In addition to showing the world that she is a dominating, badass tennis player, Serena also brought the issues of working moms to light on Center Court at Wimbledon. She has shown the world what most working moms already know. Being a mom is one of the best jobs in the world, but it’s also one of the toughest if you’re a working mom (and that includes stay at home moms too). It’s a balancing act and when the scales seem to be tipping to one side rather maintaining a state of equilibrium, we women either have to put something on one scale or take something off the other scale to achieve balance. Sounds familiar?
In the HBO documentary series Being Serena, after losing a tennis tournament, Serena’s coach blatantly tells her that although the times that she shares with her daughter are very important, she can’t have everything. In other words, she can’t be the best mom and the number one tennis player in the world at the same time. Her coach goes on to say that Serena needs to pack up her family and head to Europe where his training facility is in order for her to focus on being the best tennis player she can be. He says to Serena that she and her husband must decide the best course of action that results in her “family adapting to tennis rather than tennis adapting to her family.”
As I sat in front of the television watching and listening, I could see Serena struggling with the idea of packing up; taking her daughter thousands of miles away from her husband – even if it was just for a short period of time. I have to admit, I was all up in my feelings, and not in a good way about the coach’s remarks to Serena. Tears rolled down my cheeks. “How dare he? What an asshole.” I thought. Who was he to tell her to adapt her family to tennis instead of the other way around? The fact is we women are always adapting, and that’s especially true if you are a working mom.
Watching this documentary got me reflecting about my own struggles as a working mom. For example, like the time I was trying to finish graduate school with two very young, energetic boys while pregnant with my third child. Back then revising and editing my thesis felt like an impossible task. The stress of trying to finish up that paper coupled with the thought that I could go into labor any day felt like more than I could bare. If I went into labor, when would I have time to finish with three kids? This was the thought that circled my brain over and over like a merry-go-round. I was an emotional mess. Looking back, the stress along was probably enough to cause me to go into labor.
Every time I sat at my computer to work on my paper, I felt a flood of emotions. As close as I was to graduating, I felt like quitting. It was an overwhelming feeling of defeat. It felt like it was just too much for me to handle at that time.
I started graduate school before my second child was born, and fast forward three years, I could finally see the finish line. However, I was unsure if I could actually cross it. Thankfully, I did graduate. I walked across that stage to get my degree one week after having a C-section in spite of doctor’s orders. Nothing and no one could stop me from walking across that stage to get my degree! The entire ordeal was tough and definitely a balancing act between working (albeit part-time), being in graduate school, and being a mom (and a wife).
Then there was the time when I had to wean my daughter off of breastfeeding, so I could go back to work full-time. Back then, it wasn’t widely acceptable to breastfeed your baby in public, let alone bring your breast pump to work to pump milk. The reality was that my daughter wasn’t ready to stop breastfeeding, and I wasn’t ready to stop nursing her. Still, I had to get back to work, because the bills were piling up. My husband and I had built a lifestyle that required two incomes. I felt so incredibly guilty. I remember thinking that I had put money before my children. I don’t ever remember hearing my husband voicing such concerns. If he did, he kept them to himself.
Back to Serena. Not only did she pack up her baby and move to Europe for a month to train, she was also told by her coach to stop breastfeeding in order to get rid of extra pounds that he felt was preventing her from being in top playing condition. This resonated with me, because although I wasn’t Serena, who was working towards recapturing her throne, I had other goals besides paying the bills. I went to graduate school for a reason. I wanted to be a school administrator. However, life happened and I adjusted. Like many women, I put my career on hold for my children.
As women, we place our goals, career, and all that we have achieved in our career on a shelf with the hopes that when we’re ready; when our family is ready, the opportunity to progress, to achieve at the highest level will be waiting. For us working moms, sadly this is not always the case. The workplace environment, and especially in the United States, is not very friendly towards working moms.
The difference between Serena and myself, and probably many women is that she never doubted her ability to return to tennis and come back stronger than ever. Also, as I was watching the documentary, I thought, “Well, it’s easy for her to get back to tennis.” She has all the support that money can buy, i.e. the cook, the maid, nanny, and the personal assistant.
Even though I don’t have all of the resources that Serena has, her grit and determination has inspired me to not give up on my own dreams and goals. She has showed me and other women that, “Women can be strong. We can do what we want, and we can dream big.” As working moms, we can rise above adversity, doubt, naysayers, and even a life-threatening illness to achieve our goals. We can achieve anything that we are we willing to work hard for.
“These past 2 weeks was amazing. It also was a sound for all moms stay home and working you can do it you really can! I’m not any better or diff than any of you all. Your support has ment so much to me. Let’s keep making noise everyday in everything we do. I’ll be back (and soon too) Road to the Us Open is next! Stay strong no matter what. Oh and this is just the beginning. Love you.” – Serena Williams
Thank you, Serena.