At a time when we’re discussing women and their rights on a national level, I want to level-set: We have options today. We have more options than my grandmother and even my mother had. Lean in. Lean out. Work full-time. Stay home. Be a corporate soldier. Downgrade your career trajectory. I completely realize not every single woman has access to the same breadth of choices. Minority populations, those of lower socio-economic statuses, foreigners—they often don’t have the same options I have had the privilege of having.
The conversation I want to have today is around my experience—as a married, white, American woman—being a working mother. Because it hasn’t been as tough in some ways as I expected. In fact, in many ways, I’ve benefited.
“No one knows how to manage their time like a mother”
My friend said this to me yesterday and, before you get offended, obviously there are mothers who manage their time poorly and obviously there are people without children who manage their time better than parents. What my friend meant was that becoming a mother can often make you way more intentional with your time. For instance, I am literally only in the office for eight hours a day because I have a one-hour commute and have to pick Finn up from school by 6 pm. That means while I’m at the office, I have a tick list of things I need to get done in a certain window of time, and I have to try to aim to actually stick to it.
So I rarely go out to lunch, spend too much time chatting about non-work things to coworkers or waste time on certain tasks that erode efficiency. This is vastly different from my working style when I was younger. I allowed myself to be distracted more often because I had more time available to work. I could also go home and work—which I can still technically do now, but only after I’ve picked up, fed and bathed Finn and put him to bed. It’s better for me to try to get the bulk of my work done while at work so I can tend to Finn and then have time to spend with Brendan or relax doing something I like.
Moms are often the managers at home. We manage the household, the social calendar, the kids’ school needs. We are also natural nurturers. I think I bring some of my mommy ways to my management style. I push a little, I nag a little, I scold a little, I debate a little, but then I also try to buoy my direct report and offer support. I’ve found I’m more patient, able to explain things and model the behavior I want my report to see, because I already do this at home for a little person who is also following my example pretty closely.
Momentum, adrenaline and motivation wax and wane in the workplace. It’s been some of the tougher moments as a mom that have helped me “woman up” when something needs to be delivered that is complex, has a tight deadline, involves managing across teams or levels or challenges me with something I’ve never done before. Business doesn’t stop just because your kid gets sick (like today) or the daycare springs an out-of-the-blue vacation day on you. I’ve learned how to force myself to focus and execute with Finn screaming in the background, curled up with a fever next to me or trying to talk into my phone while in a meeting. It’s honed my ability to drown out the literal and figurative noise around me to get something done.
I used to be a massive worrier, and sometimes I wonder if that’s because I had more time on my hands. I don’t want to discount how helpful therapy has been to me over the years, but I think one of the biggest reasons I am able to shut off when I go to bed at night is because I’m so mentally and physically drained from juggling domestic life, a commute and work (and also being in the third trimester of pregnancy). Not obsessing about whether I said the right thing in that meeting today or if my email came off wrong helps me be more rested. And I find when I wake up, I’m more likely to be firing on all cylinders and thinking of what I need to get done that day (and often, I’m trading in what could have been a midnight work email for a 6:30 a.m. one, when I have more clarity).
To reiterate: I know this is just one part of the conversation of women and work and just a slice of one woman’s experience. Women in this country still face hurdles going for leadership roles, getting promoted, making as much money as men and striking flexibility between the working world and home life. For now, I’ve chosen to see my situation as a boon to the way I work and the career opportunities I’ve been afforded over the last three years.
Are you a working parent? How has it helped or hindered your career?