Motherhood Lessons Learned Through Air Traffic Control


I always like to say I have 2 full time jobs. I have been at one of them for about 2.5 years, and it’s called motherhood. The other, I’ve been doing for 7 years, and it’s as an air traffic controller. These two probably seem pretty unrelated right? Well, sort of.

Photo credit: Cam Storie Photography

There are a few valuable lessons I have learned as an air traffic controller that I have been able to apply to motherhood.

1// A bad moment does not make a bad day, which does not make a bad week, which does not make you a bad mom. 

This is the most important lesson.

Training for anything is hard, and air traffic control is no exception. It also means you are going to screw something up.  I have turned the wrong plane, missed a traffic confliction, input a flight plan wrong, and gotten overwhelmingly busy.

As a perfectionist, it’s easy for me to dwell on these things. In turn the dwelling on one bad moment could cause me to miss other things. This could make for a day of bad moments that could then turn into a week full of them. I have to fight the urge to dwell on things to be successful as an air traffic controller. The planes don’t stop, so I can’t stop. In order to continue to safely provide a service to the flying public, I have to fix my failures and move on.

We are bound to mess up as moms. I have burned breakfast, served oatmeal way too hot, forgotten so many things, and yelled out of frustration on rough days. I could easily allow these moments of “failures” to compound and turn into a bad day or a lie of a belief that they make me a bad mom. They are simply learning experiences. Brush it off and move on.

Air Traffic Quote

2// “Multitasking” will always mess you up. 

There is a huge common misconception that air traffic controllers and moms can multitask and do a million things at once. This just isn’t true. Scientifically our brains cannot perform 2 tasks at once. When we think we are doing this, we really are just switching back and forth really fast. As an air traffic controller when I try to multitask, I almost always forget something. Whether it’s a request or route update, something is bound to fall through the cracks.

As a mom when I try to do too many things at once, I also forget things. Most of my “failures” as a mom come from trying to move too fast and do 17,682 things at once. I tell my trainees at work to slow down when they get busy, and I have to remind myself to do the same in mom life.

3// How to have thick skin.

Both air traffic control and motherhood are not for the faint of heart. The standards are pretty simple. Five miles and 1,000 feet is the separation rule for airplanes. Keep them alive and healthy is the basic rule for motherhood. But when you actually try to do these things?

Everyone has their own opinion of how it should be accomplished. And they tend to feel the need to tell you their opinion and why yours is wrong. As an air traffic controller, I had to take all of the opinions and criticisms and build my own method for accomplishing 5 miles and 1,000 ft. I could’ve gotten offended and hurt or learn. I chose to learn.  Applying this to motherhood I have been able to filter out the opinions I get and use what is right for me. 

It’s allowed me to really honestly say, “Good for you, but I don’t care.”