exemplary work ethic that I feel equipped to tackle the challenges of being a working mom. 

Mother is only half a word, because it is never that simple. 

With this in mind, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, I asked a number of working moms for their advice when it comes to balancing motherhood with their careers. I’m delighted they agreed to let me share here as their words have given me a renewed sense of encouragement and inspiration for the journey ahead.

Sacha Bell, SVP at RHC and mother of 6 year old, Indy

“I don’t necessarily agree with the notion that women can “have it all” when it comes to being a career-focused mom. I believe it’s a little more complicated than that; it is dependent on circumstances and what’s important to the individual. Plus: life is all about sacrifices, with or without children. 

That said, my number one piece of advice for working moms is not to listen to anyone who says your career will suffer, or will automatically be put on hold for a prolonged period of time, due to having children. In my experience as a working (single) parent of a six year old, I’m proud to say the opposite has been true!”

Lauren Ryback Hurth, Managing Director at RHC and mother of 5 month old, baby boy

“Become an expert at switching gears! Prior to having a baby, work was always somewhat front of mind for me, even when I was off the clock. One of the hardest but most powerful things I’ve learned since becoming a mother is the skill of shifting your focus to be truly present when in parent mode — that is, learning to leave work at your door and step into Mom Mode when you get home. Time with our children is too precious to spend it still thinking about that RFP or sneaking looks at your Slack.

And, it’s okay to love working! It doesn’t mean you love your child any less, and for some, having this part of their life may make them an even better mom. I savor every minute with my son now!”

Jane Goldstein, retired lawyer and mother of author, Brett Depper Goldstein

When you are at home, be present.  Put the phone away. Don’t worry about the lamps matching or other small things in the house.  My favorite thing to do after work (or on the weekends, or before I left for work) was to sit on the floor and have uninterrupted playtime with you. Be there and listen and observe!

Put your mask on first — self-care. On airplanes, they always tell you to put your oxygen mask on you before your children. By analogy — make sure you take care of yourself so you are able to take care of your family— a bath, a walk, a beach read, yoga/meditation, a nap, a pedicure.  Whatever your go-to self-care is. Little things can make a big difference.  

Be grateful for the small stuff. A quiet cup of coffee at work, a sunny walk from the subway, the flowers in your garden, a kiss from your baby.   Every day find at least one thing for which you are grateful!

Outsource that which does not give you joy (to the extent you can). Cleaning help (unless you love to clean). Fill your freezer with lasagnas and other meals you can quickly heat up. I had a partner who loved to cook so she would cook on Sunday afternoons and have meals planned for the week. But if you don’t love cooking — OUTSOURCE IT! 

Don’t forget your marriage! It’s easy with everything on your plate to take your marriage (or partnership or relationship) for granted. Leave notes, make dates or just remember hello/goodbye kisses.

Most of all, give yourself grace. Some days will be really hard. But you’ve got this and before you know it you’ll be the one giving advice!

Lauren H., VP, Brand PR Specialist and mother of 6 months olds, Phoebe and Owen 

“Honestly, becoming a mom has given me a great outlook on what actually matters. Make space for the important relationships in your life. Yes, with your partner, but I also need some girl time too. Lean on other working moms who get it. I also have learned that it’s ok to say no to things, both work and personal related. 

Open communication is so important, both what you need from your partner, but also your job. My husband has now taken a much bigger role with our kids and the house because I’m at work longer. We go through our week together on Sunday and level set expectations so I know what will get done when I’m not home rather than just walking into all the traditional “mom” duties. I also have clear communication with my team on deadlines and my schedule. Since we’re in client services, I want them to know when I’m unreachable during some nights.”

Maggie K., EVP, Primary Research and mother of 11 month old, J.R.

Time becomes the most valuable commodity when working as a mom. Even though it’s difficult, you shouldn’t think of “I only got to see my child for 10 minutes before they went to bed” or that you didn’t get to see them at all before bed that day… But try to focus on the time you spend together and maybe even more importantly how your job enriches your overall life and your shared experiences as a family. Also, get the automatic bottle washer. 

Kathleen M., Project Manager, Tech and mother of 2 month old, Shane

Asking and then accepting help from your network is critical. Not only for yourself, but for your child who also benefits from love and quality time with others, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Caitlin D., Director, Accounting and mother of 5 year olds, Callie and Connor

Asking for help and setting boundaries I believe is integral for success. Unfortunately, women tend to be celebrated for “doing it all” and on the days you can’t, you feel like a failure. In reality, “doing it all” is not a function of it all being on you but knowing what to delegate and ensuring that you don’t over-commit and under-deliver.

I consciously try to talk about my kids and life as a mom often at work, especially toward my subordinates. As a leader I feel it is important for people to see me as a person, but more importantly I hope to model for them, if they choose to become parents at some point, what being a working parent is like (good and bad). 

Setting aside time for yourself. For me, I ensure that at least 5 days a week I get 30 minutes of exercise. I work from home, and I build this into my workdays when it does not impede my time with my family and make up work hours at night after the kids are in bed. I encourage everyone to find something that works for them. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time or anything fancy but have something that is just yours for yourself I find helps me keep my sanity. 

Talking to your kids about work. I regularly introduce my kids to people on camera if they happen to be around, but I also try to tell them bits and pieces about my day (in an age-appropriate way). If I have had a bad day and feel short-tempered and frustrated, I try to explain that to them, and also apologize if I unnecessarily snap. Maybe that’s not the most positive thing to acknowledge, but it’s reality. I hope this models for them that not every day is good, and we don’t have to be perfect. I’ve struggled with perfectionism my whole life and becoming a working mom has humbled me and I hope to instill that in my kids. 

Not a tip, but I can unequivocally say that while being a working mom isn’t always easy, I think becoming a mother has made me better at my job. It’s easy for people to put you in a “mommy bucket”, but in reality, I think working moms are more efficient, agile and decisive then other peers. but let’s be serious, we don’t have time to not be!