I spent this past weekend at a business conference which included presentations from several very dynamic and accomplished women.  These were some impressive and powerful women, many of whom mentioned their children as they talked about their lives. It was great to hear their stories.

I must confess, however, that as I listened to them I also heard a voice in my head asking:  what career heights could I have scaled, what could I have gotten done if I had continued to work in a full time job while raising my three children?   I have lots of friends who work full time and enjoy wonderful relationships with their great kids.  Why couldn’t I do that?  Trying to realize professional ambitions after so many years out of the workforce is a tough road to hoe.

But whenever I force myself to think more seriously about this I have to acknowledge some truths:  I decided to step away from a full-time work life to focus more on parenting because it was the way I felt most comfortable operating at the time.   My parenting goal was to do the best that I could do, and I pursued that goal daily. Who knows how things would have gone if I had chosen another path.

And my friends who are full-time working moms tell me about the voices in their heads, asking:  could they help/have helped their children more, are they doing enough, should they be doing more/something different to ensure that their children grow in confidence and capability, poised to excel?   (Quick time out to say that I’m focusing on moms because, well, I’ve never heard a dad worry about this.  I’m sure that some do, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say moms worry more.)

And when these friends stop to further examine their work/parenting choices, I imagine they face some truths too:   Whether their work decisions were fueled by economics and/or by a calling that they had to heed, they made them based upon how they felt and their circumstances at the time. Their parenting goal is to do the best that they can do, and they are pursuing that goal daily. Who knows how things would have gone if they had chosen another path.

While the road not traveled can look like paradise, it is actually a black hole.  Regardless of what choices we  make about how much time we choose/are able to spend actively taking care of our children, those nagging voices in our heads can tell us to worry about our choices.  And regardless of how comfortable we can get with our choices, it is really hard to avoid feeling that we are being judged by others for them.

So let’s stop judging ourselves and others on this issue.  First, as my mother used to say, we have NO idea what is actually going on behind closed doors (i.e., why people are making whatever choices they are making) so we shouldn’t worry about it.   Second, we gain nothing from pointing fingers or adopting smug attitudes towards one another. If we have to judge,  judge only whether we are being the most thoughtful and conscious parents we can be.

Beyond not judging, we can actually help each other feel better about it all.  Moms who have time to go to the school meetings and spend extra time at school, make sure you buddy up with a mom whose work keeps her away from these activities, and keep her posted on what she is missing. Offer to scoop up her kids when she gets stuck at work.  Working moms who are amazing managers, savvy tech users, have great organizational skills due to the work they do everyday, make sure to share tips on how to make life easier with moms who, being out of the workforce, may not have access to the latest info.  When it makes sense, offer to take a bunch of kids (not just your own) into your workplace and show them what’s cool about your work.

I love to see women knocking the cover off of the ball in their professions and as moms.  I’m working on quieting the nagging voices in my head. I suggest we all do.