A mother’s guilt

baby pic

I heard the expression ‘mother’s guilt’ before, but I never thought that it applies to me. A part of me even started to worry that I don’t have it.  And then, I got it – If I worry of not having ‘mother’s guilt’, I probably have it.

Yesterday I have been through one of those ‘guilt’ moments. It was my son’s first day in the Pre-school Nursery group and it was painful. Thomas is two and a half now and he knows how to express his feelings especially when he needs attention. Although he likes the new kids and teachers, he just didn’t wanted to let go of me. He didn’t cry, but he looked at me with his big warm eyes saying: ‘Mummy…’

I was paralyzed and I couldn’t let go of him. When, eventually, the new teacher convinced him to stay on her lap with a book, instead of thinking that it is a good outcome since I had to leave for work, I felt was pain, quid and jealousy for the woman who took my baby.

I got back in the car and I start feeling guilty for leaving my son with strangers so that I can go and do exciting or less exciting stuff at work.  The questions going through my head: ‘Is it all worthwhile, what I am doing there? Do I really do what I think has a positive impact and gives me energy?’.

My day in the office yesterday has been different because of that painful start. I spoke my mind more, I brought some new edgy ideas for a conference and I had a very honest and open career mentoring conversation with a senior female leader in our company. I also dared to reach out and asked help from a senior stakeholder on a issues  I dreaded to touch few days earlier.

Looking back on it again, what I would say to young working mothers who might experience this mother guilt every morning, is that:

  1. We need to accept the ‘Mother guilt’ as something that is part of the ‘package’.
  2. Turn it from a ‘Problem’ that holds you back from pursuing your own dreams into a ‘Driver’ that pushes you forward.
  3. Put all that emotional pain in something really worthwhile for you and your family.

Johaan Cruijff once said: ‘Elk nadeel heeft zijn vordeel’ – every downside has its upside’

Live your dream…

Today we are celebrating Mother’s Day in The Netherlands. If you are a mother with small children like me, you will be surprised with little crafted gifts with many red hearts and sweet little poems. We take pictures of these moments and we might even print them for the album, for later. They form our memories.

The reality is that life with our children is full of opportunities for such moments of connection. You just need to stop, pause, notice it and fully enjoy it. Unfortunately, in my case, what happens is that I am in too much rush to bring them places and to pick them up. I simply miss those pure, ordinary, but memorable moments.

One of those moments happened this last Friday. I was supposed to drive my daughter to her dancing lesson. My son was still upstairs taking his afternoon nap. I rushed downstairs asking her to dress quickly but I noticed she was trying to tell me something, she was delaying.

I was worried that I had to drag Thomas out of bed, despite being still tired and that Kara will be late. I became agitated and impatient. That didn’t help, of course. In the middle of the meltdown. I stopped, looked at the clock and I realised that we will be late. I had a choice. I could be late and in the process make everyone, including me, unhappy or I could re-evaluate and go with the moment. It is very rare for me not to stick with my plan, but I did it. My son slept and I went upstairs with my daughter. She was keen to show me the new book she started to read. I invited her to read to me, while I was relaxing in her bed. I have not felt so peaceful and happy in a long time. And that was only because I was willing to listen.

This week I turned 40 and I realized that life is full of ‘boring’, ordinary moments with my loved ones. These are the best moments and these are the ones you miss, when your dear ones will no longer be around.

From time to time you can live your dream, you just need to open your senses and take it all in.

Is she bossy? The language bias against women

Today is International Women Day, we celebrate women’s courage and beauty. We congratulate each other on our achievements and progress against discrimination and  but, how was this day chosen?

On 8 March 1908 a New York textile factory caught on fire with the owner trapping his female workers inside to prevent them from striking with other factory workers.   129 workers died in the fire.  The colors of the fabric they were working on were chosen as the symbol of the international women’s rights movement. Since 1908 women got voting rights in most countries, but unfortunately there are still textile factories in Bangladesh where women are trapped in unsafe buildings. The sad thing is that they are making clothes for women in the other part of the world who celebrate International Women Day by wearing pretty dresses.   The gender equality can’t be achieved as long as we raise our girls to become princesses with lady manners.

The progress is only real when the day-to-day language bias towards girls and women has changed. ‘Determined girls are not bossy, they have leadership skills’.  

On March 8th, 2019, Catalyst developed an app for correcting language bias, Try it out and see if your language needs to be corrected: https://www.catalyst.org/biascorrect/



‘Letting go to letting come’

Thomas first day at schoolLast week, it was my son’s first week at school. I waved goodbye hoping he will cry asking me to stay longer, but he didn’t. He was ready for it and actually looking forward to it  with excitement. 

I, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to let go. I was afraid because  my little baby boy entered into the big world of schedules and societal expectations.

For the past 4 years, every time I was awake at night because of him I would comfort myself with the thought  that he will grow up eventually. What I forgot was that when he grows up, he will also move on from the baby cuddles to the ‘I am a big boy now, mummy’ phase.

‘Steliana, letting go is  letting come’ someone in my coaching class told me earlier this year. I read about Otto Sharmer’s theory U and  ‘Presencing’ but I guess I didn’t really understand it until this last week.   As adults we find it difficult to let go of the old self and that stops us to see the new opportunities around the corner. This time the scary thing  was the idea of me suddenly becoming a mother of two school-age kids instead of a mother of toddlers. Some other times it is about letting go the old ways of doing things at my job or letting go a certain status. This week I learned an important lesson from my four-year old son who just moved on to the next phase of his life without complaints and drama.

 I am recounting the memories of a year with a lot of ups and downs. Perhaps some of you had the same because that’s what life is: unpredictable and surprising. 

Life is what happens to you, while you are busy making other plans. (J.Lennon)

Presencing Institute

Is it OK for a mother to be a bit selfish and take charge of her life?


I was really looking forward to our week in south France but I was suspicious of the word ‘glamping’. I changed my perception when I arrived at ‘La Douce France’.I loved the huge luxury tents and even more the delicious dinners in the ‘table d’hôte’ setting.

The place came with the story, that of a mother who a year ago decided to leave the comfortable life style in The Netherlands to follow a life dream. I was intrigued by her story as mother and entrepreneur and I suggested an interview. We had a lovely chat while she was baking macarons and cakes for her daughter’s birthday.
Following the interview, I wrote for this article a snapshot of Chrissy’s life story and her advice for mothers.
I grew up in the country side in The Netherlands. My dad was a business man and my mum was a former teacher who decided to be at home with us. My younger sister had a serious heart condition and although we played together a lot she couldn’t do a lot of sports. I spent my childhood doing sports, being active outside.
My dearest early memory was from when I was about eight years old and the four of us went to Florida to visit Disney land. I absolutely loved it because it was just our small family and it was so special because back then it wasn’t common to travel far for a family holiday.
The teenage period and early adulthood was equally happy. I could follow any study I wished for and I could get any job wanted. Studying and my professional career took some energy, but it all came easy for me.
In my late twenties I met my husband Ruben, we bought a nice house, got married and we had our two children. We had what you would call a perfect life, but then, suddenly, within two years we both lost our parents.

Their sudden death made me realize that life is short and if we don’t do anything about it we would continue with the same jobs and life until we become 50. We had a dream of living in a nice warm country, cooking for our guests and living much more outdoors. We couldn’t postpone it any longer.

Within six months we both resigned from our high paid jobs, sold our house and bought this domain in South of France. Our kids were 7 and 5 when we moved and we had to put them in a French school without them speaking the language. A year later I am surprised how easily they adapted. Of course, it wasn’t easy for us. We struggled and we worked hard to make the glamping site ready for our first guests.
Here is my advice for all mothers:
In your adulthood you may be a bit selfish. You are in the peak of your life and you need to make decisions on how you want to spend it and what kind of life you want to offer your family. It is your time to make that decision. The children will grow and later in their life they will also make their own decisions on how to spend their life.
You can check out Chrissy’s dream at: Domain la Douce France.

Sometimes senior women tend to distance themselves from the junior ones

mothers christmasI love how in this HBR article, Anne Welsh McNulty  addresses the hard truth that we, women and mothers, find difficult to face in the:


Quotes from Anne Welsh McNulty, HBR article:


‘sometimes senior women tend to distance themselves from junior women, often to be more accepted by their male peers’.

‘It’s easy to believe that there’s limited space for people who look like you at the top when you can see it with your own eyes.’

However, there are still many senior women who take their ‘mother-hen’ role seriously and know that the antidote to being penalized for sponsoring women is to do it more.

Enjoy reading this article, Steliana

Lessons from my grandmother …at her funeral


People will forget what you did, they will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel’ (M. Angelou)

You never know how you will be impacted by the death of one of your family members until it happens. My last grandparent, my maternal grandmother, passed away last Saturday.

Considering she reached the age of ninety, the funeral was a calm event,  an opportunity for the grandchildren to celebrate her life and recall childhood memories.

There was one moment in church that really touched me. Her younger brother, now seventy plus years old himself, burst into tears when he kissed her cold hand as farewell. From the thirty-odd people in church, he was the only one who really knew her as a young girl and not as a mother, grandma or aunt. He was saying good bye to the older sister who fed him and protected him when the other kids bullied him.

My grandmother was born in a large family of nine siblings. Her mother died when she was five years old and she grew up with a stepmother and many younger step brothers and sisters. She married at the age of 19 and she spent the next 60 years of her life looking after her husband and their children. My grandfather died 13 years and since than she has been an old widow searching her place in the family. In her last few days of suffering, before she died, she uttered several times, in her sleep, the world ‘mama, mama’. Her mother died when she was 5 so she wouldn’t have remembered her face, but I guess she carried the mum’s image in  her soul for the rest of her life.

She was more of a facilitator than the main character in our family. We struggled to share significant events that spoke about her personality. Although a soft spoken and gentle woman, the real gift that my grandmother had, was to make you feel special whenever you talked to her. We always felt like VIPs whenever we visited during summer holidays. We could ask for pancakes at 10 pm and it was immediately possible. Later in life, we came back with stories about our jobs, kids and travels and she listened with deep curiosity and admiration.

Although sad to see her go… I know that death brought an end to her suffering. Her death brought some deep emotions and questions for me:

You come to this world alone and feeling cold and you leave …alone and cold.

You carry your own mother in your soul for as long as you live.

Children build their own world once they fly out of the nest.

And …

What is the point of a life of sacrifice?


How to make your dreams real!

matsumoto castleOnce, almost thirty years ago,  I had a dream that one day visit I would visit Japan.  I was fascinated by stories with samurais and geishas, but when growing up in communist Romania you know that such dreams are as bold as nowadays travelling to the moon.

I almost forgot about my childhood dream until one day last year. I  stopped and realized that life can just pass by if you don’t make a conscious effort to follow up on your childhood dreams. My good friend Anouk helped me see how easy it sometimes is to ‘JUST DO IT!’. And I did it – I bought the flight tickets (Thanks Anouk!) Two weeks ago, together with my husband and my two small children we travelled from Tokyo, Kyoto and to the Japanese Alps and back. My beautiful Japanese dream didn’t stop at admiring the beautiful mountain river filled with colourful fishes, on the last day I got the opportunity to speak at the closing plenary of the  WIN Conference in Tokyo about realizing dreams and the upcoming Mothers as Leaders’ book.

Tokio WIN

Why is it important, for us women, not to give up our childhood dreams when becoming mothers?

It all started with a dreamYour mother gave birth to a perfect baby: You! 

  • Her dream was that you will be happy and that you will do something meaningful with your life and hopefully you will not repeat her mistakes. Honour her by making a difference in the world and by leaving your own legacy.

‘When everyone takes care of their own children than all children will be taken care of’

While I don’t fundamentally disagree with this statement I  do think that it’s not enough.  I have a boy of three-year-old and a daughter of six. I want the best for both of them, but I also believe that we need a society in which boys and girls have equal chances of reaching their dreams after becoming parents.

So, How can you make our dreams real and therefore become an agent of possibility and  ‘ become a force for good in the world”.

KNOW YOURSELF – become aware of your strengths, biases and vulnerabilities

BLOSSOM – allow your enthusiasm and commitment to grow

HELP – give and receive support in your  journey

EXPLORE  – be curious and stay connected to others, yourselves and your intuition.

And most importantly, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.


About the Author:

Steliana van de Rijt-Economu is a mother of two and a leadership consultant and coachShe believes that the world would be a better place when more women and mothers  ‘lean in’ to take formal leadership positions in society. 

How good is your balance?

'It is hard to be a woman, you must think like a man, act like a lady, look like a young girl and work like a horse.'


‘It is hard to be a woman, you must think like a man, act like a lady, look like a young girl and work like a horse.’

THE PERFECT WOMAN – I am sure you all heard the famous jokes made, mostly by men, about the perfect woman. There is a self-inflicted pain we women experience when aiming to become the ideal woman.

Personality traits such as perfectionism and the inner drive to please others tend to negatively impact our work-life balance. I am not a perfectionist but I don’t like to say ‘No’ and I like helping others, which means my day fills up pretty quickly. Learning to say ‘No’ and making personal choices for the activities I know I can personally have a real impact on results was the first lessons I had to learn in my career.

PERSONAL CHOICES – I sometimes think that work-life balance is a myth or a catchy title the Human Resources professionals use to lure new hires. There is no silver bullet for it. You either have a quiet job that eventually will become too quiet and not giving you the adrenaline you need or a chaotic, high pace job that leaves you exhausted at the end of the day. It is all about making the right choice for YOU at the right time.

I sometime think we should just let go and accept our imperfections, it’s what makes us human and it is what makes us truly beautiful.  


What do you think?


About the Author:

Steliana van de Rijt-Economu is a mother of two and a leadership consultant and coach. She believes that the world would be a better place when more women and mothers  ‘lean in’ to take formal leadership positions in society. 

Mothers and Christmas

Christmas is a family event, we all know that. If you happen to be born into a Christian family you will probably spend Christmas visiting your mother’s house or she might be visiting you. If circumstances don’t allow you to travel, you will be probably connected with her somehow through facetime, a traditional call or simply wearing the ugly Christmas sweater she sent you as a present.

As a child I loved Christmas. I remember being seven years old and waiting for the biggest event of the year. I grew up in a small farmhouse surrounded by a large family of ten with my grandparents and a ninety-two-year-old great-grandma still living with us. Nobody seemed to enjoy the Christmas preparations as much as us, the kids. I would spend the whole afternoon together with my grandfather choosing the best Christmas tree we could find and then the evening with my grandmother rehearsing my repertoire of Christmas carols.

I felt happy and proud, but I do remember thinking:‘Why do grown-ups have to look so angry days before Christmas and then, on the day itself, put up a big smile?’

My mother was the biggest actress of all. We couldn’t touch any of the cookies and treats the days before Christmas. It was as if my mother and grandmother turned from these sweet normal women into some sort of masters of ceremony who would order us around and all we needed to do was to obey. But then, on the day itself, all of a sudden everything was possible.

So, what is the link between Christmas and mothers?
Well technically speaking, it all started with a mother – Maria –  giving birth to baby Jesus. A poor pregnant woman travelling on a donkey and trying to find a warm house to settle in and give birth to her baby. Nobody would host them in their house, so she ended up sleeping in the between the sheep and that’s where her baby was born.

It is a story about hope and the importance of generosity and love between human beings. It is a pity that 2017 years later, at only 225 Km away from Bethlehem, in Damascus and nearby cities there are still poor mothers walking through the cold trying to find warmth and food for their children. Meanwhile, 3300 km away from Bethlehem, in NW Europe, mothers such as myself worry about which presents they should pack for their children’s teachers.

Christmas is not about the office dinner parties with people you half like, it is not about the presents for the people who already have way too much and it is not about searching the best Amazon deals for the latest toy trends. My plea for mothers this Christmas is to stop for a minute and think about where it all started – a mother giving birth to a baby that brought hope into the world.

Let’s use Christmas as an opportunity to give time to our children – time to play and time to teach them about the importance of giving and of being kind towards people in need. Maybe like that, our children will remember us smiling on more days then only on Christmas-day itself.