My friend Steph posted a frank reflection today on her working mum journey the last few years. Being honest about simply not having the energy or inclination to work is hard to do with the “you can have it all” messages all around us and with the perception that we are being judged for our working-or-not mum status. She inspired me to comment on some really important points she brought up that I’ve observed in myself and while coaching professional working mums.

I loved this:

“Success is going to look a bit different to what I thought was important five years ago”

That is so true! I would love to hear all our different answers to: “What does success look like to me now? What would I need to do, what would the world around me look like, if I thought I was successful?” I wonder what choices we would make if we re-wrote our definitions of success.

So many of us have strong values around work ethic, professional excellence, quality, financial independence and freedom, that we have focused on successfully growing our careers for many years, not really giving ourselves a chance to stop and think about what we really want to do.

Steph writes, “Rather than seeing becoming mothers as killing our careers, perhaps having kids actually gives us the chance and drive to work out what it is we do want to do”

What an opportunity we have now to answer that question! “What do I want to do? And how do I want to do it? What impact do I want to have in my life? What do I want to get out of life? What do I value most?” Given a catalyst to delve into our true values and strengths we can feel that spark of energy and enthusiasm again and put aside that familiar feeling of ambivalence Steph mentioned about the sweet new role she was offered upon her return.

It can be refreshing and energising when we change our mindsets to see becoming mothers as an opportunity for redefining “normal” and choosing how far – or even whether – to “lean in”, rather than feeling we are struggling against something that just happens to us in an attempt to return to “normal”.

Recognising that your “normal” has changed can be liberating. It’s also scary.

Besides an understandable array of fears, I’ve noticed a big thing that gets in the way of jumping on all this creative opportunity is how we judge ourselves. Steph described it so well in meeting another mum at the nursery gates. I’ve been there so many times, worrying and wondering about what other people think, about deciding to become “just” a stay at home mum, fearing that I’ll lose my identity – and even lose my working friends.

So many women feel guilty or judged for whatever decision we make – whether to lean in or lean out. But where is the guilt truly coming from? Who is really judging? How much are we actually judging ourselves? Yikes, those are hard questions.

Once we can get honest about the self-judgement, and start releasing some of our expectations about how we’re “supposed” to feel, who we are “supposed” to be, and what we are “supposed” to do, we’ll start making, accepting, and dare I say it: embracing our own decisions and feelings – and giving our sisterhood a bit of a break in the process.

So, what do you want to do now?