Ah, "mom guilt." A phrase that’s used so casually these days, it’s almost lost its power at being recognized as a wholly awful and useless emotion. One author recently paired mom guilt in the same sentence with a complaint as lowbrow as bemoaning her hairy toes. As if a two-minute wax job could yank mom guilt out by the roots. Those of us who have experienced mom guilt know what a demoralizing and debilitating feeling it can be. Especially the working mom guilt variety, a special kind of soul-searching suck on our self-esteem.
Yet a curious thing occurred to me the other day. A quite wondrous thing actually. I realized I’ve had less working mom guilt recently than I’ve ever had in the 11+ years since my kids were born. I don’t think it’s that they need me less; middle school girl drama and homework ensures they need me more than ever. And while it certainly helps that my company has an amazingly family-friendly culture by industry standards, that’s not the entire key to my lesser guilt either.
Rather, I think I stumbled upon a pretty cool trick to making my work life and my home life more connected. (Note I didn’t say balanced, because that form of mommy magic still eludes me.) Instead, I have started bringing each world into the other, bridging the gaps as best as I can.
On one side, I have a new project for a client that lets me bring my kids to my work every day. It’s one of the few times in my career where my motherhood feels like an asset, not a liability. (And yes, I’ve worked on other mom brands before but, sadly, moms being the target audience doesn’t always ensure respect for mothers on the team.) It’s a project where all my crazy mommy anecdotes are actually relevant to the work we do. And, happily, where the challenges of raising two kids in today’s complicated world gives me insight that can, hopefully, help other parents through the communications we produce.
But the inverse — bringing my work to my kids every day — is what’s really helped me feel better about being a working mom. If I’m working on a food client, I have my kids taste test and rate the items. An automotive client is a fun way to stretch our theatrical skills as we shop for a new minivan. (Daughter: "So, mom, what role are we playing again? A family who needs a new minivan?" Me: Yes, just like our real life, dear.") A product where absorbency is the #1 benefit is the perfect excuse for an experiment on what materials hold the most water. And my daughter’s science class is an opportunity to talk about how claims in advertising must be researched and validated before being publicized — might as well bring the whole class into my work! By no means has this involvement taken away the guilt completely, but every little bit helps the life of a working mom.
My daughter asked my husband the other day why he so rarely talks about his work while I talk about mine all the time. I can see how making "medical billing and services" seem interesting and real to a child is daunting. Even so, I encouraged my daughter to ask him about his work and encouraged him to find a way to make it more tangible for her. As long as it doesn’t have them crawling into MRI machines, I’m looking forward to what they come up with.
This year, Thursday, April 25, is Bring Your Child to Work Day. I encourage all parents to try it. If nothing else, it’s good for your colleagues to see your other priorities in the flesh. But I really hope you use the other 364 days of the year to bring your work to your child as well. Not because it will benefit them in the long term (which it will), but because it will truly benefit you.
Jasmine Dadlani is the New York head of strategy at McKinney.