End the Mommy Wars in Your Head

I made a big mistake when I left my career. Putting my career on pause wasn’t my mistake – far from it. The mistake I made was thinking everyone would champion my choice to stay at home while my children were young.

I remember one of the first times I revealed my plans to leave CNN to another working mom.

“We’ll see how long that lasts?” she chortled, “I give it six months.”

cnn-pregnant
Pregnant with Boone, sitting outside CNN with oldest son, Kirkham.

I played along and smiled back, giving her the knowing look of a mom who’d rather put on a pantsuit than change a poopy diaper. But deep down, I hurt. Her six-month deadline rattled my confidence, reminding me of my first maternity leave and the pressure I felt to return to work and act as if nothing had happened.

I did return after my first son thanks to a husband who helped care for our child. But I returned to work only to realize something did happen. I had a baby. The longer I worked, the deeper the divide I felt between my baby and me. That’s why I knew when I had my second son, I wouldn’t start his life with my heart divided. My heart was at home.

Even after I left, the cold comments and the mommy wars in my head continued, and I struggled to fire back. A few months into my career “pause,” I remember dropping off my 2-year-old son at his morning preschool on a high, excited to tell another mom I had left CNN after my second son was born. A mother to three, she would understand and share my joy. My sons would now get more Mommy-time. Her unexpected response still rings in my ear, “Why would you want to do that?” I left that preschool parking lot deflated, asking myself, “How long will this last?”

Five years later, and I’m still trying to erase these remarks from my memory. These women meant no harm, but I let them harm me. I let them hold me back from fully embracing the life of a full-time mom that I chose. Sadly, we, women, do it to ourselves and each other unintentionally. We knock motherhood down at the very critical moments when mothers need to be lifted up.

Just last night, I attended a networking event with my husband only to be asked over and over, “What do you do?” I cringe thinking back to the hesitation in my response. I knew if I said, “I’m a mom,” the conversation would likely end there. Why was such a simple question so painful for me to answer?

That’s why, today, I knew I had to write these words down and mean it: The mommy wars in my head are DEAD. I made the right choice for me and for my family. And I’d do it all over again.

Don’t read this the wrong way. This ugly war is in my head and hopefully not yours. I love and cherish women passionate about their careers. In fact, I was one of those women. My problem was I was too passionate, and I let my passion for my career take over when my young family needed me most. What I’ve come to terms with is my family needs me now, and my career can wait.

“We knock motherhood down at the very critical moments when mothers need to be lifted up.”

From this day forward, instead of replaying the warring words of women in my head, I choose to remember the most comforting words I received from the man I had the least reason to trust – the CNN executive in charge of restructuring my department. While I was nine months pregnant, this man, who barely knew me, was burdened with the task of deciding whether to put my name—and the baby inside of me—on the lay-off list. Well, I chose to make the man’s job a little easier.

I requested a meeting with him and asked him to give my job to someone else. “My decision to leave goes against every bone in my body,” I said, knowing it was time to listen to my heart. Clearly torn, I didn’t leave the room before pitching a few stories and said, “You may see me back here in six months.” (For the record, six months later, I produced one of those pitches for a CNN pilot, pumping breast milk at a gas station after spending the night filming in a Tennessee jail.)

Today, it’s his comforting words written in a note after our meeting that give me peace with my decision. His words are now the words I choose to remember and will remember the rest of my life. He simply wrote, “You have two lucky sons.”

Yes, I do. Not everyone can put a career on pause, not everyone can choose whether to work outside the home or not. And not everyone wants what I want — a pause button! But I can hit pause and I did. And now, because of it, I have three lucky sons and a lucky daughter too.

Please don’t let his or my words start a war in your head. Forever end the mommy wars in your head, too. Moms who choose a career have lucky kids too – albeit for different reasons. Their kids get to see their mom doing what she’s so passionate doing.

I got to witness just that last night. My husband’s business partner, a mom, brought her son to the networking event we attended. I watched as this little man followed his mom around with wide eyes of admiration. His mom says, one day, he wants to be an entrepreneur like his mommy. What a lucky kid!

Tonight in the rush to make a chicken stew before soccer practice, I took a moment to celebrate the end of this ugly war in my head. My second son, Boone, the one I was pregnant with the day I left CNN, requested an impromptu dance party in the kitchen to calm his wailing sister. He chose the dance party anthem: “What Did the Fox Say?”

As I watched my almost five-year-old son dance away, I didn’t hear the warring words of women. I felt complete joy to be at home, sharing this moment with my children. Instead, I heard the Fox say, “You have three lucky sons. And one lucky daughter.” For once, I let this song play on a loop!

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