Working mom: kids made me better at my work, not worse
I am taking the liberty to break the norm of quoting research to back my arguments because issues faced by a working mom, has become more common than Chinese products. Also, it’s high time we ban these sorts of mindsets as well.
Soon after my first child was born, I too became another statistic of all those women who dropped out of the workforce post-pregnancy. Oh! Aren’t there so many women who have a similar story? Childcare was not affordable and lack of relatives close by didn’t afford me the luxury of getting ‘rid’ of my kids so I could build a shining resume. I was left staring at a gap of a couple of years and preparing justifications to prospective employers that childcare is no child’s play (pun intended).
But the main hurdle wasn’t getting a job, rather it was combating all the underlying assumptions about my skills getting rusted in the ‘downtime’. The occasional woe-sharing session with other working moms also brought out the widespread prevalence of this issue. Fellow coworkers who didn’t have a professional break would drop comments like, “you must have stopped thinking like a professional no?” or “family first or work?” or “you must opt for less challenging roles now that you have a child to rush off to”. And so on. Even though not all comments are snide remarks and some were genuine concerns, they nevertheless sprouted from the same mindset.
Doubts at the workplace regarding a working mom’s capability to get the work done or being less efficient or driven unlike the single woman is a big blow to her motivation.
Just the fact that a working mom is willing to leave behind a piece of herself to meet professional goals, should itself be a testament to her commitment. Yet time and again, she is forced to prove herself by choosing unhealthy working habits like overtime, blurred work-life balance, leaving a sick child at the mercy of someone else, etc.
More women are opting to either stop working altogether or choosing entrepreneurship or freelance work assignments to avoid being forced to choose between family and professional fulfillment.
I personally feel that it’s an organization’s loss when a qualified woman is not able to use her skills for its mission because the working environment did more to deplete her motivation than build it.
Contrary to popular mindsets, even to my own surprise, I have been sharpened personally a well as professionally, post children. Some of the learnings are as relevant in the workplace as it is in child-rearing. Having stated all these reasons, let me tell you the skills I honed after becoming a mother through the experience of raising children.
1. Time management
Children are creatures of routine. Anyone who has been around kids knows that they thrive best in set schedules. That means being efficient in managing time on a daily basis. Having a structure to a day means the ‘to-do lists’ will get mostly checked off. As professionals, time management is non-negotiable for a productive day. HR can’t really train people to manage time better. It’s something we learn through daily experience.
2. Faster decision making
One of the many things, I had to relearn as a new mom was making decisions at 10x faster speed than before. I was responsible for making choices for two people that had to be on point most of the time. In the corporate world, where we can’t predict when the next big thing is going to hit us, this is a good skill to have under your belt. Knowing when to say yes and when to say no, anticipating the pros and cons of certain decisions may come with time on a shoestring.
3. Administrative aptitude
In order to make faster decisions, I first took stock of all the resources at my disposal, like how many days we could still get by without having to do laundry, do we need a monthly or weekly subscription of diapers depending on the poop bursts per day and so on. Taking stock and being abreast of resources comes with practice. A working mom is adept at this skill. But also pardon me, if we still run out of printer paper at work. That’s just human!
4. Focus through distractions
If you want to know how good your chi* is, try having a phone call with kids in the background. It’s a similar environment at work too with constant (often unnecessary) emails, meetings, office chatter, and the likes. Your boss expects you to accomplish targets with the focus of an eagle, all the while replying to emails within nanoseconds of it reaching your screen. You have a good shot at it if you learn from a working mom, who still manages to order the right brand of ketchup among a myriad of other things in her head. Personally, I feel workplaces should have silent times for focused, deep work.
5. Creative solutions
Moms who have raised picky eaters know what I am talking about. You have an assembly of cookie cutters that get used from eggs to bread to lasagna. You come up with the most creative solutions at a moment’s notice to salvage the day that can otherwise end up in public tears. (I once hid a stain on my shirt with a flower brooch made out of tissue paper. Smart eh?) Workplace disasters are not a different ball game. Technology glitches during an important pitch, a sudden visit from a long-awaited client, running out of tissues while using the toilet in a hurry. Unexpected surprises happen to the best of us and what comes to our rescue is our ability to bounce back from them. Although on a lighter note, I do hope that not many creative risks are taken for the lack of tissues.
These are not an exhaustive set of skills one should be good at professionally. But they are skills hiring agencies and bosses hope their employees come seasoned with. No certificates are given to show you are adept at them. How you deal with challenges at work is dependent on the sharpness of these skills (along with your professional competence of course). The technical aspects can be learned or brushed up on the job, even after a break.
Working mom is gaining valuable skills that life with a child teaches her.
Let’s not devalue the work they do by doubting their drives. Let’s give them a chance to prove their mettle at work. Let them choose their own pace to climb the professional ladder. Let them say ‘no’ without taking away their right to choose. They are like the rest of the driven workforce, trying to earn a living and succeed. Post kids, they didn’t change into sloths. They are smarter, faster, and more responsible.
*chi in some systems of Chinese medicine and exercise is the most important energy that a person has (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/chi)
Love to hear your thoughts or similar experience in the comments below.