Working mom's viral letter highlights how hard—and controversial—work-life balance can be

They say motherhood is a full time job, and as a mom of three, I can attest to that. Especially when kids are little, being a mom is a non-stop marathon of nurturing, feeding, cleaning, organizing, transporting, comforting, counseling, and educating on constantly changing terrain.


Throw in a full-time career on top of that, and WHOA NELLY. The words "tired" and "busy" take on entirely new meanings. People who love their kids and love their work—or who don't love their work but need it financially—often struggle, feeling like their attention and energy are constantly being pulled in two directions.

But that tension between work and family life doesn't make someone a bad employee or a bad parent. It just means there has to be some flexibility and grace on both sides of the equation.

That's what blogger Jamie Johnson was getting at with a letter about what life looks like for her as a working mom. Originally posted on her blog with the title "Mom Guilt: From One Full-Time Working Mom to Another," the letter was picked up by Love What Matters, where it has gone viral.

RELATED: This stay-at-home mom's post about 'not working' has been shared over 400,000 times.

Johnson started by explaining that she's aware of how being a mom of small children can impact her job at the office:

"Please stop judging me for leaving the office at exactly 5 p.m., but my kids are waiting to be picked up from the sitter.

I know I'm missing this meeting, but my kid's preschool graduation is more important.

I know I was late today, but I can't drop the baby off at daycare until 7:45 a.m.

I know I seem distracted, because I am distracted. I have a sick toddler and I am waiting to find out when I can get him into the pediatrician.

I don't want to look exhausted when I show up to the office, but I have been awake since 4:30 a.m. with an inconsolable kid.

I know my eyes look glazed over, but I spent the last 12 hours trying to soothe a baby to sleep.

I didn't mean for my email to seem snippy, but I have a 5-year old who cried this morning because he didn't want to go to school, and I am worried about him.

Yes, I just banged my head against my desk. I received a text message that my kid has pink eye and I have to leave to get him even though this report is almost due.

I know my eyes are very swollen right now. I spent last night crying because I am exhausted, never get to be alone and haven't taken a hot shower in five years.

Sorry that I was short with you, but I spent the last hour arguing with a toddler over the necessity of wearing pants to the babysitter.

I know I am supposed to leave my personal life at the door when I come to the office, but when you are a mom to two small kids, that is hard to do."

Then Johnson thanked the people who have given her grace during the five years she has been a working mom:

"So thank you to everyone who has given me grace over the last five years.

I could probably stand to give myself a little.

Being a full-time working mom with young kids is not easy.

Thank you to every boss who has let me leave for doctor's appointments, unexpected sicknesses, preschool graduations and school lunches.

Thank you to all the people who turned their heads when I was pregnant and had to run out of a meeting to go puke.

Thank you to everyone who has let me know they also had a hard time juggling their work/life/kid balance.

Thank you to the people who ignored my swollen eyes, exhausted face, and the spit-up on my blouse.

Thank you to all the other moms who slay it each and every day and motivate me to keep going.

Thank you to the people who encourage me to keep going even though I can feel defeated at times.

Thank you to all the co-workers who have picked up slack for me because I had to make a quick exit to solve a kid emergency."

Finally, she gave a shout out to the other working moms of the world who are going through the same challenges and who do their best to make it all work:

I know I am not the only working mom in the world, but I am a working mom and I totally understand what you are going through.

I understand you feel like you need to overcompensate because you get to work just on time and leave the minute the clock strikes 5.

I understand when you eat your lunch at your desk because you have to leave early to get a kid from the sitter to the doctor then back to the sitter and then get yourself back to the office in time for your 2 p.m. meeting.

I understand sometimes you show up to work looking like you were attacked by a flock of geese because the kids couldn't find their shoes, you gave someone the wrong color bowl and then forgot to take Sleepy Bear to the babysitter.

I understand you are tired. Exhausted, probably.

But I also understand you are capable and worthy of so much more than you realize sometimes.

You don't have to choose between two worlds that you love. You can have them both. You can have a family and a career. It's not easy, but it is possible.

Yes, the worlds might collide sometimes and make life much more complicated, but it's worth it.

So don't stop. Don't give up. You've got this.

And P.S. – Not everyone is going to understand. And that's OK."

That P.S. at the end is no joke.

Johnson says she's been overwhelmed by the responses she's gotten to her post. "I absolutely adore and love all the support this post is getting," she told Upworthy. "I am floored to be honest. Thanks to all the working moms and dads that have shared their stories with me. It also brought me to realize that I am so lucky to have a flexible employer. And I am extremely thankful for that."

However, she's also received no shortage of negative messages, which is unfortunate but not surprising. Some people genuinely don't understand, either because they have no idea how much having kids impacts your life or because they think her description of her reality makes her sound "entitled."

"Just because I'm a working mom and I leave the office once a month to eat lunch with my kid at school, does not mean I am a bad employee or a slacker," says Johnson. "I work my booty off and work from home, pull late nights, etc. to make sure I am caught up on all work. My boss, who is the CEO of the company, would not be so flexible with me if I wasn't a dependable employee."

Johnson added that people should realize when they leave comments that they do get seen by real people. "I am no way entitled and don't think I am better than anyone else," she says. "Everyone has commitments. I know by putting my life out on the internet for others to see means I am opening it up for commentary, but maybe think twice before tearing someone down without knowing them personally."

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I've been a mom for 19 years, and I've seen how nasty the discussions about working mothers can be. Some people don't believe moms should work outside the home, period. Some think that moms with jobs outside the house have it easier than stay-at-home moms, and vice versa. Some believe that working moms shouldn't be given any special treatment because they chose to have kids and we all have to live with the consequences of our choices.

What we could all use is a little more of the grace Johnson wrote about in her post. It's not about giving moms special treatment; it's about employers and coworkers recognizing that working parents thrive when they have flexibility in how, when, and where they get their work done. It's not about "excuses," but about the very real struggle of trying to be there for your family and be there for your job at the same time. It's not about "entitlement," but rather understanding that giving working parents flexibility actually makes them better employees.

Here's to the working moms out there striving to do their best on the homefront and the jobfront, and to the employers doing what they can to make that feat easier to accomplish.

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."