You know how this goes: You park, check your email and texts one last time, respond to something that’s happened in the 15 minutes since you left your desk, and calendar something else. Then you put the phone down. You shake off the day, the office — including frustrations and setbacks, any lingering bad feeling from a not-so-good meeting — and go inside.
I sign my kids out with the front desk, walk down the hall to their classroom, open the door and look around for their little heads. Sometimes they see me before I see them, and they come barreling toward me, knocking over the other toddlers in their way, smiles on their faces bright as birthday candles, arms outstretched, little voices shrieking, “MAMA Mama Mama Mama!!!“ It’s like Christmas morning every evening when I walk through their classroom door, and I am their present. Pickup is the best part of the day, and there’s always a sweet anticipation in me when I pull up to their school.
Here’s the thing though: Sometimes, after I pick them up, I’m still working. Still checking email. Still fixing a website post. Still waiting for a call. Answering texts. Sometimes this makes me crazy. And sometimes I get frustrated with my kids. But it’s not even about them. It’s about work. It’s about the bad day I had, the thing that didn’t get done, the person who is being difficult, the project I can’t seem to get completed, the frustration of my opinion not being heard, the embarrassment after I’ve screwed up something, the mistake I made, the typo the whole world called me out on, the email that just sent me over the edge, the progress I may not feel like I’m making or not being able to get something important just right. It’s me being hard on myself for my personal and professional shortcomings and mixing that into my parenting. Sometimes a bad day at work is just that — a bad day at work. But it’s hard not to bring that home, especially when others rely on you, maybe even for their very own jobs.
Leaving those feelings behind or at the office can be tough. We all love being moms, sure, but before we were moms, we were also people — still are people — professionals and part-timers, who work from home or work in an office, who get some self worth out of what we accomplish each day and how well we do it. Who went to school for a long time to be able to do what we do. We value our reputations and our promotions, the recognition we get from a well-done launch or a rebrand, winning at trial or landing a new client. So screwing up at work isn’t the best feeling — for anyone. And no one is perfect — it happens. You have to backtrack or fix it, apologize when you may not feel like you were wrong to begin with, make sure the right people understand the steps you’re going to take to change direction, and promise, promise, promise it will never happen again. And then you have to make sure every task and project you complete for the next few weeks are absolutely perfect so no one regrets hiring you in the first place. These are feelings you carry with you, even when you’ve picked up your kids and you switch from “working woman” to “mom.” And they can be hard to turn off.
And yet, after 17 years working, seven of them with kids, I just finally realized — my kids don’t care about my day at work. After a particular rough patch at work when I was feeling frustrated, I realized, when picking them up one day and all their happy smiles and shrieks made me feel instantly better — they just see me, Mom. Reaching a yearend goal or coming in on budget doesn’t matter to them (they can’t even count yet!). My mistake seen by thousands or my misreading of a tenuous situation in a meeting doesn’t affect them (they can’t read anyway!). They can’t type or code, let alone know how much I underestimated how complicated a website fix was going to be. And that’s okay; they don’t need to know these things. They just need me to love them.
I am really hard on myself to be the best professional possible. I don’t use my status as “mom” to make excuses for how well I’m able to get my job done, and sometimes I work even harder just to prove that I can have a family and still be a great employee. (I also know when my kids come first.) After a lot of lessons learned the hard way, I’m much better at the balancing of work and home than I was when my son arrived. Being a working mom is not easy, at all. But I have realized, that even when I’m not the best employee — or haven’t gotten things done at work the way I would have liked — my kids love me anyway. What a gift to receive at the end of every day. Now I just need to learn how to leave a bad day at the office.