I remember when I decided to apply for grad school. My daughter was only eight months old and I was still on maternity leave. I had just self-published my first collection of poetry and was high on no sleep and the euphoria of completing a life long goal. So, I went for it.
I recall mulling over the decision about whether or not to apply to grad school, mostly because I worried about what others would say and think.
People had started asking me why I couldn’t just “take it easy” and “enjoy motherhood,” and I knew this would only continue if I set out on another endeavour.
The honest truth is that I wasn’t enjoying all aspects of motherhood.
I loved being a mom, but I didn’t want to be just a mom. I missed the other parts of myself. I missed being curious. I missed exploring my potential. So, I said “screw it,” and applied.
Publishing my book made me feel alive when as a new mom I felt the most defeated and outside of myself. It was a reminder for me that I could be more than a mom and that filling my own cup made me happy. Applying and being accepted to grad school was like winning the emotional lottery. I got to be a whole new person, I got to learn and grow all while being home with my child. I didn’t feel that I needed to give up my career to be a mom and instead, grad school offered me the opportunity to grow as a professional and in doing so I became a better version of myself and by extension a better mom.
But of course—there were opinions.
There were wrinkled foreheads and confusion anytime I explained my choices.
While I didn’t feel compelled to stop living my life, it definitely gave me pause to consider my goals on more than one occasion.
Was I a terrible mother? Were my dreams valid? Was I not maternal enough? Is that why I couldn’t just enjoy this time?
Straying outside the confines of motherhood is one thing, but doing it within an often-judgemental community is a whole other ball game.
In a culture that shames mothers who go to work and those who don’t work outside of the home - being a mom and an entrepreneur often feels like an uphill battle.
After graduating, I opened a private practice with my business partner, friend, and fellow mom, Camila Johansen. When I look back on my story I know this isn’t an isolated experience.
Family and friends have shook their heads in disbelief when I tell them my three-year-old daughter goes to preschool while I work.
“But why?” they ask.
“Why not?” I bite back.
Mom’s who “don’t stay in their lanes'' are usually faced with confusion, eye rolling, and comments that allude to the fact that motherhood alone should be enough.
Shannon Mann of Pink Orchid Studio sat down with 5XPress to discuss her experiences as a mom and entrepreneur, and why there is so much stigma around moms who stray outside of what is considered a “normal” job.
“I think entrepreneurship generally for women is so frowned upon, because it goes against the vein [and] everything that we're taught [about] staying home with [our] mom and dad, being part of this big extended family and listening to [our] parents ,” said Mann.
Mann discusses how prior to starting a business she questioned whether or not she could. Did she have the tools? Was she smart and resourceful enough?
When she started attending business conferences with her husband and meeting other entrepreneurs, she quickly realised that she could do it too.
”I'm just as smart. I'm just as capable. Why can't I do something?” said Mann.
Believing in yourself and then also having the support system to move forward is half the battle. Stepping into the business world isn’t just about taking the plunge, blocking out the excess noise of negativity, and spending time, often years, to build something—it’s also about asking yourself if you can handle it?
“Let's be honest, the expectations on women are completely unrealistic, right?” she added.
Being a businesswoman is a far cry from being an easy choice as you are often the CEO of your business and of your household.
“I wish people just had a little bit more empathy when it came to working moms because it is tough, and there always is that judgement,” said Mann.
When asked what piece of advice she would give to moms who are thinking of starting a business or going back to work, Mann says to block out all external opinions.
“Believe in yourself. Right? There is so much noise, everyone's [going to] have an opinion,” she said.
“I feel like more South Asian women need to have that ‘main character energy.’ We are taught to be supporting actors in someone else's story whether [that’s] your husband, your parents, your children. When is it about you?”
Rajbinder Grewal, a blogger from ThisMamaNeedsaVacay also talked to 5XPress to discuss the life of a mom and influencer and the self doubt that comes with juggling both roles.
“There's absolutely more to who we were before we had kids that gets lost, especially when [our] children are little,” she said. “ I had three [kids] under five, and that was my whole identity”
We often lose our sense of self, especially in the early years when the kids are small. We get lost in the noise of who we’re supposed to be and the women we were before motherhood. We get buried under school pick-ups, after-school activities, and laundry.
Being a woman in business and a woman who works goes beyond just being a contributing member of the family, it’s also about being a person with an identity again.
Social media is one way for moms who are at home to explore more non-traditional opportunities.
In her interview with 5XPress, Rajbinder shared how prior to being an influencer, she was a teacher.
“I kind of knew what my expectations were and I love to teach and it was a great fit for me as well, so I don't regret that at all but I didn't know [about] these other opportunities and non traditional roles and jobs that we can have”
While this space has offered Rajbinder a place to grow and form connections with a community of other mom influencers she says the judgement can be hard some days. There is a perception that it’s not hard to share fashion, travel or mom advice online.
“It's more than what you're seeing, like in that little square on your phone. Right?”
There is hard work involved in that one little square and a mom behind the screen who is not only filling her creative cup but also trying to do her job. Rajbinder reflects that when she first started sharing her life and exploring the influencer world she was inspired by Tina Singh; a mom influencer who has broken barriers for many SA women looking to harness social media as a business.
“One of the things I learned most from her was to call this my job, that this was my job. This was valid work.”
Being in this space is fulfilling but challenging. Being a mom who steps out of the bounds of what is considered “normal” for motherhood means persevering through judgement and self doubt. But it also comes with many rewards and opportunities, including the chance to grow into the person you never had the permission to be.
And it’s never too late to start a new chapter. For Rajbinder and Shannon, this is just the beginning, there are big things coming for both of these mom entrepreneurs. The skys the limit for them and for you too, mama.
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Manjot MannMore by Manjot Mann
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