Break Free from the Mommy Wars

by Alli Polin on August 5, 2014

Break the Frame of Your Fears to Make the Leap to Empowered Choices

Over a decade ago,  I made a choice to leave my leadership position and successful career behind to stay home full time with my children. Many of the women I met at Mommy and Me told me I could never go back to the same pay or position level so I better throw myself into my new life. From my first trepidatious step into motherhood, I was ready to break free from the Mommy Wars.  It was a battle I didn’t want to fight.

I see now that those women were telling me their fears masked as helpful advice. Fear isn’t truth and is often disguised as the stories that ultimately hold us back in the shadows instead of empowering us to fully step into the light.

I met many stay-at-home Moms and Dads during that time and more than a few really wanted to re-enter the workforce but convinced themselves that it was impossible. Their skills were tired, knowledge was passé and more importantly, many felt embarrassed by their choices.  They made assumptions about the judgement of the world at work and fired back with self-doubt and self-criticism wrapped in self-righteousness.

Ultimately, the right choice for me was to return to full-time employment, yet it was not the right choice for many of my new friends.  We drifted apart, as if we were on opposite sides of the invisible Mommy Wars.  In truth, my only view on the battle between the working mom and the stay-at-home mom is that everyone should do what’s right for them… not what’s right for me.

If you’re caught in the push and pull between family and work, you’re not alone.  Whether you jump ship in or out (depending on your perspective) what you really need is the courage to vulnerably listen to what your heart is telling you is right and act on it.  Work-life balance is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of personal choices and not simply defined by the label of working parent or stay-at home.  Trust me, parents that stay home with their children are not in balance heaven.  Just like working parents and many childless working professionals, if they have an hour a day for themselves, it’s something to celebrate.

If you’re caught up in shoulda, woulda, coulda…
If you’re caught up in I’m right, they’re wrong…
If you’re caught up in a fear of being totally and utterly stuck…

It’s time to break the frame. 

Working Parent, Stay-at-Home, No Kids, Dog Mom…  

Break the Frame of I can’t. 

You set your own boundaries.  You decide what you’re willing to tolerate.

Break the Frame of I shouldn’t.

Who is making your choices?  Empower yourself.

Break the Frame of not now. 

The time is now.  Why wait?

Break the Frame of must do. 

Who says?  Make sure it’s you.

Break the Frame of not for me. 

As my mother always says: “You don’t know until you yo.”  Not for you is still OK for others, right?

Break the Frame of justa. 

You are so much more than your title, child status, clothes or the car you drive.  You are not justa anything.

Make the Leap

You are a human and figuring it out as you go.  Do what’s right for you and stop worrying about judgement, blame or embarrassment.  Follow your heart, you know the path.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Karin Hurt August 5, 2014 at 7:31 am

Other people’s shoulds are very dangerous, our own are equally lethal. Fantastic post. Parenting also build FANTASTIC leadership skills. This may be helpful for your tribe. http://letsgrowleaders.com/authenticity-transparency-trust/7-reasons-good-moms-make-amazing-leaders/

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Alli Polin August 5, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Excellent article, Karin! I was lucky that when I was re-entering the workforce one of the two senior decision makers shared your view and I was hired to lead a new division. Parenting truly does build amazing leadership skills!

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Terri Klass August 5, 2014 at 9:29 am

It amazes me that we are still talking about working moms vs stay at home moms but we are. I think that part of what is going on is that having it all at the same time really isn’t possible and instead of embracing that we judge.

Women need to lead the life they choose without other men and women deciding whether it is the right choice.

Thank you Alli for reminding us to not let fear get in the way or comments from others. Here’s to leading authentically whatever that means to us!

Loved the post!!

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Alli Polin August 5, 2014 at 7:18 pm

I agree, Terri. My experience with cycling in and out of the workforce really just highlighted for me how tough it is to escape the judgment of others and still choose to do what’s right for you.

Mommy Wars are just one version of story. There’s the work from home, work at the office battle, there’s the manager vs someone who loves doing and hates managing battle. Fear can show up in so many ways and more often than not it comes in less-than-helpful comments, suggestions and jabs.

I hope that people find the courage to create the life that is right for them.

I’m also with you – having it all isn’t possible at the same time. Tough choices ahead!

Thanks so much for adding your insights!!

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Tom Rhodes August 5, 2014 at 9:35 am

Alli;
I used to tell people when they told me they were just a _______, that there were justas. We all make difficult choices every day. I don’t know of a decision I have ever made that was “right” for everyone I knew. And honestly got to a point that I just thought nothing I chose is right or good enough. Then I realized that it only had to be right or good enough for me. That my life wasn’t about pleasing the world and that I couldn’t never help others with their growth while worrying about being right for everyone else.

When we make choices we own them. Others will have opinions but they don’t own the choice. We do. So it needs to right for us.

Thanks for another great post.

Tom

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Alli Polin August 5, 2014 at 7:10 pm

I’m with you 100%, Tom. I am working on a new program and the idea that anyone is “justa” anything is a big part of it.

Who’s to say what’s right for everyone? I can hardly figure out what’s right for me sometimes and act on it. The best gift we can give someone is supporting and encouraging them as they walk the path that they are meant to walk.

Thanks for adding so much to the conversation, Tom!

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Samantha Hall August 5, 2014 at 11:36 am

Interesting post Alli, and an important topic!

I personally hate the Mommy Wars. Mainly because I’ve experienced so much flack for my choices to be HOME with my children when I could make that choice. I started out working the nightshift at a hospital the first several years after my youngest was born and I hated being away from her. Early on my heart hurt every single day I had to leave her behind and there was a very strong sense that spoke to me inside and asked this question..’WHY do we bring children into the world just to let other people raise them?’

For me, that question has tended to fuel my desire to raise my own children. It’s not an issue of making anyone else right or wrong. It’s a personal ‘conviction’ and choice. So eventually, my husband and I made the decision for me to come home. I did for a few years. Homeschooled my oldest daughter from Kindergarten thru the middle of 3rd grade. Finances eventually dictated a return to work after a while and again, I still felt in my heart a desire to raise my own children.

I was working outside the home until the day my husband died. Then I had to make a really tough decision. Leave them alone at times while they were growing up? Or find another way to do it by working from home. I chose the latter. I worked several years from home for a small start up biz and eventually picked up various jobs with clients here and there.

I’ve never regretted my decision to be here for my children. Although I’ve had to make sacrifices to do it. For me, the bigger sacrifice would have been leaving my children to fend for themselves after their dad died. And that was too big of a sacrifice in my heart and mind.

And that is the point, I believe, that you are trying to make? Let each person be firmly convinced in their own heart and mind and do what’s right for you personally.

I have received plenty of flack from women in the workplace who projected their own guilt on me for making the choice in favor of my children. Although it’s the opposite of what you shared in your post, it’s a similar issue of projection. If the stay at home moms are projecting fear, many hard core work away from home moms have projected their own guilt to defend why they aren’t raising their own children. (some have little choice if they are the only bread winner, so I get it when it comes to that aspect!)

It’s a tough issue for many of us women to make when we start bringing children into the world and raising them. No doubt about it.

Thanks for sharing Alli.

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Alli Polin August 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm

You are an amazing, strong woman, Samantha. I respect that you not only knew in your heart what was right for you but you found a way to make it work.

When I choose to leave my job, I did not see many (or any) other women making a similar choice and it was a hard one. Many of my colleagues were working parents but my path was simply not meant to be the same as theirs.

When I returned to work, I also knew it was right despite my friend’s surprised looks. I then had to get into the logistics of how to actually make it work; honor my desire to work AND raise a family.

It reminds me of when I went to a financial advisor (we did not hire) before I was even pregnant with our first child. He wanted to do some projections and was asking me how long (if at all) I’ll stop working. My response was, “How do I know until the baby’s here??” Reality has a way of making clear what we need to do that hypotheticals do not.

Not everyone can choose to stay home and many have to work full time outside of their home. However, our choices and circumstances cannot dictate how right or wrong another persons choice may be for them.

No matter the choices…guilt, judgement, fear… through it all, finding the courage to listen to ourselves and act takes tons of courage and heart.

You’re awesome. Just sayin’.

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LaRae Quy August 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm

A very important post, Alli, because so many people struggle with the issue you pinpointed here.

“Work-life balance is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of personal choices and not simply defined by the label of working parent or stay-at home.”

It’s an on-going battle with struggles over how to make the best decisions for both life and business, and whether you have children or not there are always choices regarding how to balance them.

Thanks for your insight and wisdom…this is obviously a great niche for you!

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Alli Polin August 5, 2014 at 7:27 pm

We all face battles, don’t we? Maybe it’s the choice to work late (again) when our spouse wanted an evening at home. Maybe it’s the choice to close down a business line that brings in a reasonable amount of income to pursue a new possibility that may nor may not work out.

It’s so critical for each one of us to strengthen our mental toughness to make the hard choices that are right for us… and tune out the chatter to intentionally focus in on what matters most.

Many thanks to you, LaRae!

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Carl August 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Hi Alli, I’m guessing you are using the ‘Mommy’ wars metaphorically – what I hear clearly in your message is avoid the ‘predefined role’ war – allowing someone else to define who we are and/or who we should be.

Best regards to you and very appreciative of your work
Carl
@SparktheAction

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Alli Polin August 5, 2014 at 7:23 pm

You are spot on, Carl! It was mommy in this story but it could swap out and another ‘predefined role’ could slip in easily. It happens with Moms but with so many others too – we strive to fit in someone else’s definition of success when the only measuring stick that matters is our own.

I’m so glad that came through loud and clear, Carl! Thanks so much.

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Cynthia August 5, 2014 at 5:55 pm

What an amazing article Alli! Life is about personal choice and doing what makes us happy! Cheers to living in a way that is right for our own life!!

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Alli Polin August 5, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Big huge YES to personal choice and having the courage to do what makes us happy! Right on!!

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Gilly August 10, 2014 at 11:58 am

Alli -Thank you so much for this timely article.

As you say this is an important message for us in other predefined roles too. I have stayed home three times, each for a different reason. The first was when I had small children. The second was when we moved continents and I had no right to work and became the anchor when the whole family’s life was in change-turmoil. The third was when I became a caregiver for my husband, when he had to have brain surgery three years ago. Each time I gave up my job and career path and re-invented myself. Now once again I am trying to find my way back “to the path I’m meant to walk. ” I don’t regret all those times I stopped working but I do feel adrift, trying to find a branch to grab hold of. Knowing when it’s time to prioritize your needs is so important and very scary. The shoulda, woulda, coulda demons shout out in chorus!!! It’s not always other ‘Moms’ with their judgmental voices: often our own inner voice is our biggest enemy. You express these dichotomies in such a gentle yet compelling way. So grateful for your wisdom and encouragement Alli!
Gilly

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Alli Polin August 11, 2014 at 8:36 am

Gilly,

If I don’t meet you in person someday, I will be very disappointed. You wrote so beautifully about the power of choice and still, even making those choices with intention and heart, it can take us into the unknown and it can also be tough to find our way back.

Our own voices of judgement can be so incredibly loud. The worst is when we let our saboteurs talk us out (or shame us) into making choices that in our hearts we know are the wrong ones to make.

I could never predict the cycles my life has gone through but I do know that it is important to accept that we always have choices, even when things seem the most beyond our control.

Appreciate you tons, Gilly!

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