I half-kid about my ability to condense any one day at the office to five concentrated hours, and still get everything done. Meetings are mostly time-sucks and I spend a good percentage of email reading deciphering the sender’s intention. I pine for more efficiency, in and out of the workplace, and this illumination is just one of the many ways being a mom with a career means being better at both.
Before I had kids, my main career goals were getting promoted, making more money and building my portfolio. It was up, up, up and more, more, more. Since becoming a parent, my values have definitely shifted. I am no less ambitious about my career, but the quality of my work and my workplace’s culture is much more significant than the number on my paycheck. It's not that I don't want to make more money, it's just that I recognize the potential cost it can have on my quality of life, especially if I make money my only priority. I want happiness and fulfillment, because if I don’t feel good about what I do during the ten hours a day I spend away from my kids, I end up bringing that resentment home and nobody wins.
Being a working parent who shoulders a large part of the family management tasks, I have discovered how each part of my life informs the other. You would think I’d have to be better at one over the other, or that both roles would suffer, but that is simply not true. If anything, taking on motherhood has made me better at my job and vice-versa, especially in the following ways:
Your Time Management Improves
I was a chronic procrastinator. It started in high school, if I'm being honest; putting off projects and then staying up all night right before they were due in order to be able to turn them in on time. Of course, my procrastination went with me when I started my career. I would spend most of my project timeline in the “brainstorm” stage, leaving myself very little time in the execution stage.
Having kids taught me that there is a finite amount of time for everything. They grow out of things in a minute, and there is no waiting when a wailing infant is clamoring for her dinner, your boobs leaking in response. I stopped putting small annoying tasks off and just cleared the decks, little by little, instead of waiting until I had a big pile of work or bills or childcare forms to fill out. I stress less and it stops feeling like it’s too much (usually).
You're All About Goal Setting
My kids are the type who demand to know the endgame, and not really the “go with the flow” types. It gives them a sense of security to know "why," to know what’s next, to be able to connect the upcoming dots with the overall goal.
Their need has made me a much better planner, not just in terms of their schedules but also at my job. I am better at identifying what I want, and aligning my tasks to support that goal. I used to think as work as just work: a project starts, you suffer through it, and complete it. Now, re-framing my efforts to see them in service to a career benchmark makes the job more exciting, and me more enthusiastic about it.
You're Picky About The Company You Keep
Time is a precious commodity, so I can’t afford to spend it with anyone who isn’t filling me up in some way. I enjoy socializing with my co-workers, but don’t seek to do so outside the office. I love the community of my neighborhood, but I’m judicious about the invitations I accept. I quit a writing group recently because, as much as I wanted the support, I was investing disproportionately more time critiquing others’ work than I was writing my own. I loved my book group, but when I realized I was losing sleep, cramming in pages to get things read before meetings, and thus being extra cranky with my kids, I bowed out.
Instead, I sought out individual group members I enjoyed spending time with for mommy-kid playdates, benefiting me and my children.
Being More Outspoken
Growing up, I followed the rules, did what I was told and never questioned authority. I was a “good” girl, albeit one who was mostly ignored. When I became a mother, I found my voice.
My fiercely protective instinct would kick in when I’d see another kid push mine on the playground, or when I felt my son's school fell short in protecting him against peanut exposure in the wake of his food allergy diagnosis. I wouldn’t speak up for myself until I found myself speaking up for my children. I learned to be a better advocate for myself, jockeying for more flexible work hours and being more demonstrative about my needs, instead of waiting to hear how I could better serve someone else at work.
You Learn How To Say "No"
I don’t remember ever saying that word as often as I do now that I have children. I field a lot of ridiculous requests from my kids, and when they were first mobile enough to be grabbing cords and the like, I’d bark “No.” A lot.
Practicing with them has made it easier for me to say "no" to others. I used to be afraid of turning someone down, worried they wouldn’t like me. However, good work has little to do with being liked, and more to do with actual work. I find myself saying “no” more freely on the job, instead of taking on nightmare projects or succumbing to the bad habits of fellow collaborators.
You're Better At Using Your Words
The worst aspect of almost any office job is poor communication. Nothing frustrates me more than a runaway email chain that never lands, or a game of telephone where the two people who need to connect only do so via three layers of direct reports. Clarity is key.
When you talk to little kids, you oversimplify. I basically talk to everyone like I’m reading them “See Spot Run.”
Treating Everyone WIth Respect
That golden rule we teach our children, goes for the workplace, too. If I can keep my annoyance and anger in check in the cubicle farm, I could do the same at home. It’s all too easy to explode out of frustration when my daughter still hasn’t put her clothes in the hamper after the third reminder. However, just because she’s my kid and I love her unconditionally doesn’t mean I should scream. Ok, fine, I do still yell, but not as much and especially when I remember to keep my cool like I do in the office when someone makes a dumb mistake.
You Learn When You Shouldn't Multitask
Work culture has bred the belief that multitasking is a valuable skill. Most job descriptions value the ability to be able to do more than one thing at a time. Simultaneously, if you were to believe most parenting sites, you’d be led to believe that the same skill is celebrated in mothers. That could not be further from my actual experience as a mother, an employee and a working parent.
If I am checking email while playing with my kids, I literally won’t hear their questions. If I’m texting with my babysitter during a meeting, I totally lose focus on the discussion. My children want and need my undivided attention, and if I need to attend to a parenting matter during the workday, I excuse myself and go deal with it. I recognize that this is not a luxury afforded to all parents in certain working environments, which is why we have to continue to lobby for shift flexibility and quality, affordable daycare across the entire spectrum of American industry. The brain was not built to focus on more than one thing at a time.
The stigma of the “hands full” woman is as unhealthy as it is unrealistic, yet “juggle” and “multi-task” remain pervasive vocabulary when we speak of moms with careers (or career women with kids, whichever you prefer). Any attentive mother or employee would say that success can be found by doing one thing at a time.
You Learn How To Delegate
The hardest aspect of being a manager is giving up control. The only way employees can grow is to take on more responsibilities. Type A people like me hate that. We’re convinced the only right way to get something done is to do it ourselves. That may be true, but we have to pay the knowledge forward and let others have a chance to succeed.
As much as it kills me to watch my kids “fold” their laundry, I don’t re-fold it for them. There are four of us in our family and as the kids get older, and their clothes get bigger, I need to delegate more to them. It benefits me, obviously, but also them. Life skills matter.
You're Less Judgmental
I have good kids, who behave very badly at times. I have co-workers I adore, who occasionally screw up. Being a work manager and giving performance reviews, I learned how to shape my co-workers’ shortcomings into growth areas, and spin their talents into a bigger story that could lead to upward mobility.
I can, and do, apply that to motherhood; my kids were never just going to be “one way.” They vacillated between cute and devious, but praising their good behavior and redirecting their bad was really not much different than how I led my work team. Except my kids’ bonuses came in the form of kisses and coloring books.
You Understand Your Value
I truly believe I am one of the most important people in my kids’ lives. I never felt like that before. I’m not on a power trip about it, but what a confidence booster! I am their best advocate, their fiercest protector and their staunchest supporter.
I spent a lot of my adult life looking up at people, figuratively and literally (I'm short), always believing everyone else is better at what they do, otherwise I would have been plucked out of oblivion by a CEO and given a corner office, right? Feeling like such a vital member of an organization — my family — has enabled me to see my worth on the job, and have more pride in my contributions to work.