At Wimbledon, Serena Williams, playing only her fourth tournament after returning from childbirth, reached the finals. Though Williams ultimately lost to Angelique Kerber of Germany, she climbed 153 spots in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranking, putting her at no. 28 in the list published Monday.
“To all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. And I tried,” Williams, 36, said on Saturday. “Angelique played really well.”
Williams’ Wimbledon run was more than an opportunity to rise in the WTA rankings just 10 months after the difficult birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia.
It also created an iconic moment where Williams shared with the world that she experienced missing an important milestone in her child’s life while working — her daughter’s first steps.
The tennis great shared a deeply, personal moment that many working mothers have experienced. Executives at DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity share how they can relate to Williams’ heartache, but said she shouldn’t hold on to guilt.
Missing the Big Touchdown
“My first reaction was, ‘Yep, been there, done that,'” said Lissiah Taylor-Hundley, Vice President, Workforce Diversity & Inclusion, Comcast Cable. “And it was absolutely horrible as a mom and as a single, divorced mom as well. My youngest son played football and he had a big game in the 8th grade. I was on business travel and missed the game.
“It was the one game I missed and he scored a big touch down.
“Later when we spoke, he let me know that the win was not as sweet because I wasn’t there. Needless to say, that scarred me as a parent.”
Taylor-Hundley said that after that day, “I made a pact with him and my daughter and my other son to never miss another one of their games or competitions.”
That required rearranging her business travel but sometimes cutting it close.
“I’d be running, sometimes, full speed ahead into the arena, heels in my hand and in a suit,” she said.
Taylor-Hundley’s son is now 20 years old.
“When he talks about football, he will often remind me of that one game I missed,” she said. But Taylor-Hundley also said that the efforts she made to be at his games had a profound impact on him as well.
He talks about “how his mom, she worked and she committed to him and made a pact to never miss one of his games and I never did,” she said.
Taylor-Hundley said communication with your child is key and don’t be too hard on yourself.
“It’s important for working moms and working dads to not beat themselves up because I think that guilt filters over,” she said. “The kids feel it then it makes it worse versus addressing it head on.”
Daughter Loses Her First Tooth
“When my daughter lost her first tooth and she called me to tell me about it I lost it,” said Yrthya Dinzey-Flores, Vice President at Time Warner Inc. “I had been so intent on being there to comfort her through it. I missed it! She was walking back from camp, tripped over a seam in the sidewalk and out it flew.
“All the planning to be home early that week and all the care to make sure I was around couldn’t make up for this small hiccup in the sidewalk. She’s lost three more teeth since and I’ve missed them all.”
Dinzey-Flores said that it could be hard to get over missing “little miracles.”
“Although we know intellectually they don’t define motherhood, emotionally it feels like you’ve failed,” she said.
“I don’t know that I manage those feelings of missing out any better than I did when she was six months old (when I missed her first bite of solid food) or when she finally pedaled on her bike for more than 20 feet.
“I now understand that I will miss some of those ‘big’ moments but what needed to change was my definition of a good mother. I needed to set my own bar of success, as a working mom, to gauge what I do well, rather than borrow someone else’s or an antiquated definition of what it means to be a good mom.
“For me success is making every ‘small’ moment a big one. Every kiss, every hug is an event a celebration; we get to share our lives together.”
Learn to Forgive Yourself
“As a mom I have had to learn to forgive myself,” said Sharon Harvey-Davis, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at Ameren.
“I have accepted that I am a very good mother. I am not a perfect mother. As a result, I have very good children, not perfect children. Forgiving myself means that accepting very good is the perfect place to be with my family.”
Harvey-Davis offered advice on how to deal with the heartbreak of missing a milestone.
“Missing a milestone in the life of my children to juggle work and parenting is always a terrible heartbreak,” she said.
“The way to heal the heartbreak has been to cherish each special moment together, know that my absence occurs only when necessary to provide good in their life and that the special blessing of parenthood means that there will always be more milestones in our future.”
‘I saw my wife struggle to try to be the perfect mom AND employee’
“I sat and tried to think about times I’ve missed milestones as a working dad and couldn’t come up with many,” said Damion S. Jones, Ph.D., SPHR, Global Director, Diversity and Inclusion at Monsanto Company.
“This is due, in part, to the fact that while a recovering workaholic who’s worked too many late nights, I’m typically there in evenings and on weekend — when most of the kids’ activities took place. My wife, on the other hand, worked nights and weekends. This meant that there were years when she missed many of the kid’s afterschool and weekend activities. As a result I’ve seen her quit jobs she loved and was good at … twice! She’s now a stay-at-home mom.”
Jones offers the following advice: “If there is anything I regret and could offer as advice to working parents, particularly couples, it is to support one another. I have to admit I was not aware of the societal pressure working women feel to be the perfect mom AND employee until I saw my wife’s first-hand experience.
“I saw her struggle to try to be both and wasn’t always mindful of the role I could play to help frame her absence with the kids AND ease her tension. I think the partner in the relationship can play a huge role in helping the working parent (male or female) to be present in spirit.”