Happy Mother Day!

Happy Mother Day to all the wonderful moms, and especially to the working mothers out there!

To those of us who are working mothers, the struggles are real.  So often, we feel guilty for missing our kids’ school event or maybe even their birthday because of a work obligation. So often, we feel guilty for rushing off exactly at 5 p.m. to pick up our children from the day care while our colleagues are still working at their desks.

Today, as I celebrated Mother Day with my family, I reflected on my first Mother Day as a mother and choked up. My son, who is probably the most sensitive person in our family, detected changes in my voice and asked, “what’s wrong, mom?” I responded “Nothing, son.” But, immediately after, I decided to tell him the truth and used this as a teaching moment. I told my children of my first Mother Day as a mother.

“Many years ago, after giving birth to our first child, being inexperienced, I didn’t save enough Paid-Time-Off for maternity leave and came back to work after only 4 weeks. Because my daughter was very attached to me, every morning when I handed her to the day care teacher, she would scream reaching for me. As I walked away, tears ran down my cheeks. I arrived at work in a state of emotional wreck, but I wiped away my tears, and tried to focus on my computer. The daycare was only a few minutes from work, so every 2 hours, I went to visit her. Knowing that she would cry for me if she saw me, I often just stayed outside the classroom and peeked in. What I often saw was my little daughter laying in her crib all alone. The teacher couldn’t always spend time with her because they had to care for other children as well. My heart broke daily. 

A few weeks later, my boss called me into a meeting room. He told me that I was underperforming. He asked me to rank myself among all my team members. When I refused to do so, he proceeded to tell me that I was the worst performer in my team. He told me that I did not have the brain to be an engineer. To be honest, during that time of my life, with the postpartum hormones, the sadness of leaving my daughter at the daycare and watching her screaming for me every day, and the sleepless nights caring for a newborn, I wasn’t even sure if I had the brain to be anything. I remember sitting there, not knowing how to respond, and just cried. I felt like dying, and I wanted to quit…

The first Mother Day as a mother for me happened during the lowest period of my life. I went through a personnel battle at work, almost losing my job. My professional self-esteem was rock bottomed. My self-worth as a mom was in serious doubt. I was in deep depression and had even considered taking my own life.

Fortunately for me, another manager knew of the situation and stepped in to intervene on my behalf. He took me under his wing, gave me the support and the flexibility. Because of the flexibility, I could go to counseling and took the time to be with my daughter as needed. If I had to take the time off during the day, I could make it up in the evening. Under his leadership, I thrived. While working full-time, with an under-one-year-old daughter, I enrolled in school for my master’s degree of Engineering in Electrical Engineering. I signed up for Toastmaster to improve my ability to speak in public. Four years later, I again enrolled into the Master of Business Administration program, this time with 2 kids – my daughter was four years old, and my son was two. I invested in leadership training and became a leadership coach. My career grew by leaps and bounds. Our family also thrived.” 

As I ended my story, I told my children that the struggles of being a new working mother made me stronger and helped me become a better person. There are a few lessons from my story. First, everyone you meet is at a different stage of their life; therefore, don’t be hasty to judge another person but instead take the time to understand them. Second, sometimes the situation seems hopeless, but they never really are hopeless. With the right help, you can get better and thrive. Don’t ever give up. Third, adversity, espcially unfair treatments, can help you become stronger and motivate you to become the best version of yourself.

To my working mother friends, I understand being a working mother is hard. It’s hard to balance work and motherly duties. It’s hard to constantly feeling guilty and doubting ourselves whether we are good enough as an employee or as a mom. In sharing this story with you, I want you to know that it is possible to have a great career and be a great mom if you have the right support system, the right leader, and the right work environment.

If you ever find yourself in my shoes with a toxic boss, know that there are good leaders and mentors who would be happy to step in to intervene on your behalf and help lifting you up. So, speak up, and reach out. If you are ever doubting whether you could excel at work and be a good mom at the same time, think of my story and know that you can do it. The struggles you go through will make you stronger, and some day will serve as a good lesson to your children. 

Happy Mother Day!

With love in my heart,

Thanh

P.S.: For Mother Day this year, my son gave me a quartz, a pyrite, and some sweets. He wrote: “I gave you a quartz because it represents your ability to work hard in the worst of times and your ability to persevere. I gave you a pyrite because it represents your humbleness and modesty. I gave you sweets becasue it represents your likable personality, and your ability to keep a cool head.”

The picture below is a painting my daughter made for me as a Mother Day gift. 

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