Monday morning I woke up to an empty planner. Nothing on my Do To list, no work assignments listed or deadlines looming. No appointments for the week or tasks needing my attention. Is it because I had nothing to do? Certainly not. It was just one of those weekends.
When chaos reigns
There are times when I get into the flow of work and I feel like I’m killing it. As the Managing Editor for Moms Who Write, I keep track of our content flow, collaborate with authors, and keep us on our posting schedule. In my freelance life, I have articles due every week while also recently trying to seek new clients. As a mother—the list is endless, as most of you know.
But it doesn’t take much chaos to throw you off the wagon of professional success when you’re a mom working from home. It can start with one night of lost sleep when your child has an ear infection, leading you to accidentally sleep in and miss your morning work time. Then, you try to make up the work in the evening, only for that same child to have another restless night. You wake up the next morning barely remembering your name, let alone whether or not you finished your assignment—or planning for the next.
Now you’re behind
And you have to catch up. But things keep happening: school projects, funerals, depressive episodes, fish tank failures, school spirit weeks. Things that draw your attention away from your workflow.
Monday morning rolls around, you open your planner with positive intentions, only to realize in the tornado of crisis you forgot to plan your week. You’re already behind, but your child still isn’t sleeping, so you know you’re about to spend a few hours at urgent care. Can this week begin on Tuesday?
I get it. There’s honestly nothing you can do to prepare for these weeks. They happen, they’re draining, and they mostly end in you feeling like you failed in every way. Depletion at its finest. It’s in these times that you lean on the supports around you, or better yet, discover that you need more.
Real supports, the right ones
I remember having these same days while working out of the home as a new mother. I was organized and driven, a trustworthy employee who always did my best. But when I was depleted, the empathy in the work environment was low. The expectations remained the same, yet the support was minimal. We’re running a business, after all, harped in my ear after every mistake I made due to the common brain fog from sleepless nights with a breastfeeding newborn. I left every shift feeling more inadequate than when I started. It didn’t leave much room for self-compassion.
We’re running a business. A business for who? For humans. And what am I? A human.
Why should we sacrifice the health of some humans to achieve the happiness of other humans just for the sake of profit and recognition? And what do you think is going to happen to your business when you run your employees into the ground—some of whom are working mothers? And then you have the audacity to state you support women on International Women’s Day just because some exist on the payroll.
Compassion at work for mothers is essential
I left these jobs for a reason—surprisingly not these reasons—but when I look back, it all tied in. When you are working for others, or even if you are self-employed, make sure the people you work with are healthy. Make sure these are individuals who believe in you and value your skill, but also remember that humans are imperfect, that mothers never stop, and we all have times when we need more support than others.
We all go through depressive patches and bottom-of-the-barrel days. Admitting that doesn’t make us ineffective or unprofessional. It makes us real. For creatives especially, with as much emotion and passion as we place behind our work, finding a tribe and working with respectful clients, all make a difference at the end of the day.
The ‘Aha’ work moment
The first time I couldn’t hit a deadline for Moms Who Write, I thought that was it. I’m done. I’m usually very good at pushing through life’s low points for the sake of burnout. I was a social worker, after all, it’s what we’re bred to do. It’s not about me; it’s about others, always. But I was so depleted at that time in my life my mind could push no further.
I thought if I came forward with what I was struggling with I was going to get replaced, booted out, branded incompetent. And yet, I knew I had no choice. I texted the Admin Group and told them I needed a break. To my surprise their response (among other words): Do what you need. We’ll be here when you get back.
And there they were
That’s how it should be. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to receive an outpouring of support for both taking a break to regroup my home and for returning back in a better headspace. Working mothers so often feel pressured to hold their struggles in to prevent looking weak, being passed up for promotions, being the first on the layoff list, for all our “unpredictable absences.”
It shouldn’t be like that. Thankfully, it’s not like that everywhere.
I’m so grateful to have found work friends that allow each other grace to be human. Who are open to hearing about child antics one minute only to switch over to formatting a book the next. Whose conference calls consist of the phrases such as “Let’s discuss our marketing strategy and plan for the month,” in the same breath as “What the heck do you have in your mouth, and why is the dog smeared in cheese?”
Never settle for not feeling like a human at work. There is always room for compassion at work, no matter how grueling your occupation. I’ll never settle for anything less again.
We want to hear your story
We are always looking for more personal narratives and writing journeys to share with our community. Imposter syndrome affects all of us in the creative community. The more we share our successes, our failures, our challenges, the more support we can build to help overcome this beast when it hits.
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About the Writer: Shell Sherwood is a poet, fiction writer, freelancer, and creator of silly children’s stories who could live on coffee, pastries, and romantic tragedies. She lives in Hudson Valley, NY, with her three boys and aspires to own a small writing getaway in every climate. Shell is currently working on her debut poetry collection. Learn more about Shell and follow her writing journey via her author blog, Instagram, and TikTok.