“When I first learned that I was pregnant, I shared it with a mentor. And she said, ‘Whatever you do now, the stakes are much higher. So, make sure you’re doing what you love,” said Jossy Lee, Author and Entrepreneur.
Did you expect the Mom guilt? Tension, between honoring your identity and being the Mother that you imagined, surprises many of us. And the internal conflict costs us dearly. Especially if we define the ‘Mom job’ in the way that society does. And when the daily tradeoffs snowball, into a Mom-guilt-mountain, we lose trust in ourselves. And energy. But Jossy has found clever ways to reduce guilt. And to reframe the dance between our work and life roles with clarity and self-compassion.
Choose What You Love
“Every minute I spend at work is taking away time that I spend with my kids. So, it’s shaped what I consider prioritizing and giving up. Giving up is one of my strengths,” Jossy said. We’re rarely encouraged to give anything up. And break under the weight of our to-do lists. She added, “My plate is only this big, right? So, I constantly decide what to cut so, that I’m not overstretching myself. I have my own metrics. First, I look at if what I’m spending my time on is my strength or my passion. And then, is it something that I should keep doing if it’s neither?” What happens when it doesn’t fit into either category?
Decide What’s Strategically Important
Jossy explained when it’s a work activity, she’ll seek colleagues with complementary skills. “If I don’t like to do it or if I’m not good at it, there may be a team member who is much better at doing that. And that person will have fun doing that.” She also swoops up to reevaluate activities against the big picture. She said, “The other criteria I use is, how important is this to the world? If I’m spending time working on it, there must be a higher purpose beyond just myself or even our family. It has to make the world better place.”
Let the Idea of Balance go
Jossy said, “When your mind is set on work life balance, the fear of being out of balance and falling, is mentally very draining. And it prevents you from truly seizing the moment to enjoy it. And so, I love to think about it as a happy mix, like a salad.” Yes! Work/life balance is not achievable for most Mothers. Which can become a persistent source of disappointment. And many of us become disillusioned when we can’t do all the things, we saw our own Mothers do. But even pre-pandemic, compared to previous generations, the hours we spend working and caring for children has increased. So, we can’t follow their template.
And Stop Comparing Motherhood With Work
While conducting research for her children’s book, Jossy discovered an important insight about working Mom guilt. She said, “Writing the ending was the hardest. We initially had the Mom say to her child, I love you more than I love anything else in the world. And when we tested it, a lot of Mothers told us that there shouldn’t be a comparison! Because the comparison triggers the guilt. It’s like, Jeremy loves eating strawberries and Jeremy loves riding a bike but it’s different. You want them at different times. And you love both so, you shouldn’t compare them. That’s the reason why we focus on togetherness now. And changed the ending to say, together or apart I hold you in my heart wherever we are.”
We Can’t Choose Everything at Once
Even if you decide to focus, on what you’re best at, what about the crushing amount of housework? When Covid hit and daycares closed, Jossy reprioritized everything, including tasks like cooking. She said, “Initially I couldn’t get over ordering food because food is a very big part of Chinese culture. And my parents and grandparents express their love through cooking. But my husband did a great job of saying, ‘if we don’t buy from our favorite restaurants, they are not going to survive.’ He said we are helping the community.” Wise.
She added, “That first week the pandemic started our kids didn’t know what TV was. They thought it was a decoration because we didn’t turn it on. They were two and five at that time. But one day when I was in a board meeting and my husband was in an investor meeting, we hired TV to entertain the kids.”
So, Reframe the Trade Offs You Make
Jossy admits, “I couldn’t get over the guilt at first. I thought oh my God, I’m such a bad Mom! I’m prioritizing my personal pursuits over my children’s needs. So, I had to deal with this constantly as I sat in meetings. And it was very draining emotionally. Then I shifted my mindset. And thought, well in this reality, if we need TV to help then let’s use it only when both of us are in the most important meetings. And when someone told me, that I can switch the language to Chinese, it wasn’t just TV time. It became Chinese learning time! And I felt much better. A lot of times, you need to shut down that self-criticizing.” Amen!
To End the Guilt
The guilt can be relentless. And tends to change over time. Jossy said, “So, I live this struggle and it’s vicious. I’m launching a book and literally building a new school at this moment. But I also really love my kids and my identity as a Mom. And so, this book started with solving our family’s drop off problem.” Many parents face separation anxiety with their kids. And Jossy found a unique way to help her children understand when she left for work. She explained, “It wasn’t easy. So, I started to tell them a version of, ‘Mommy goes to work’ before it became a book. How do you help a toddler get this concept?
Because You Can Help Your Kids Understand
Jossy said, “There are a lot of books about separation and school drop off. And we read them all! But what you’re doing, after you disappear for the day, was still missing. Now, we are working at home in front of their curious little minds. But the kids don’t understand meetings. A 3-year-old, just sees you sitting in front of the laptop and ignoring them the whole day. So, I was looking for a solution to help spark that conversation. And one day I was making a slide deck and my son, who was three at that time said, ‘Mommy what are you doing?’ I said that I’m making a presentation. And he said, ‘what is a presentation? And I randomly said, it’s like your show and tell at school. And then he actually got it!” Brilliant.
And Live in a Way That Fuels You
Jossy explained, “It’s very important to understand who you are. And why you love what you are good at. I happen to love the creation phase, taking something from zero to 60%. It’s where I thrive. So, I have been employee number one for my entire career.“ And because that’s her zone of genius, the work lights her up. When asked about self-care to unwind, she explained that doesn’t need to escape from work.
“Instead, I take small chunks of time during the day. It can be the 20 minutes when I’m taking a shower or walking to my kids’ school for pickup. Time when I’m by myself and with my own thoughts is extremely helpful to revitalize my mind. And we love to take some Fridays off to do a two-night trip somewhere we can drive to as a family.” Breaks don’t have to be big.
She added, “Me and my husband are both in the startup world. And we love talking about work. Because we love what we’re doing. And we’re supportive of each other in pursuing our passions. And so, that has become very much a part of our lives and we don’t feel like we need to separate them. Our family embraces this concept of the happy mix, with our kids involved.” Beautiful!
Many thanks to the talented Jossy Lee!
Grateful to the amazing parents who have participated in our research study. Have you chimed in yet? Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Jossy is an MIT-trained entrepreneur and the creator of Mommy Goes to Work. The idea came to her after her young son announced that her presentation was just like show and tell. When she is not busy making the changes she hopes to see in the world, she enjoys little moments with her family in Boston and Taipei.Tags: Career development, Entrepreneurship for Moms, moms stress management, professional development, Work Life Balance For Moms, work life integration for Moms, Working Families