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The worst, most painful advice that was ever given to me

“You wanted to have a child, so you’ll have to make sacrifices. Taking a step back in your career is quite normal, you know. Your child is more important than your work and your career, isn’t it?”

Did I hear this right? Having just become a mother of my first child, I was given advice by a colleague mother and friend. I was speechless. Did she really just say that I should forget about my ambitions, that becoming a mother automatically means stopping my career? And was she really suggesting that I’m a bad mother if my job is important to me?

She’s not the only one who thinks that way. Some years ago I was featured in a newspaper article. I was asked to give ambitious moms tips for more me-time, as a response to an English study that concluded that mothers only have 17 minutes a day for themselves. This article went viral. It was shared about 20,000 times on Facebook and I got several hundred responses.

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Besides the fact that many readers thought I just made this study up, there were also a lot of men and women who let me know that as a mother you should not whine and just shut up. That you yourself have chosen to become a mom and you have to accept the consequences, such as less time for yourself and for what you find important in your life next to your kids. And therefore also less time for work. And that if I want more time for myself, for my husband or for work, I’m simply a terribly bad mother. I found this so shocking! And it made me sad, because being called ‘a bad mother’ hurts.

Still today, people think that the moment we become mothers, we simply have to give up all other roles that we fulfil in our lives. That our generation of moms is spoiled and wants everything (read: too much): a happy family, a fulfilling job, good friends, self-development, hobbies, and time for yourself. That we as mothers expect too much from life and ourselves and that that is doomed to fail. That we have to choose and sacrifice either our ambitions or our family.

Now I do agree that work-life balance doesn’t exist. See also my previous message for my renegade take on work-life balance.
It basically says that work-life balance is an illusion. That balance is something passive and static, and because you have ever-fluctuating priorities, it’s actually peace that you seek and acceptance that life is always in motion.

But is that bad? Does it make you a bad mother that your priorities continuously flow between your work deadlines, your kids, your love life, your sick family member, your groceries, your Netflix series, and your bed..?
Does this mean you don’t love your children if you want it all? That you’re not worthy to be a mom if you have ambitions? (And I’m not even going to discuss why this is not a hot topic for fathers…).

Honestly, I would consider myself a bad mother if I wasn’t striving to be the version of myself. To not express my talents and share my skills. If I tell my children that they should better not stand out, but live by the typical Dutch expression ‘just act normally, you are crazy enough as it is.’

I would consider myself a bad mother if I completely ignore myself. I would consider myself a bad mother if I taught my daughter Emilia that once she becomes a mother, she must put her ambitions, desires, and her dreams on hold. And I would consider myself a bad mother if I taught my son Alessio that once a woman becomes a mother, she is above all a mother and the rest doesn’t really count.

Even more important to me, is to teach my children not to judge others. After all, someone else’s story is not yours. So if a mom wants to take a step back in her career because she wants to give all her time and attention to her family, this is fine. And if a mother works because it is important to her, it is also in the best interest of her children. And that’s fine too.

Above all, I teach my kids to behave properly, so to that mother with the bad advice (and at the same time also to all those readers who called me ‘a bad mother’): you won’t get the finger from me, but a nice cup of Tension Tamer tea.

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