The challenges women face in workplace are a hot topic in the news and on social media these days, spawning a multitude of books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business, and many other recent releases exploring work-life challenges and solutions aimed at women. The “mommy penalty” and the “daddy bonus” dynamic are alive and well (see here and here), with some suggesting we rid the workplace of the term “mother” altogether because of the negative impact it can have on one’s career. These issues are real and need to be addressed.
In honor of Mother’s Day, however, I want to focus on the ways that becoming a parent helps you develop transferable skills that can positively impact your career. Parenthood:
- Requires lifelong learning: In order to keep up with the shifting demands of the 21st-century workplace, we all need to be prepared to continuously learn and adapt within current roles or to change roles and jobs within the course of a long career. If you aren’t already predisposed to learn new things, kids will force you into that mindset. Think you finally have that diapering thing down? Welcome to potty training. Think you finally figured out the best way to work through the power dynamics of toddlerhood? Welcome to the relational dynamics of childhood and managing relationships with peers and teachers. And so forth. Not adapting and learning is not an option. You can apply that same mentality to your career, treating it as a growing being with different developmental phases that should push you to learn and grow.
- Taps into creativity: Parenting played a part in activating the creative part of my brain that had been dormant for a while, spurring me start this blog. Making funny faces, breaking into song and dance, or coming up with activities to fill a rainy day aren’t generally things I had to focus on before the tot came around. Giving myself permission to be silly brought back the girl who loved to sing, be in plays at school, and make others laugh. Granted, toddler humor is different, but the spark of creativity is the same even though the fireworks take different shapes.
- Increases your multi-tasking prowess: I don’t think the stock image of a woman balancing a baby on her lap while trying to work is altogether accurate or helpful; Jessica Shortall (@WorkPumpRepeat) says it best in her TED Talk. That being said, I’ve experienced the balancing act of having to join an early or late conference call while getting my kid ready for daycare or doing pickup; making sure your kid doesn’t squirm off the changing table while answer any questions directed at you requires an eagle eye toward the mute button and multi-tasking prowess. While studies show that multitasking isn’t the most efficient way of getting tasks done and most of us are worse at it than we think, few to none in the working parent world can get by without juggling calendars, tasks, and brain space. If you need someone in your office who can pivot quickly, has an entrepreneurial mindset, and can manage multiple tasks, try a parent.
- Makes you a more balanced individual: Counter-intutive, right? Books like Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte or All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior capture the difficulties of modern parenthood, and #thestruggleisreal. But for women who may have gone hard at their careers before becoming parents, and who continue working once they become mothers, there is a necessary shift to make it all work. At some point your child needs something (food, attention, etc.) and that means stepping away from the phone or computer, learning to block out time for family enjoyment, and mandatory breaks- it’s hard to eat your lunch at your desk when you’ve got someone throwing peas at you.
- Boosts your negotiation skills: I admit I’ve never seen myself as a masterful negotiator, and I’ve often fallen into the “female trap” of not wanting to come across as pushy or backing off because I wanted to be liked and perceived as a team player. I firmly believe that becoming a parent made me a better negotiator and advocate for my needs in the workplace, because a) I now need things like a competitive salary and a flexible schedule to take care of someone else, not just myself, and b) I have to practice negotiation every day, and practice makes perfect, as they say. My colleagues or supervisors are no match for a toddler who is convinced her way is the right way, and it’s up to me to anticipate her next move and use every trick in the book to get the child to finish her dinner, get going in the morning, cease and desist with stalling tactics, and so on.
- Gives you perspective: Going through the miraculous mess of childbirth or having to tend to a sick child shines a spotlight on how fragile all of us are and how we need to enjoy our hours on earth because we never know how much time we have left or when something major will come around and turn our world upside-down. On the positive end, having a kid makes you appreciate the small wins in daily life versus always focusing on a big goal. All of these experiences make me less tolerant of toxic people and work environments, but they also help me tolerate the small annoyances, because I can appreciate how my work contributes to my own fulfillment and my ability to support my family.
So here’s to all of the parents out there, especially the mothers. Whether you are currently working full-time as a caregiver to your family or whether you are working full-time at parenting and your career, never doubt that your experiences as a parent are an asset!