Tennis legend Serena Williams has recently begun opening up about the reality of motherhood—and the wide range of emotions that goes with it. In a new interview with Insider, Williams revealed that being a “hands-on” parent, a world-class athlete, and a businesswoman, is an ongoing challenge.
“Mom guilt is real. I always feel so guilty when I’m doing something on my own,” Williams recently told Insider. “I don’t know if I’m a good mom, and I don’t know if my method works, but I’m very hands-on with my daughter, and it was the same with our parents.”
Williams, whose daughter Olympia is now four years old, also recently discussed her traumatic childbirth experience—a “life or death” time that required four surgeries.
Mom guilt, or maternal guilt, is frequently described as a near universal experience. According to one study, it’s the feeling of not being able to fulfill a socially-defined role of what it means to be a “good mother,” an often practically impossible feeling that mothers are not able to adequately parent, sometimes due to professional demands. There’s a reason it’s often referred to as mom guilt and not parent guilt. These feelings of shame disproportionately affect women, because historically, they spend significantly more time caregiving. In a cross-sectional study of 255 parents in California, which looked at new parents’ guilt about the ways they balance employment and family, mothers had significantly higher levels of guilt than fathers.
For many mothers—even famous ones—having a well-integrated career and personal life is a constant battle. Williams highlighted the social expectation that mothers should be able to juggle a range of different priorities, and that when a balance is not seamlessly accomplished, it can lead to tension—either within a partnership, family, workplace, or as Williams has discussed, internally. Striking a balance as a working mom has been something the 40-year-old has touched on in the past. In February last year, Williams opened up about the mental and physical fatigue that comes with covering multiple roles.
“Working and being a mom is not easy. I am often exhausted, stressed, and then I go play a professional tennis match. We keep going. I am so proud and inspired by the women who do it day in and day out. I’m proud to be this baby’s mama,” she wrote in an Instagram post.
While Williams has won an incredible 23 Grand Slam titles, her work goes beyond the tennis court. In March this year, Williams raised $111 million for her early-stage venture capital firm Serena Ventures, which she runs alongside Alison Rapaport Stillman. The firm’s portfolio has more than 60 angel investments, with a focus on fostering diversity.
“In an ecosystem where solo women founders receive 2% of venture funding and Black founders receive 1.2%, we break the mold. We don’t require founders to come from historically underrepresented backgrounds, yet 76% of our portfolio founders do,” a Serena Ventures statement reads. With such a demanding workload, Williams says that making clear delineations of her priorities has been crucial as a new mom. “I’ve set really good boundaries,” she told Insider. “After work, I’m going right to my daughter.”