"Nobody tells you how wonderful it is to be a mom," says Meredith Collier, attorney and mother of a seven-month-old from Cleveland, Ohio. "Having this sweet, weird little human to come home to is so wonderful. I just didn't realize how much it was going to add to my life."
In celebration of Mother's Day, we spoke to seven mothers, from an architect to an emergency physician, about what motherhood means to them.
Read on for their thoughts on the joys—and challenges—of juggling parenting and career, plus their go-to style tips and maternal words of wisdom.
Content warning: Please note that the following interviews include anecdotes that may be upsetting to some readers.
On what makes Mother's Day memorable
For many women, a first Mother's Day can be a rite of passage, as young mothers take their place next to the other matriarchs in their families. For others, it's the simple celebrations that forge connections with their growing children.
"Last year I was pregnant and spent Mother's Day with my mom and my grandmother," Meredith recalls. "I felt like I'd moved from the kids' table to sit with the grownups."
Stephanie Riccio, who is seven months pregnant and a merchandise manager from New York's Westchester County, says her most memorable Mother's Day was also last year—but for more challenging reasons. "I was pregnant for the first time and, a few days before the holiday, I lost the baby. I was devastated," she shares. "That day I had more appreciation for my mom than ever, and I learned a new appreciation for myself. I thought I knew how much my mom loved me, but I never really understood how much—or the true meaning of unconditional love—until then."
Elana Satin, mother of a six-month-old, and a nurse practitioner from Lakewood, Ohio, recalls that her husband surprised her with a Mother's Day breakfast-in-bed before she even gave birth. "It felt so nice because the birth was still far off, and I wasn't feeling like a mom yet."
Simple pleasures like a homemade breakfast can definitely make the day uniquely memorable, says Katie Risch, mother of two boys, and also a nurse practitioner from Cleveland. "The Mother's Day after my second was born, I held a newborn in my arms while my toddler happily sat eating strawberry waffles next to me at the rickety folding card table we used as a kitchen table. It was simple and perfect."
"When my kids were one and four years old, we biked to one of my favorite parks for a Mother's Day picnic, and I'll remember that forever," says Amy Kalar, an architect from Minneapolis, whose kids are now teenagers.
On not "doing it all"
Even the newest of these mothers have learned lessons worthy of passing on to their counterparts. A common theme? Staying on top of parenting and a career requires both focus and forgiveness—and there's definitely no such thing as "doing it all."
"I've learned to be really present with the kids when they want your attention," says Denise Livingston, an emergency physician from New Jersey. "You'll never get that time back, and they grow so quickly. Let go of the 12 other things you're trying to do."
Similarly, Meredith says she tries to stay focused and in the moment, and to "run the mile I'm in." But she also admits to doing a lot of planning and making lists. "I don't like surprises, and deadlines are very important at my work."
Elana is also a fan of good planning. "My husband and I have clear expectations of who is doing what task when. I do the morning routine, my husband takes the afternoon, then we do the evening together. That way we both know the time we can devote solely to work."
"Do your best to arrange every day to be as balanced as possible," says Patricia Klein, a mother of two teenagers and a digital content creator from New York City. "Accept the fact that some days your job will have more of your attention, and other days your children will. It's a constant balancing act."
"Be gentle with yourself," says Amy. "Being a mom and working full time can be really challenging. You can feel like you're not giving your job everything that you need to, and you definitely feel the same about your kids. Give everything your best, and know that it's okay to not be perfect."
On finding work-life balance
While modern workplaces are supposed to allow for women—especially mothers—to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts, the simple fact is that not all companies are equal.
When Stephanie realized that her place of employment wasn't the right environment to mix career and motherhood, she looked for a new position. "I was interviewing the company as much as they were interviewing me," she says. "Was it a place where I could love what I do, still have my career, and be confident that I could enjoy my family?
"More women should feel comfortable balancing a career and being pregnant," Stephanie advises. "Don't fear workplace judgment. As soon as I was honest with myself about how I felt, it was a lot easier to be honest with my employees. I have never felt better knowing that I am growing in my career while growing life in my belly!"
Denise has also had to weigh the alternatives available to her in the medical field. "I've personally chosen not to pursue an administrative role and climb the corporate ladder," she says. "I'm happy doing my job and taking care of my patients. I can't pretend that it's always rosy. But, as my kids get older, I can commit to different things. Women shouldn't expect themselves to be everything at all times for all people."
On looking good while doing it
These mothers have also mastered the art of dressing well, bringing their creative energies and multitasking abilities to their wardrobes. While most say that paring down to practical choices makes dressing go faster, none were willing to sacrifice style.
"I've spent a long time honing my wardrobe," says Meredith. "I don't have time to think about outfits, let alone go shopping. I'm an attorney, so I wear a suit most days and a lot of sheath dresses. I have a lot of timeless blazers. But I do like bright colors."
"I stick with the basics," Amy concurs. "I keep it super simple with a black pencil skirt (my favorite), black pumps (or flats, depending on the day), whatever shirt, and then a jacket or cardigan. You can dress it up or dress it down and you'll always look and feel great."
The more casual mothers prefer knits, sweaters, and pieces that can stand up to what an infant or toddler can throw their way.
"My go-to style is 'colorful and practical academic,'" says Katie. "Give me a sweater with elbow patches any day. I also make sure all of my clothes are machine washable for those days that oatmeal handprints end up on my shirt before I even walk out the door."
"I love pieces that are functional, and I like it when my kids notice that my clothes feel soft, but it's important that I feel put-together," says Denise. "I want to look good if I run into somebody and they recognize me as Dr. Livingston. I usually wear scrubs at work, so I express myself there with funny socks."
"I have two looks," says Stephanie. "One is a pair of leggings, white trainers, and a long blouse, and the other is a chic black dress and heels. My favorite thing in my closet is a pair of pink glitter Louboutins. They dress up any outfit and lift my spirits as soon as I put them on."
"I love experimenting with outfits and am fearless that way," says Patricia. "My absolute favorites, though, are my vintage Levi's. They are soft, broken-in, and fit perfectly. They are easy to dress up or down, and will never go out of style."