On Motherhood:
The reflections of a working mom in these challenging times
By Victoria Silverman

Mother’s Day weekend was this past weekend. The “holiday” fills my mind and heart with many thoughts and memories, and it made me reflect on all the mothers of all kinds out there whom I’ve encountered, especially through this past year.

My mother died the day before Mother’s Day, four years ago. It added a taste of sadness to the holiday that will be with me all the remaining days of my life, I’m sure. I have two amazing daughters, who fill my heart with love and gratitude, but sadly for me, they no longer live close enough to me to “celebrate” the holiday in person.  And honestly, I don’t care so much about it – I’ve always viewed Mother’s Day as the “Hallmark holiday.”  Surely, Mother’s Day is every day. 

And that sentiment has never been clearer than this past year.  As a recruiter, I recall non-covid times, when mothers of all kinds would appear at our offices for interviews - never showing or discussing motherhood, except on rare occasions when the conversation came up casually.  They were women who worked and held their motherhood close to the vest. Their motherhood was reserved for times when the workday ended or before it began. But did it?  Really?

Then COVID-19 hit and life became virtual-everything. Mothers could no longer compartmentalize their lives from their duties as mothers to their duties as employees, wives, partners, caregivers and more.  It was, in most instances, all there for all to see.  Babies clinging to mothers’ chests, toddlers interrupting meetings with needs that could only be met by “mommy,” elementary school children who required mom to be the teacher, IT person, employee and snack/nap/lunchtime/nurse and more.  Moms had to monitor teens who rebelled against the quarantine and had to be watched so they didn’t sneak out to meet friends or spend all day on social media rather than paying attention to their online studies.  But there were also the moms of four legged babies, who in finding their mothers at home, took it upon themselves to become needy of her attention – crawling across computer keyboards, barking, whining, meowing…

Working mothers found no solace, no peace, no ability to compartmentalize their lives this past year and it definitely took its toll. I told numerous mothers who apologized for their children’s behavior while being interviewed that they should be knighted or sainted or something – admitting that had I been in their shoes, my children might not have survived. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my children and feel motherhood is perhaps the greatest accomplishment and joy of my life. I often tell friends I wish I had more kids. BUT I know that being pulled in twenty directions at work is challenging enough but adding the twenty directions of motherhood...incredible.

I’m not overdramatizing this situation- the NYT wrote several pieces about it, and they also labeled it a crisis. You can read about it here

I was one of those mothers who loved and chose to work. Truthfully, working was not only a choice for me; it was also a requirement to support my family. But last year wasn't about choices. Far from it. Too many mothers were physically, emotionally, and/or psychically restricted from opportunities they would have chosen because of the tremendous requirements of motherhood. Balancing too many or too much while trying to work at the same time cast a dreadful shadow over the joys of motherhood. There were those that lost their jobs, those who were forced to quit, and those who were ill equipped to handle the overwhelming pressure. It is always a challenge to be a good mom, excellent employee, and more, but this year added a level of pressure that was completely overwhelming and unprecedented for so many. The ripple effect on children, pets, spouses and partners, parents and others in the family unit, not to mention bosses and work quality – some say it will be felt for decades.

I remember my mom saying to me that one of the things she admired most about me was my ability to come home after a 10-hour or longer day at the office and drop everything and regain my happy mom face and heart when I walked through the door.  She was always amazed that I could do that so seamlessly. I know that I was able to compartmentalize because I had childcare; because I could go to work and not worry about where my kids were or who was watching them. I had the space (physical and mental) to compartmentalize. I had the support of my mother and others. I may have worked very hard during my lifetime, but I could leave the office and enter the home uniquely. I am and always was fortunate for so many reasons. I am so grateful.

And so, to all the mothers of all kinds out there every day, every week, every month, every year – I salute you. I cherish you. I share your joy and pain and love and ire and stress and passion…I see you. I hear you. I thank you and I wish you well.

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Victoria Silverman is the immediate past president of AFP's Golden Gate chapter and the managing founder of Cook Silverman, an executive search firm for nonprofits.