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What Kids Really Learn from Watching Their Imperfect, Incredible Working Moms

Do you ever sit around and worry about the bad habits your children watch you throw down on a daily basis?

You know, like when you yell at your son to stop yelling at his sister, work through entire beach vacations and drink wine out of a box for easy access? Yeah, those.

The idea that your children are watching and learning from your behavior might be a horrifying concept, but, like it or not, children are sponges—absorbing everything we do as parents. Talk about yikes.

But before you go fast-forwarding to a doomsday future, make note: It’s not all bad news because they’re soaking up the good stuff too.

That’s right. Yes, you’re doing good stuff. That might be hard to believe if the bitch radio in your mind is always telling you that you suck. But it’s true. You make good decisions all the time that your children see and learn from.

When you say no to your boss to attend a field trip with your son, he’s paying attention to your priorities; when you look in the mirror and like what you see rather than cursing yourself under your breath, your daughter is learning how to look in the mirror as well; and when you make a mistake and say you’re sorry, everyone in your house learns that mishaps are acceptable and apologies are awesome.

The other night I crawled into my 11-year-old daughter’s bed to tell her goodnight and stumbled upon a binder she had hidden under her comforter. Worried at first that it was a math or science binder for school and therefore needed to be in her backpack and not in her bed, I immediately inquired, “What’s this?”

What happened next blew my mind.

My free-spirited, first-born child lifted up the covers to reveal not only a binder, but her laptop computer. She proudly held up the binder and said, “My friend and I are going to start making and selling bath bombs and the binder holds our business plan.”

Well, OK then little lady.

One page featured a list of ingredients they’d need to purchase while another held what appeared to be a mini P&L statement complete with their estimated sales (price per bath bomb x how many they’d sell) as well as expenses. We laid in bed and calculated how much money they’d have left over and if there were any ways to reduce expenses, like buying in bulk. That last idea was hers, not mine.

Because I grew up in the marketing and advertising industry, I immediately suggested she should come up with a fun name for the product to create a brand.

“Like this?” she asked.

Um, yeah. Exactly like that.

There’s no doubt in my mind that my daughter is intimately familiar with the unbelievable passion and joy that stems from developing a unique product and putting it out into the world because she’s been on the sidelines watching her mother do the same.

I’m obsessed with binders. Binders have gotten me through every major growth spurt in my professional life—allowing me to break busy concepts into bite-sized chunks.

Sure, my daughter has seen me lose my temper, stuff my muffin top into my mom jeans and drink tequila on the rocks. But she’s also seen her mother start her own company, write a freaking book and manage a very balanced existence.

Put that in your muffin top and smoke it.

We must resist the temptation to assume our children see and learn from everything we do wrong and nothing we do right. It’s simply not true. You’re a whole person—more than the sum of your biggest wins or losses.

If anything, I’m willing to bet that your children see you as much better than you imagine they do. A guy friend of mine once told me that when his mother was in her late 70s, she apologized for working so hard and being away from home so often when he was a child.

His response: “What are you talking about, Mom? I don’t remember you being absent. I remember you being a rock star.”

The next time you need to give yourself a little pep talk, think of three wonderful things your children have learned or will learn from you. You have a lot more to offer as a mother than carpool chauffeur and cupcake maker.

Whether you know it or not, or admit it or not, you’re also shaping your children into cool little humans who want to follow in your footsteps.

Because they’re pretty fabulous footsteps to follow.

Katherine Wintsch is the CEO of The Mom Complex, a consulting company based in in Richmond, VA, and the author of Slay Like a Mother: How to Destroy What's Holding You Back So You Can Live the Life You Want.

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