This guest post is written by Lori Mihalich-Levin, creator of Mindful Return, a blog and 4-week e-course that gives new parents the tools they need to plan a peaceful, thoughtful, and successful return to work after maternity leave. I got to know about Lori and Mindful Return through interviews I have been conducting for my book exploring the psychology of “choosing both.” After hearing wonderful things about Lori and her course, I asked her to share some of her thoughts on ambition and love, and how she teaches parents returning to work after becoming parents to balance these two drives.
The new mamas who take the Mindful Return e-course I teach all have something in common: they love their work, and they love their babies. And they all want to find a way to embrace motherhood and career in a way that makes sense for themselves and their families. This causes them much consternation and anxiety, to be sure, but they’re determined to find a way through it.
The other day, in the course, one expectant mom wondered the following “aloud” on a discussion board: “I am nervous about leaving my little one with someone else, and that makes me feel uncertain about my decision to return to work after having the baby. What if I really love being a mom?!”
Her comment, “what if I really love being a mom?” really shook me. “I should HOPE you’ll love being a mom!!” I felt compelled to write in response. Yes, I was joking with her a bit, but in all honesty, I LOVE (I mean really, really love) being a mom. And I’ve been a working mom for the entire six and a half years since my oldest was born, other than 2 maternity leaves. For me, what I wouldn’t be in love with is being home full time and not having a career. That scenario would make me one unhappy mama.
In short, I think loving motherhood, loving our families, and feeling good about returning to work aren’t mutually exclusive.
I’m a lawyer and have a tendency to dig into the meaning of words. So let’s explore what the words “ambition” and “love” really mean. For “ambition,” we’ve got:
noun: ambition; plural noun: ambitions
• a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work; and
• desire and determination to achieve success.
And for love – a tough one to define to be sure – there is:
noun: love; plural noun: loves
• an intense feeling of deep affection; and
• warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.
What I’d like to point here is that nothing about these words makes them opposites. I am a strong believer in the need for self-aware adults to hold, feel, and get comfortable with conflicting feelings that arise at the same time. AND I think it’s important to note that at their core, there isn’t anything about “love” and “ambition” that are inherently in conflict.
If anything, these words have more in common than they have as differences. They both talk about “intense” or “strong” feelings. They both involve enthusiasm, desire, and devotion.
I know, I know, our feelings about the internal conflict of working parenthood aren’t about technicalities, wordsmithing, or convincing ourselves intellectually that we should feel one way instead of another. The mom in my course was really talking about time and about missing her baby: What if I want to spend more TIME with my little one, rather than going to work and being parted from her? What if I MISS her when I’m away?
In the Mindful Return course, we work on identifying our new, complex feelings about working parenthood. We seek and provide reassurance from others who have been through the transition back to work that this working mother thing is, in fact, possible. And that our little ones won’t, in fact, forget us if we go to the office every day. We work on logistics and strategies to make this happen and encourage one another to be leaders in our workplaces. And we provide virtual hugs and support for the bumps along the way.
Becoming a working parent is all about embracing a new, complicated you, who may indeed sometimes wish you were home when you’re at work, and vice versa. I’m a huge believer that we can and should be multi-passionate people in this world, though. Yes, our passion for loving and our passion for achieving can and should authentically co-exist.
In addition to her work in founding Mindful Return, Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, is a partner in the health care practice of a global law firm and mama to two beautiful red-headed boys. Lori holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.