A Letter From A Working Mom To Her Daughter On Her Birthday

by Tessa Shull
working mom
BraunS / iStock

First and foremost, it’s your birthday, and with every passing year, I am continuously in awe of how quickly you’re growing up. And yet, there is so much about our mother-daughter relationship you cannot possibly feel until you have a child of your own.

I felt one of those feelings for the first time tonight.

I strategically planned for your small birthday celebration an entire week ahead of time. I grabbed items to make your favorite food and wrote down every color icing you wanted for your cupcakes. We raved about baking your birthday cake together and eating pineapple pizza until our stomachs hurt.

Like most mothers in this world, I am not just a mom. I wear several hats, and one of those hats is that of a career woman–my passion. Just as I strategically planned for your birthday, I also strategically schedule out my workdays. I work hard; I pour my soul into my profession just as I pour my heart into my family. I run errands on my “lunch” breaks and look forward to seeing your happy face every evening I walk to the parking lot after work.

I take pride in being both a professional and a mom because I firmly believe, as women, we deserve the same respect given to men and fathers in the career world. And I will fight to make sure you grow up in a world where professional equality is the norm among men and women.

I want you to know it’s OK to have an identity other than “Mom.” If you so choose, I want you to have a family and seek success in life outside of your family, and when someone asks you about your profession, I hope the efforts of women today make it so their first question to you isn’t, “So, how do you balance working and being a mom?”

But—yes, of course there’s a but—I also want you to know it’s OK to have moments like I did tonight on your birthday. Because although I may plan ahead, although I may have gotten all the ingredients for your favorite pizza and all five colors to put in the icing for your cupcakes, I didn’t make it home in time to do any of it. I worked later than expected and pizza was ordered instead of made while cupcakes were slathered with store-bought icing, in only one color.

Even though I know you didn’t really notice these small hiccups—deep in my heart I know that’s not what makes your birthday special—it still made me feel something for the first time: a very specific type of guilt. Guilt for choosing to be a mom and also pursue my passion.

And I’m going to tell you exactly what that guilt made me do, with no shame. It made me cry in my room after you were fast asleep in your bed. It made me feel like today, one of the most important days of the year, I had been a strong career woman but a bad mom.

I can’t tell you exactly why. Maybe it’s the outdated societal pressure put on moms to be the primary parent and caregiver. Maybe it’s the fact I physically birthed you on this day in a prior year. Maybe it’s because plans didn’t work out perfectly. Maybe it’s all of it, but I know that I am not alone in the way that I feel. And I want you to know, if there comes a time when you end up crying in your bedroom over something that didn’t turn out perfect, you’re not alone either. Don’t give up.

So you see, there are feelings you’ll never understand until you become a parent. One is that you will sometimes feel torn between motherhood and all the other things that are life. Another is that, when you feel that tearing at your heart and when you ask yourself if you were a good enough mom today, know that although you may not feel you were, it is that exact feeling that let’s you know you are a great mom.

I wholeheartedly want you to know that you can be a great mom and have great passions. You don’t have to choose, and you don’t have to be afraid. And with that, I want to leave you with some words of encouragement and advice, from a working mom to her daughter, for times when you may question yourself:

It’s not going to be easy, and as a matter of fact, I hope it’s hard. I hope it’s one of the hardest things you ever do—being a parent and pursuing your passion—because if it’s not challenging, if there aren’t days when you wonder if you can possibly go on, and if you never feel exhausted or get knocked down, you’ll never have the satisfaction of seeing just how much you can accomplish.

There will be times when you wonder if what you’re doing is right, if it’s OK to be a mom and have a life. You’re going to think that maybe if you just ignore your passion, buckle down and be the best mom you can be, your children will be better off. That’s not true. I’ve battled long and hard with that thought, and I think you should know, I think you will know, that your children will appreciate having a mother and a role model. Because, ultimately, being a good mom is one of our most important roles, and setting an example of a strong-minded, successful woman—whatever that may entail—is part of that role.

In the end, I hope that one day, when your child comes to you with their passion and struggle, you can genuinely tell them to keep moving forward just like you did—because you didn’t allow the loss of four cupcake-icing colors to take away the opportunity to be a great mom and have a great passion.