Dedication: Sharon D’Agostino
It was 1997 and I was a stressed 32 year old mom of 2 young children, working more than full-time at a major corporation. I felt pressure to perform and drive business results at work because the business demands were incredibly challenging. At home, there were challenges too. Mostly, there was just not enough time in the day. I’d arrive at 7pm to find two active, demanding children waiting for me, one was 5, the other 3 years old. They were joyful, bursting with energy, and exhausting. I was mostly exhausted but I loved every moment of the time I did have with them. I had them nap til 6pm so they could stay up with me til 11. If we made it through the night uninterrupted (six or so hours of sleep) the routine began again the next day.
I was loving being a mom and a major business contributor, but I was feeling as if I wasn’t giving all that I could to my children. Then, a shocking event occurred that forced me to devote more time and focus. My five year old developed a significant, incessant, visible head tic. His head swung violently to the left every few seconds. He couldn’t sleep or eat or relax. It was overwhelming for all of us and lasted for almost a week. Medications didn’t slow it and the specialists couldn’t fully diagnose it. Looking into his frightened eyes before another series of tests, I felt as if it were somehow my fault. This tic wouldn’t have happened if his mom had been around more, if he could’ve have been a more relaxed child. Despite the doctors denial of this, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I spent several weeks shuttling him for evaluations and comforting him – but fearing that I was dropping the ball at work.
Eventually the intensity of the tic subsided and he was able to go on with a relatively normal life. The neurologists and psychiatrists diagnosed a tic disorder with the potential to develop into Tourette’s Syndrome (only time would tell). As the tic faded my guilt did not. Upon my return to work, I put in several late nights and the guilt piled on. My boss stopped by to ask what had been on my mind. She had sensed my stress but chosen not to pry. She knew I had missed a number of days of work but waited for me to tell her what I needed to tell her and she encouraged me to come sit in her office to talk.
I literally walked into her office, closed the door, and burst into tears. I had never done this before. So unprofessional I thought, I was weeping so forcefully that I couldn’t even explain for a while. She just sat with me, gave me a hug and told me to take my time. After the flood of tears, I told her what had been happening. I will never forget what she said to me, “Thank you for sharing with me. Your work is excellent, but your family is more important – go home and be with them. Never feel like you have to sacrifice one for another when you are working with me. Know that I trust you and respect you and your children do too.” For the first time, I felt secure in my job and loved by this inspiring, outstanding woman. In her caring response, she had essentially given me the freedom to be a mom first. That was 18 years ago and to this day she inspires me and makes me feel loved. I have never had the opportunity to work for anyone else like her so, instead, I strive to be like her for all the women who now work for me. Mom first, great business person second – no guilt! She taught me to pay it forward and say it forward so this is the perfect place for me to share this story. I hope you will remember that when an amazing woman inspires you or makes your life easier – make sure she knows it and then do the same for another woman in your life.