By Teri Sporer | Chief operating officer/shareholder, Holmes Murphy

To say "we’ve come a long way, baby" is truly an understatement. I recently read a book in which a husband came home from a trip and told his wife they were moving to a farm in Mississippi. As she told her parents about this news, this is what the book said:

Daddy merely sighed. "Well," he said, "I guess we’ve had you with us longer than we had any right to expect." This was what happened to daughters, their expressions seemed to say. You raised them, and if you were lucky, they found husbands who might then take them off anywhere at all, and it was not only to be expected, but borne cheerfully. ["Mudbound" — set in the 1940s]

Where have we come? Wisdom and understanding often come from those who have not only lived through experiences, but also learned from those experiences on how to properly respond. 

We currently have many generations of women in the workforce who most likely see things vastly differently because of how they themselves were raised. I see a difference from my grandmother to my daughters, and what they experienced from their mothers has varied more widely than any gap in our history.

Both of my grandmothers were born between 1913 and 1919. One was raised by a woman I grew to know in my early childhood, and one had a mother who died during childbirth. My grandmother raised by her mother became much like her — a "stay-at-home, take care of your husband and children" sort of mother. My grandmother who was orphaned at birth was shipped off to aunts and older siblings to be raised, but she really raised herself. As a young girl, I remember hearing both stories and being both positively and negatively impacted by each.

My own mother went to college, married a year in, and ended up staying home to raise four daughters and take care of our home and my father. Would history repeat itself? Would I do the same? No. I knew and accepted that my personality wouldn’t be a good fit for this. What was my reasoning? Nothing dynamic or heroic. There was no romantic story or some conviction about equal rights. I simply had a desire to do all I could to live a full life and experience all that I could with family, friends and, yes, co-workers. Life is about choices. We all make them. Sometimes we’ll look back with regret, and other times we’ll know they were right.

I won’t say there haven’t been times of guilt and wishing I could’ve been more involved in my two girls’ activities and done more to help my husband’s various businesses grow and prosper. What I see is a different side of this equation — a desire to ensure my daughters felt loved and supported but also were fiercely independent, and a drive to have them recognized not for their husbands’ accomplishments in life, but for their own. I saw a deep need to create a spirit of adventure and confidence that they could do anything they wanted in life! This was the easy part. The more difficult aspect was the type of relationship with my husband that differed greatly from what we were led to believe growing up.

Showing my daughters that doing all they wanted while fostering a loving marriage and a codependence with your spouse is a delicate balance. Men need to be needed and want to protect you at every turn. Luckily, I chose a man whose mother worked outside the home while he grew up. She was a strong woman who helped run a newspaper. She worked long hours, traveled and raised two boys with her entrepreneurial husband. My husband was far from a metro man in his personal beliefs, but always supported me as I was offered that next promotion or more responsibility. Always promising to help around the house and with our two daughters. 

What did I learn from all of this? Life doesn’t have to be perfect. If your children go to day care in the same cherry outfit three days in a row because you’re traveling and your husband doesn’t know where to find the clean clothes in their drawers — no one dies! The biggest challenge we face as working women is in our own heads and hearts.

When I would return from a business trip as a young mother and the ladies at day care would tell me these "funny" stories, I was mortified at first. I thought, "Oh, they probably think I’m a terrible mother." That’s when the irony hit me. We were parenting together, and the only people who really mattered were my husband and daughters! If the girls didn’t care about the same outfit and my husband didn’t care about the same cherry outfit, then why should I? 

It was a liberating moment when I figured out that those who wanted to judge me for the lack of proper clothing for an infant were the same ladies who were perhaps leaving their own children daily to care for mine. The matter of the cherry outfit was dead to me.

Ladies, what I would say is make sure you’re comfortable with your own decisions, your choice of life partners, and how you balance all the choices you make at every intersection. As you fight through whatever the prior generations left you and those around you who may believe differently, trust in your own feelings and work to ensure you can live with the consequences of each step along the path of life. It isn’t about a cherry outfit. It isn’t about power. It isn’t about prestige. It’s about peace within yourself.

Teri Sporer is the chief operating officer for the Holmes Murphy enterprise-wide property casualty division. In this position, Sporer is responsible for setting the strategic direction for the property casualty service team to ensure Holmes Murphy meets customer needs and sales commitments.