When my son was born four weeks early, I accepted the need to text clients from my hospital bed while I was in labor. I accepted the frantic scramble to wrap up the product launches I had planned to finish before he arrived. I accepted the late-night feedings and the gallons of coffee it took to get through the day. What I refused to accept was the guilt other people tried to pin on me.
“You’re only taking a month off?”
I had spent 19 years as a marketer in San Francisco, launching multimillion-dollar campaigns for the likes of Microsoft and Twitter. But four and a half years ago, I followed my heart and started a consulting business helping yoga and spiritual teachers launch online products and grow their revenue. It’s my soul’s work, but it is very demanding, so when I found out I was pregnant, I planned on taking just one month off after the birth.
When I told friends about my plans, I’d often hear responses like, “You’re only taking a month off? You know you’re never going to get these years back, right?” Even my husband asked if I was sure it was enough time. And that was before my son made his unexpected appearance a month early—and things ended up being so much more complicated than planned.
I know these people were just trying to express concern, but the underlying message was that I should feel guilty about focusing on my career as well as my son. Like every parent, I have moments of doubt. I sometimes wonder if I’m a good mom, but I don’t regret giving so much to my business when my son was small. In fact, I don’t think I’m putting my work before my family at all. Instead, I think I’m teaching my son one of the most important lessons in life:
The best way to fight regret is with self-knowledge.
Parents teach their children by modeling behavior. What I’m modeling for my son isn’t all-out commitment to my business (though I do put my heart and soul into my work). Instead, it’s an all-out commitment to choosing the kind of life I want, instead of just downloading my values from my family or society.
When it comes to taking time off after having a baby, many parents don’t have a choice. But for those of us who are lucky enough to have options, one mom might take six months off. Another might take no time at all. A third family might decide it’s best for dad to be the primary caregiver. The important thing isn’t the details. It’s that families make a choice that fits the needs and personalities of the people involved.
My choice was mine alone, and I would never push it on anyone—and to be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend texting from the delivery room if you can avoid it. I had some very time-sensitive product launches going on, and since my son came four weeks early—and very unexpectedly—my clients had no clue.
As luck would have it, I was able to have a natural birth: I started feeling contractions around four in the morning, randomly had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for 7:45 anyway, and delivered just before 1 p.m. Since they weren’t aware that any of this was happening, my clients were texting me, and given that it was a natural birth, when the team took him from me to go measure and do all the rest and I wasn’t able to join for a little while, I felt fine… so I just started responded to my work messages.
What I do recommend is making a decision about how you want to handle being a parent from the get-go. Make this plan from a place of awareness about who you are and what you value. I’ve seen a therapist for years, I meditate regularly (a practice I would recommend to anyone), and my husband and I discussed the kind of parents we hoped to be in depth before we had our son. There are many ways to learn about yourself, but if you’ve done that work, hints from those around you that you should feel guilty simply don’t have to stick.
These are my three best tips to help you avoid this guilt:
1. Do the pre-work/mental planning and really, truly consider what’s important to you.
2. Develop the muscle of giving yourself permission to choose and create what you want.
3. Have a daily practice (whether it’s taking a walk, meditating, or practicing yoga) to help you stay clear and continue making active choices.
The more you live with awareness and the more you choose to be conscious of what you want, the more you can create your own world. And you can give yourself permission to be right with it—no matter what other people may think or say.
And this isn’t just a lesson for parents.
I learned this lesson from having to my son, and I hope to pass it on to him, but you don’t have to be a parent to face moments of intense self-questioning. There are many crossroads where others will try to tell you they know what you need better than you do. Starting your own business, getting a big promotion, or changing careers are all milestones that force you to figure out how to navigate a new paradigm.
These are defining moments, but they are also the choices you’re most likely to doubt. If you face these life shifts from a place of awareness, and if you take the time to really know what you want, then there will be no room for regret. No matter what anyone says or implies, you won’t look back and say, “Why did I do that? That was just because my parents or society was pushing me that way!” And that is real freedom.
Destinee Berman has been called the strategist and “secret visionary” behind today’s most widely recognized online schools in the yoga and mindfulness space. She helps holistic practitioners scale their impact for good, helping them grow their business in a way that is authentic, genuine, and helps them serve even more people. Learn more at destineeberman.com.