Motherly Collective

I used to know the exact meaning of the word success. I could taste its sweetness in my mouth and chased accolades like a fox on the prowl. I weaved these yardsticks into my resume so that the world would know how I measured up. Nestled between words like “result-oriented” and “determined” my accomplishments glowed off the page.

These were the “before times,” when my days were chock-full of meetings and tightly closed deals. They feel so far away now when my agenda consists of FaceTime calls with grandparents and (hopefully) tightly closed diapers. Before becoming a stay-at-home mom in a quiet suburb, I worked in recruiting, an industry that gauges value by looking at achievements. And, I lived in a city that often equates a person with what they do—with how and how much they contribute. 

That capitalist mindset was always a problem, but at the time, my blindly conditioned brain just didn’t recognize it as such. But, as they say, the universe whispers until it has no choice but to scream. That little problem turned into a big conundrum when I became a  stay-at-home mom.

I am not alone; this is a problem that many stay-at-home moms have. We do so much, yet nothing seems to get done. And because we have spent our lives equating worth with productivity, we struggle. What we are really asking when we wonder if we have done enough is: are we enough? 

As a stay-at-home mom, the tasks on your to-do list are never complete. In fact, they seem to mate, sneakily creating more assignments when you aren’t looking and then cruelly mocking you with things that can be completed by 9am and then need doing again at 11am, 1pm and 3pm. You know the ones: cleaning up the playroom, doing the dishes, changing diapers. 

In Eve Rodsky’s book “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do,” “invisible work” is described as the physical, mental and emotional work that goes into caring for a family; tasks that “may be unseen and unrecognized.” Reading this was an AHA moment. Time and energy are valuable commodities and mine have been widely considered less than—by society, for sure, but also in my own mind.

On my quest to find more meaning in the redundant rigmarole of life, I took stock of everything I did on a typical day. The flurry of activity made me dizzy and confirmed my suspicion that I was not sitting around eating bonbons all day. In fact, I was barely sitting at all. 

While this exercise didn’t inspire me to proclaim myself Queen of Productivity, it did lead me to one big, important question: “WHY?” Why am I so convinced that tangible achievements are the measure of success? The simple answer: because I have spent a lifetime getting this message from external forces (culture, society, parents, bosses, etc.).

Stay-at-home mom life is full of opportunities to learn what really matters: how to be present and grateful, how to stop living for the approval of others and how to stand where you are with utter acceptance.

But in parenting, while there are measurable milestones to celebrate along the way, kids are never done. And there is something off-putting about collecting your child’s achievements as your own. But then where does the stay-at-home parent derive self-worth

The truth is that parenting is a master class in personal growth. Every day, we are developing more patience, empathy and compassion. Stay-at-home mom life is full of opportunities to learn what really matters: how to be present and grateful, how to stop living for the approval of others and how to stand where you are with utter acceptance. 

My next AHA moment came barreling at me and was also gleaned from the pages of a book. In “Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Ambitious Women,” Kate Northrup says “The difference in how we experience time is our energy…how present we are or how we are interacting with time passing.” I have not been content changing diapers and picking up toys, but neither was I content chasing the next deal or promotion.

It isn’t so much about what we do but rather about how we do it. True success has eluded me because now has never been enough. The rhythm of my life has been lived out to a song where the only lyrics are “more” and “next.”

Altering my relationship with the beautiful, dull, joyful and chaotic moments of this life has given me a clearer lens through which to look at success. Taking a deep breath instead of yelling at my kids, putting down my phone to be present with them or giving myself grace for my many mistakes—those are the moments that matter. 

When I was blindly chasing achievement, I didn’t know where I was going or why. I don’t know what the next chapter of life will bring, but the deepening sense of inner peace that I experience now tells me that it will be somewhere worth going.

So to all the other stay-at-home moms standing in a swirl of LEGOs and Cheerios wondering where your day went, I issue you this challenge. Let this stage of life usher in a new understanding of success. Instead of asking “What did I check off my list today?” ask if you had things on your list that brought you joy. And instead of asking how much you did, ask how you showed up. Were you connected, present and accepting? Or, working on it? Then that’s what I call success. 

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.