Dear mums: It’s okay to want to do hard things

Me (centre) after one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: walk 100km for Oxfam New Zealand. My face says it all. But, after I recovered, I experienced the most intense elation. I wasn’t a mother when i did this event, but I like to think I could still do something like this now I have a child.

Me (centre) after one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: walk 100km for Oxfam New Zealand. My face says it all. But, after I recovered, I experienced the most intense elation. I wasn’t a mother when i did this event, but I like to think I could still do something like this now I have a child.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve fluctuated between wanting to build the best copywriting business the world has ever seen and wanting to quit business altogether.

Motherhood and business (or work of any kind) can be a gruelling mix. Some days it feels like I’m barely keeping my head above water (or, let’s be real, laundry). It can be hard. Really hard.

But, after much soul searching, I’ve realised that I don’t care how hard this path is: it’s the one I want to follow (for now, at least). There’s a fire in my belly that won’t go out, no matter how often self-doubt rears its head.

I want to do a hard thing. And that’s okay.

Or at least, it should be okay. And normalised, celebrated, and supported.

I wish it were that simple.

As a young woman wanting to do a hard thing – start a business – I found myself up against a few barriers but, ultimately, my decision was celebrated.

As a new mother wanting to do a hard thing – continue to grow my business – I’ve found myself up against a slew of problematic, limiting, and outdated beliefs, coming from both myself and society-at-large.

I feel as though my decision to be a working mother is constantly being questioned. I’ve had to work through (and am still working through) immense self-doubt that I didn’t have before.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing. Becoming a parent is an incredibly profound life change and it encourages you to question nearly everything in your life. I expected to feel a lot of uncertainty in the first few months of Zoey’s life, and I did. I still do.

What I didn’t expect – and wasn’t prepared for – was the unspoken expectation that I would somehow be less ambitious once I became a mother.

This expectation doesn’t come from anyone or anywhere in particular. It simply feels present and heavy. It’s probably more to do with my own expectations (or stories) around what motherhood is ‘meant’ to look like than anything else.

But I’m sharing my thought process because I don’t believe I’m alone in feeling conflicted about ambition and motherhood.

Since becoming a mother, how many times have you (directly or indirectly) been told to slow down? Strive for less? Take it easy? Lower your expectations? Put your ambitions on hold? Play smaller?

All the while your other half has likely been told to push harder, do more, achieve more, earn more, provide more, play bigger…

Again, this is not inherently a bad thing. Early motherhood is most definitely a season where lashings of self-love, compassion, and patience are required. That is indisputable.

What I take issue with is this idea that suppressing your ambitions should come naturally – like it’s a given – and that when you do decide to return to whatever it is that lights you up, it’s met with judgement and fear.

When a new mother emerges from the baby fog wanting to do something ambitious for herself again – be that run a marathon, return to work, start a business, travel overseas, or even just escape to a hotel for a night – the question shouldn’t be ‘oooh, are you sure?’. It should be ‘what can I do to support you?’

Let her try whatever it is she wants to try – with your full faith and support. Let her stumble, trip, pivot, dial down or dial up – according to her own inner compass. Because trust me, she’ll figure it out. That’s the point. She might do a 2km training run for her marathon then spend a week in agony and laughing at her optimism (that was me!). It doesn’t matter whether she succeeds, it matters that she feels empowered to try.

From the outside it might look like she’s going backwards or failing. What she’s actually doing is learning. Don’t talk her out of that powerful process before she even begins by sowing seeds of self-doubt. The path forward will not be clear and linear, it will be messy and complicated and hard – whether she chooses to work or stay-at-home (which to me seems like the hardest work of all) or to do whatever else her soul is telling her to do.

And when it gets messy and complicated and hard, and the woman in your life is crying and exhausted beyond words and wondering what the point of it all is, please: don’t tell her to quit. She will quit if she wants to. Instead, ask again, ‘what can I do to support you?’

Asking that question is powerful because it shows her that she is supported in whatever she chooses, that she has options, that she is not restricted by a set path, and that she has agency over her future. And most of all, it tells her that it’s perfectly okay to want to do a hard thing. That the solution for hard things doesn’t have to be ‘make it easier’, rather – let’s figure out a way through this, together.

I believe this question isn’t just powerful for mothers – it’s powerful for anyone, anywhere, who wants to do a hard thing, in a world where ‘instantaneous comfort’ is having a major moment (think Netflix and Uber Eats). It’s hard to do hard things when there are so many easy things vying for your attention!

I’ve finally learned (as in, just last week) to ask my husband-to-be ‘How can I support you’ when he strives in his work. For the past year, I have been asking ‘can’t you just slow down?’, missing a vital point: that he is striving because he wants to and that ambition is not a tap he can just switch off. What he needs is my support and understanding, not my rejection of his dreams, and I need the exact same from him.

It goes without saying that sometimes there will be conflict and one of us will have to make significant compromises for the wellbeing of ourselves and our daughter. And yes, that compromise has fallen on my shoulders for the most part so far – but one step at a time. We’re not the first couple to fall into defined gender roles upon becoming parents and we probably won’t be the last! What matters is that we’re having these hard conversations (see what I did there?) and figuring out a way forward that lights us both up.

We can do hard things. And it’s okay to want to do hard things.

I hope this realisation empowers you as much as it has empowered me.

What hard thing do you dream of doing?