Sep 1, 2016 · 4 minutes

This week’s “Uterus is a feature” podcast got philosophical quickly when my guest Leigh Rawdon asked something I hadn’t really thought about quite this way before: “Who gets to decide what being a good mom is?”

Empowered women spend a lot of time talking about who it doesn’t. That boss at work who passes you over for a promotion as a “favor” so you can spend more time with your kids. Mommy war combatants who may attack you if you stay home or chose to work. Conservative politicians who have blamed “bad” mothers as the cause of all societal ills. Parent who gives you the stink eye at school because you brought store-bought brownies to the bake sale. Even in-laws in some cases fit that category.

But who does? Is it your kids? Because frequently we have to do things for them that they may not see the value in at the time. Frequently kids in the same house would even grade their parents differently.  Is it the mommy who is just trying to do her best? Or is that judgement somewhere in between? Or is it one of those kinds of things history will judge?

“I have to think does this thing -- whatever it is help me achieve my goal of raising great kids? And if it doesn’t, I have to not care what people think about it,” she says. “I have my own experience of being a mother that’s really just about me. I have 18 years of having these kids in my house, and it’s fun, and parts of it are rewarding and fulfilling to me, and that’s about me, not them.”

I love that way of looking at motherhood: Too many women obsess about whether they may be doing something for the kids or themselves, as if the latter is a negative. But if it isn’t detrimental to your kids, moms should be able to enjoy being moms over those 18 years.  

Rawdon, like me and my last guest Kim Scott, grew up in Memphis. We all three went to the same all-girls school, and again in this episode we talk about the expectations of women growing up in the South and Rawdon’s frustration at friends who would be highly academically competitive, but also claim they had no plans to ever work. “Some of the girls who were making the best grade in the most advanced Advanced Placement classes were the ones the most comfortable saying once they had kids they’d be comfortable staying home to raise them,” she says. “I always found that really confusing. Why AP Calculus if you are going to stay home when the kids are born?”

The ambitious Rawdon -- who marched into City Hall as a teenager to get a business license to start her own helium balloon business-- always knew that wasn’t the life for her, although she knew she wanted to have kids. She recently found a future autobiography of herself she wrote in highschool. She was curious. “What did this teenage Souther, driven person say she would be?” she says. “And I opened it up expecting it to say entrepreneur or President of the United States or maybe a CEO, and [it said] I had kids and was a part time consultant so I could stay home with my kids in the afternoon. It took me aback. Why was that my dream when I was that age? I think it had a lot to do with the context of where I was, and what was held up as successful. And that was ‘being a great mom’ by this definition that existed in the ether.”

A lot of women can relate to that. But, boy, was the 18 year old Rawdon wrong.

After graduating Harvard Business School, she moved to the Bay Area, where she met up with Emily Meyer and eventually started Tea Collection, an amazing children’s clothing line that is known for its patterns and vibrant colors and homages to a different nation around the world season after season. They only raised a modest seed fund to start Tea and bootstrapped the company from there. That was made possibly by early buys from high end boutiques and department stores. Now, Tea has its own thriving online business in addition, and is experimenting with physical retail through pop-up shops.

Her two sons are certainly being raised with different expectations for what being a “good mom” means than she experienced growing up several decades ago in a different part of the world. Teachers and other parents ask them all the time if they plan on being a CEO one day “like their mommy,” and at a recent get together with old college friends, Rawdon mentioned a goal of cooking Sunday night dinners so that her kids would grow up thinking that “women do cook.”

(To listen to the archive of phenomenal working moms, go to the Patreon page. And as a reminder, we are just a few hundred dollars away from our next goal. If we hit it, we’ll add a monthly show about dads grappling with these same work/life balance questions. At the $50 level you or your company will get a shout out every week, but even $1 makes a huge difference!)