For many women, becoming a mother equals a career crossroads.
If you’re privileged enough to have options, you might wonder: Do I “lean in” or scale back? Look for part-time work or take extra gigs to pay for diapers? Stick it out with my company or trade a traditional job for one requiring nursery rhymes and tummy time?
Motherhood can stall or derail a career — and for some women it does — but I’m lucky it reinvigorated mine.
Make no mistake, my road back to work was filled with potholes. The first month on the job after maternity leave was miserable. My angelic baby boy, who previously took bottles like a champ and dozed for hours, set one foot in daycare and promptly went on strike. He rejected their bottles in favor of late-night nursing. He cried at the top of his lungs whenever he entered his crib. No one in our house was sleeping at night, not even the dog.
As I reacclimated to my full-time job, I was depressed, hormonal, and barely functioning. I was tempted to resign out of sheer exhaustion. Instead, I persevered. And more than a year later, I’m glad I did — because becoming a mom advanced my career in ways I never expected.
I spent less time at the office but got more done
Before I had my son, I could always log a few late nights in the office to manage my workload when it was heavy. After I returned to work, I was juggling set drop-off and pick-up times for daycare and baby’s “bedtime,” and I no longer had that flexibility. Due to my son’s sleep struggles, squeezing in extra work at home — even on the weekends — was a challenge. I worried how I’d get everything done.
The new constraints on my time forced me to take a hard look at my work habits. I began by prioritizing my essential, deadline-driven work and turned down any projects/meetings I could without committing career suicide. I spent less time chatting with coworkers and going out to lunch. I worked from home once a week and used that time to focus on major projects.
This was hard. I had major relationship FOMO when I scaled back on socializing at work. But the changes I made? They worked. And when my child started sleeping peacefully through the night (many months later), my next level productivity really paid off — I rarely had to work outside of my office hours.
Statistically speaking, I’m in good company. According to a 2014 study from the Federal Bank Reserve of St. Louis, working moms consistently outperformed their childless coworkers. Those with two children performed even better.
As women, we need to lead the way in supporting other women, including the mothers we work alongside.
My family commitment made me more committed to my career-and company
Doing well at work has always been important to me, but my drive to succeed only deepened after I had a little one to think about. Now I’m inspired to do well at work because I need to provide for him, and because I want to set a positive example. Being separated from my son during the day is harder than I ever imagined, but stepping away from my career completely would have been hard, too. This ongoing struggle has helped crystalize my conviction to work at a job I love.
Even though I feel more committed than ever, I’m aware implicit bias is working against me — and other mothers in the workplace. Working mothers are judged as less competent and less committed to their jobs, the Longest Shortest Time podcast reported in its series, #ItsaRealMother. This is so not OK — we can and should do better. As women, we need to lead the way in supporting other women, including the mothers we work alongside.
I’m grateful to work for a company that values mothers. Flexible working arrangements, executives who are mothers, a great lactation room, and a moms group at my company made it easier for me to transition back to work. I’d always known my company was family-friendly, but I’m even more loyal now since I benefit from a company culture that embraces motherhood.