Common Myths Moms Tell Themselves About What Professionalism Means

mom working with her child nearby

You already know that motherhood comes with a lot of mom-guilt and that it’s doubled when you’re a mom who works outside the home because you have the added layer of work-guilt. All of this guilt we carry around is, frankly, exhausting. Even worse? Much of it is rooted in our imagined beliefs of what professionalism means and looks like, beliefs that are actually myths. We are beating ourselves up unnecessarily and it’s time to put a stop to that. 

The Mom Project reached out to our Community members on Instagram and LinkedIn, asking them to share some of the common mom-myths they tell themselves about motherhood and professionalism. There were a lot of different responses but they all seem to share a similar theme: 

You can't be good at one without falling short on the other.

But that just isn't true. You're doing a great job in all arenas of your life. It might be that work-life integration looks different at different times, but these myths about what professionalism looks like? They are patently false. 

Myth #1: Motherhood on display isn’t professional

Once you become a mom, the role and responsibility that comes along with it become practically ingrained into your identity, which means it’s not something that’s easy to hide. For every child, you have to carve out a chunk of your mental capacity to house a new never-ending to-do list, keep a record of what size clothes and/or diapers they’re currently wearing (and remember when it’s time to buy them more) and manage their constantly-evolving calendar. This is in addition to all of the other things you mentally kept track of outside of the kids.

So, sometimes family overload will seep into the workplace, or influence it in some way, but we tell ourselves we need to compartmentalize everything because if we put motherhood on display in the workplace then we will somehow lose respect and/or authority as professionals. 

Here's what this myth can sound like:

  • I can't talk about my kids at work or bring them up while interviewing.
  • I won't get a good-paying job after taking a work pause to stay home with the kids.
  • I can't answer calls with my kids around because they'll be too loud.
  • Colleagues won't be empathetic when I have to leave work for a sick kid or childcare crisis.
The fact of the matter is that parents of kids under 18 years old make up a good portion of the workforce, and many older workers have adult children, so they remember what it was like having to integrate work and family life. Additionally, putting motherhood on display helps give you authority to draw boundaries where you need to and also highlights your ability to multitask and prioritize. Motherhood is a part of your identity, and it’s not something that you need to hide away at work. 

Myth #2: Moms aren’t committed to their careers

You’ve probably convinced yourself at some point or another that you’re not a committed employee because you opt to leave on time every day to pick your kid up from school, while the rest of your team hunkers down for another hour or two at the office. Moms who work outside the home are regularly faced with choosing between a work priority and a family priority, and when you pick your family you may feel like a slacker or like you don’t have the career drive you once had.

Some of these myths include:

  • My boss and coworkers view me as not committed to my career.
  • I can’t schedule family things until after working hours because that time is set aside for only work.
  • I am not as dedicated to my career because I only work part-time.
  • I am less of a professional if I step away from work for mom duties.
  • Wanting more time with my kids is not a valid reason to request a more flexible schedule.

Here’s the thing, work-life integration can be difficult to manage, but being committed to your family does not mean you are not also committed to your job. It’s easy to beat yourself up or undervalue your professional worth every time you prioritize your family over work, but that ignores all the times you’ve probably sacrificed family time for work in some way. Working outside of the home as a mom means there will be a lot of giving and taking in both areas of your life, and that’s okay. 

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This leads us to the next common myth...

Myth #3: Working moms don’t prioritize their family

Every time you choose work over your kid’s school event, answer an email at the dinner table or skip the bedtime routine to catch up on something you may discredit yourself as a mom. This is often made all the worse when your kid calls you out on it (it feels like a gut punch).

When you start to feel this way, these myths might start running through your head:

  • My family doesn’t think I’m committed to them.
  • Other parents seem to do it all, and they’re judging me.
  • I have to be overly involved in child-related activities to prove my commitment, even if I don’t enjoy it or it drives me towards burnout.
  • I don’t have time to dedicate to my family.

As with the previous myth, when you tell yourself these things you are discounting all of the times you chose your family over work. You’re forgetting that those extra hours now will give you summer Fridays to spend with the kids later or that your commitment to work allows you to pay for extracurriculars for your kids. It’s okay to choose work now and then, because motherhood is only part of your identity, not all of it.

Myth #4: Overcompensation is necessary

If you’re a parent who feels the need to always prove your commitment to work simply because you need flexibility as a parent, you’re probably telling yourself you need to overcompensate. Basically, you feel like you have to make up for taking a half-day off when you had to pick a sick kid up from school or that you have to answer every Slack message as soon as it comes in when you’re working from home so it doesn’t look like you’re multitasking with family chores or needs.

Work-life integration is giving and taking

Here are other common overcompensation myths:

  • I have to answer emails at all hours of the day or people will think I’m slacking off.
  • I have to prove that I can keep up with non-parent colleagues so I don’t appear incapable.
  • I need to work through breaks to justify signing off early to pick up my kids from school (even though this is my approved set schedule).

Sometimes you will have to sacrifice some of your personal time to make up for lost work time because of a family obligation, but you don’t always have to do this, especially when it’s completely unnecessary for your workload. As a parent, you have every right to draw boundaries at work that allow you to be present at home as long as you’re meeting expectations at work. You don’t need to make up for “missed time” every day to prove your commitment or that you’re a professional. Remember, work-life integration is about giving and taking, not overcompensating. 

📖Read more: When to Say Yes at Work—and Where to Draw Smart Boundaries

Myth #5: It’s impossible to be a good employee and a good mom

Here’s the myth that most moms who work outside the home have told themselves time and time again: I can’t be good at everything. It can often feel like when you’re excelling in one area of life, you’re failing in another, and since work and parenthood take up a good portion of your life, those two roles will feel like they’re always at battle with each other.

Here’s how this may sound:

  • I can’t be stressed about work at home, and I can’t be stressed about home at work.
  • I have to apologize at work for having kids, and I have to apologize to my kids for having to work.
  • I can’t (or don’t need to) ask for help, I should be able to manage all of this.
  • I can’t work towards a promotion now, I’m too busy being a mom.

You can pretty much expect to fall short in every area of life at one point or another. There will be times you’re not reaching your potential professionally because life at home is draining you, and there will be other times when you’re not as present at home as you’d like to be because you’re hustling at work. You are still good at both of those roles even when you’re prioritizing one over the other. 

Thriving at work may help you feel more complete as a person, and feeling fulfilled helps make you a great mom. Likewise, your fierce love for your kids might be what drives you to succeed at work so you can provide for them and be a role model. For moms who work outside the home, work and motherhood are often two sides of the same coin. 

Put the myths aside 

Letting go of guilt, whether it’s mom or work-related, is incredibly difficult because it often feels like second nature, but you can start to chip away at that guilt by challenging the myths when they arise in your mind. When you find yourself reciting one of these myths in your mind, respond with why it’s a lie. It might be awkward at first, but if you keep doing this, over time you will teach your brain the truth, and you’ll start to believe it, too. 

You are a great mom and a career superstar. Don’t let these myths have you believing otherwise. 

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