(and other comments you mean as a compliment but aren’t)
Written By: Jen Fox
“Here lies Jen Fox. Don’t know how she did it.”
Perhaps it’s morbid, but I’ve envisioned this engraving on my tombstone as a final nail in the coffin (so to speak), permanently enshrining the way people relate to me as a high-functioning, over-performing, lovingly exhausted working mother of three.
At one point I had three kids ages 4 and under. I get it, the very sight of me being solo with them must have been overwhelming. I would be retired if I had a dollar for every time a well-meaning passerby uttered, “You sure have your hands full.” Yah, I do, now can you hold the damn door open?
To an untrained eye, maybe I appear as some type of superwoman. I am blessed with three amazing and healthy kids, a supportive husband, a comfortable home, a challenging career, and a network of personal and professional connections. I play the social media game as well as any woman who’s just trying to hold it all together. But let’s get real.
“You’re such a supermom!”
Listen, I’m not a hero. I don’t wear a cape, I have no special powers, and most days the only happy ending is everyone being tucked into bed - alive. While I’m perpetually searching for the best hacks, the percentage of Pinterest pins I’ve actually executed is well below 1%.
I rarely get enough sleep, eat too many carbs, and drink way too much Starbucks only to be balanced by vino after dark. My house is clean(ish) and the only reason I don’t have a housecleaner is because I turn into a lunatic doing a pre-clean and trying to get my money’s worth for at least 24 hours after they leave. If you think I’m doing a great job, don’t personify me as a character, rather look me in the eye, maybe hold my hand and tell me, “You are doing a really super job.” Then stop talking and hug me.
“I don’t know how you do it.”
The truth is, neither do I. But do you really want to know? The comment puts me in the position to respond in one way and one way only. I say something diminishing and self-deprecating like, “Oh, it’s not that bad” or “Lots of coffee and wine!” The benefit here is that I don’t have to actually explain how I do it and you don’t have to listen, because let’s be real, you don’t really want to know. The next time you’re in awe of a busy woman in your life, just say something like, “I appreciate all that you do so much and I’m here to help anytime.” Then look around and do something to help.
“You’re such a warrior.”
While most days before 9 am feel like a battle, I’m not a warrior. No one trained me for this and while I often survive on rations of food around the kitchen, I don’t like thinking about my life as a battle and I sure as hell don’t appreciate you seeing it that way either. The challenge with the warrior mindset is that we have a really hard time taking the armor off. Perpetuating the tough exterior under any circumstance approach to motherhood keeps us trapped when most of us need someone, anyone, to carry some of the weight for us. Try, “I’m a safe space to turn when it all feels like too much.”
Then simply show up.
In the end, I'm not seeking praise for being a supermom, a hero, or a warrior. I'm just a woman doing her best to navigate the beautiful mess that is motherhood. I have my share of struggles, doubts, and imperfections, even when they aren’t obvious on my Instagram feed. So, instead of labeling each other with grandiose titles, let's remember that behind the facade, we’re all navigating the journey of working motherhood together and what we crave the most is to be seen, heard and understood (with a healthy dose of downright hilarious memes to get us through the hard times.) Even, and especially when things are hard, I’m reminded that keeping things real is all I’ve got and for today, that’s enough.
Meet the Author
Jen Fox is a seasoned HR and business professional with over 25 years of leadership experience. Her entrepreneurial background and career growth in a real-time learning environment have shaped her ability to build inclusive, high-performing teams and support others in doing the same. Endorsed as "one of the most no-nonsense L&D professionals on the planet", she brings a mix of vulnerability and pragmatic solutions to her work and relationships. Having assumed leadership roles at renowned companies like Nordstrom, Starbucks, Getty Images, and Justworks, Jen has recently returned to her entrepreneurial roots, reigniting her independent coaching, consulting, and public speaking practice. When she's not speaking out about the myths and challenges of working motherhood on LinkedIn, she can be found walking, listening to podcasts, and spending time with her friends and family in Princeton, NJ.