It is a difficult thing to be a mommy. It’s a difficult thing to have a successful career. Combine the two and you have a really difficult thing. (It’s also difficult, for what it’s worth, to step away from a career to be a mother, but that’s a different discussion.)
The media, blogs, and the publishing industry frequently light up with discussions of the work-vs.-baby battles with pieces about time management, balance, mommy guilt, how mothering makes careers harder, how having a child hurts a woman’s earning potential, how careers make mothering harder, how the mommy wars at work or on the playground damage women’s careers….ya de ya da.
These are relevant, important discussions and they need to be happening. But I want to focus on something slightly different for a minute. In many ways, having a baby was the best thing that ever happened to my career. Becoming a mother actually improved my work skills. Here’s how:
1. I’m better at time management.
Time management is no longer a healthy life choice, like working out or eating spinach. It’s a survival skill. There used to be 24 hours in my day to be divided up however I saw fit. Now there are 24 hours in my day divided between two of us, me and Baby. Certain things are non-negotiables, like his meals and the time I spend nursing or changing diapers or doing his wash. Others are not predictable, like his sleeping patterns. I am learning that have to be ruthless with the slots of time that I do get to control if I hope to get anything accomplished in a given day.
2. Motherhood has made me a more committed worker.
Here’s how this works. I love my baby and treasure my time with him.When I didn’t have a child, I could be fairly open-handed with my commitments. I could dabble in different arenas to see if I liked them. I worked for free occasionally to snag a gig that would bolster my resume. Now the generous availability on my calendar is gone. If I commit to a project, it’s time spent away from Miles. It’s time for which I have to fight, hard.
So I only commit to a project or a goal if I am really committed to it, lost sleep and time away from Miles notwithstanding. If I am willing, for a couple of hours, to choose your gig or contract or project over time with my baby, you know that I’m in it for real.
3. Becoming a mother showed me that I was capable of pushing myself harder.
I think it goes without saying that having a baby – the actual labor part – is hard. Epidurals or not. Quick labor or not. It is a hard thing to have a baby. That’s why we call it labor.
Women (like me) who can’t run two miles to save their own life suddenly become capable of a very difficult task of pushing a baby out into the world. Then, once the labor part is done, there’s a newborn. And taking care of a newborn is, hands down, no contest, the hardest thing I have ever done.
Every baby brings a different challenge (or so I’ve heard), but Miles has gone weeks without sleeping for more than two or three hours at a given time. And amidst the exhaustion and the tears and the absurd attempts to snag a few more minutes of extra sleep, I learned that I was capable of things I never knew I could do. I could get up every hour of the night and then lead a conference call at 8:00 am and actually sound coherent. I could nurse a baby and brainstorm proposal ideas at the same time. I could fit insane amounts of activity in during Miles’ 30-minute nap (see #1).
It’s sometimes challenging to find ways to push myself harder, but my baby did the pushing for me – and I survived. And learned that I could do a lot more in a day than I thought was possible.
4. Becoming a mother made me better with people.
Having a baby is a very humanizing project. Suddenly, I have something in common with all of those women on the playground or in the airport or at the grocery store. Women I will never see again exchange knowing smiles with me as we board separate flights. “Oh, you too? I hope these kids don’t scream the whole flight.” Lines at the store become venues for passionate conversations about strategies for baby sleep, about time management, about all possible aspects of a baby’s health.
I suddenly realize that the people I interact with are not just blank masks – they are parents and children. They were pregnant once too, or they held their babies all night, or they kept someone up all night. Or all three. And I am suddenly much more prone to ask them how their day was and mean it, to get to know them, to connect on some human level, to forgive them if they cut me off in traffic.
5. Becoming a mother made me more creative.
I have never been a very crafty person. Paper and glue and art sort of eludes me like snow in Florida. I used to be the person that helped keep all of the items in the figurative box at work. Suddenly, though, it’s like a switch was turned on. Part of it is just that I want to make our home beautiful, because I want Miles to grow up in a beautiful home. I want to record our memories so that he can show his children his baby albums someday.
But part of it is that I suddenly see the world from the perspective of a baby. And it’s a lot more fun – a lot more of a let’s-grab-the-pink-cup-and-squeeze-the-blue-elephant-and-laugh-at-the-bubbles kind of world than I’ve given it credit for. Life is FUN and I want to teach Miles to appreciate the fun the world offers. And to do that, I have to learn to appreciate it more too.
Do you agree? How did motherhood change your career dynamics?