In her speech introducing her husband at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama told the audience that, during her first term as First Lady, her most important title was “mom-in-chief.” This statement was met with extended applause.
I love Michelle Obama. I love the causes she stands for, from fighting against childhood obesity to supporting women’s rights abroad to addressing poverty. When I go for runs around DC, I often jog past the White House and imagine Michelle Obama doing 50 push-ups and then rewarding herself with a homemade bowl of lobster mac and cheese, and this image inspires me for another two miles. I simply adore her. There’s no question that Michelle Obama’s work is a significant force in the fight for equality.
I know that Mrs. Obama loves and cares about her family, but her nod to “mom-in-chief” is a familiar move, one I’ve found myself making. Many successful professional women feel constantly inclined to say, “but of course my kids come first” or “first and foremost, I’m a mother.” When you look at the Twitter profiles of some of the world’s most successful women, their bio often follows this formula “I’m a mother, a wife, and also a [insert incredible, globally significant accomplishment and title here].”
Listen, being a mother is an important (and difficult) job. At this very moment, I am listening to Elmo sing a song about tricycles for the fourth time in three days. This morning my son walked into the kitchen with a box of tampons and demanded to know their purpose. And there are times, particularly when I’m reading Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site for the fourth consecutive time, when the gravity of my maternal responsibilities—the fact that I am responsible for turning this person into a productive member of society who will raise a family of his own—consumes me. Being a parent makes you learn about yourself and your morals and your definition of success and happiness.
But my role as a mother is not always my most important role. And certainly saying that other roles and responsibilities are important does not diminish the importance of parenting. Unfortunately, many working parents—both mothers and fathers—feel inclined to constantly qualify their accomplishments, saying that, of course, nothing is as satisfying or rewarding as being a parent. Sure, my Saturday mornings with my son are much more enjoyable and rewarding than a four-hour conference call. But a brand workshop with a client I love that leads to a creative breakthrough? Hands-down more satisfying than pushing my son on the swing. And that doesn’t make me a bad mom.