By Chris Olsen
I was recently involved in a heated discussion about motherhood. One of the women involved was fuming about being chastised for not breastfeeding. Her daughter had been born prematurely. After several months in the neonatal intensive care unit, when she finally came home, her tiny baby girl weighed just three pounds. There’d been no breastfeeding up to that point. And while breastfeeding advocates urged her to try, this mother’s number one priority was making sure her fragile and fussy infant continued to thrive.
The other women around the table chimed in. They were angry too. One explained that her child had been born with a cleft palate, which made breastfeeding impossible. Another talked about being admonished for not breastfeeding her adopted children. Others shared stories of being scolded for feeding their kids formula. It was clear these women understood the benefits of breastfeeding. But under many circumstances, it simply isn’t a viable option. Even when it is possible, I thought, isn’t it up to the mother to decide what’s best for her baby and her?
As a childless woman listening in on this discussion, I thought of all the ways women are judged for the decisions we make about our bodies, our lives, and our children (or lack thereof) and the impossible standards we’re expected to live up to. Mothers endure endless conflicting messages about child-rearing—from why, how, when and where a child comes into the world to every single detail after. Breastfeeding is best, but don’t do it in public. Co-sleeping benefits your child, but don’t neglect your partner’s needs. Private school is better, but here’s a list of geniuses who attended public school. Stay home with your young children, but don’t give up your career.
To Work or Not to Work?
Like breastfeeding, the subject of motherhood and work has been hotly debated for decades. Critics of working moms suggest their kids suffer as a result. But the facts prove otherwise. Research conducted by Harvard involving 50,000 children of working women in 25 countries revealed there are considerable benefits for kids raised by mothers who work either full- or part-time.
In the U.S., daughters of women who work earn up to 23 percent more than those whose mothers didn’t work. They’re also more likely to be offered senior level positions and supervisory roles. The explanation for this: Their mothers are their role models. They learn early on to follow their career choices, which is a major factor in their success. They also learn how to be independent and make decisions on their own.
Boys whose mothers work are less likely to get caught up in gender stereotypes and tend not to focus on masculine and feminine roles within a household. They learn to help with chores at an early age, are more aware of their surroundings and are more empathetic. As they become adults, they play an active role in managing the home and, according to the Harvard study, spend twice the amount of time on childcare—16 hours a week compared to the average 8.5 hours.
When Mama’s Happy, Everyone’s Happy
There are also significant benefits for mothers who work. Women who stay in the workforce are more likely to receive the opportunities and income they deserve. Working moms are happier, more fulfilled and less likely to experience depression. The opportunity to interact with adults is paramount to these mothers’ well-being. Moms who work develop a stronger sense of self-worth because they receive recognition from peers and colleagues for their workplace contributions, and because they contribute financially to their households.
For many women, having children inspires them to pursue their purpose. There is a shift in how they see the world and a stronger desire to make a difference for future generations.
Work Like a Mother Founder
When I was growing up, my dad worked two jobs. My stay-at-home mom took care of four kids and ran a home-based business. She was a seamstress who made beautiful custom clothing for a number of clients on her Singer sewing machine, which was stationed in the corner of our dining room along with a dress form and a trunk full of fabric and supplies. While I wasn’t particularly interested in the sewing aspect of it, the business part excited me. So, when I was around the age of 8, my mom made me her business manager.
When a project was finished, she’d place it on a hanger and pull a clear plastic garment bag over it. I’d write a receipt on a pad of green guest checks, rubber stamp it with her business logo, and pin it to the hanger. Carbon copies were placed in a repurposed recipe box. At the end of each month, I’d tally up the checks on an old-school adding machine. I’d present the totals to my mom and we’d talk about what to do with the money. Sometimes the cash was needed to cover household essentials. She mostly saved money for a rainy day. Every now and then, she’d treat the family to something special, like dinner out at a restaurant.
It wasn’t easy for my mom to juggle a family and a business while her spouse was working back-to-back jobs. She had a brood of kids who were constantly demanding her time and attention. She didn’t have a lot of resources at her disposal, but she was endlessly creative and eternally optimistic. She loved being a mom and she was good at it. But sewing and working with her clients brought her a different kind of joy. I saw her beam as customers praised her work. I noticed how her posture changed when people asked about her business in public. It fulfilled her in ways motherhood didn’t.
I learned the foundation of a good business from my mom. I also experienced firsthand that mothers who launch and operate successful businesses while simultaneously raising children are a force to be reckoned with. This has only been reinforced as I have gotten to know many amazing women business owners who are also moms through the work we do at Publish Her.
No Such Thing As One-Size-Fits-All
My book, “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose,” is dedicated to female founders and many of them are mothers. Some of the moms featured in the book are navigating motherhood and entrepreneurship on their own. Others are doing it with the support of partners or spouses or outside help. There’s no playbook for working moms, no one-size-fits-all approach for mothers who are entrepreneurs.
Lindsey Froemming is a wardrobe stylist and owner of Fashion Fix. She struggled with body image issues after the birth of her first child and put her business on hold. After her second child was born, Lindsey decided to embrace her body and her business. She works with her kids in tow, waking up early, staying up late, and hunkering down during naptime to get as much work squeezed into the day as possible.
Mary Kay Ziniewicz’s husband was a stay-at-home dad for 10 years while she worked outside the home. After trading places, Mary Kay launched Bus Stop Mamas, a company dedicated to connecting moms with employers that offer jobs with flexible schedules. She primarily runs the business from home, and her now-teenaged daughter serves as chief technology officer.
After staying home with her children for more than a decade, Twila Dang landed her dream job as a radio host as she was approaching 40. The experience inspired her to amplify the voices of all women and launch Matriarch Digital Media. Now her kids often join her at the podcasting studio where they help produce highly acclaimed on-demand programming.
In total, “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose” highlights the stories of 31 female founders. Many are mothers to children, all are mothers to small businesses, and each is doing business in her own unique way. Despite the challenges women in business face every day, these women are making an impact in their households, their communities and the world. They’re in a league of their own, and their journeys are sure to inspire you.
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created Publish Her Story (formerly My Founder Story) and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.