Before I had children, I had this fuzzy imaginary picture of what it looked like to be a stay at home mother. You drank green smoothies every morning, made homemade cinnamon rolls and read novels while your kids played peacefully with legos in their room, while the rest of the house remained untouched and pristine. It would be so unlike the messes and chaos of the professional world. It would be peaceful and there would be no stress.
Immersing myself in the reality of being a mother of two small children, the deadlines, extreme need for multi-tasking and fast paced environment have not ceased to be necessary, to my surprise.
Spending time with small children all day activates a different part of the brain than sitting in meetings all day does, but I still feel stretched, intellectually stimulated and pushed to my limits at the end of the day.
Being in a high-functioning professional environment trained me to switch gears quickly and utilize short spurts of time for maximum performance. This is not unlike the skills needed for managing children. Let me give you an example.
Professional environment- It is 8am and you’re at your desk fielding a phone call about an upcoming meeting while putting the finishing touches on a written marketing strategy in google docs. Immediately following the call, but only 10 minutes before you are supposed to report on your marketing strategy to your boss, you are called into the CEO’s office where you are asked to give a quick high level overview of your progress on a different project. Meanwhile your breakfast is getting cold on your desk. You also need to book flights for an upcoming conference, submit last month’s expense report and reply to a few important emails before lunch. You are supposed to meet a vendor for coffee at 11, but your day is out of control and you will likely have to reschedule.
Home environment- After a difficult night with a sick baby, your doorbell rings at 6:00am. You are waiting for FedEx to deliver some important documents, so you hop out of bed and rush to the door. By the time you get there, whoever it was, is already gone. The doorbell woke up your toddler who asks for breakfast and tells you his “tummy hurts.” It is still 2.5 hours until school so you get out a puzzle for him to work on, give him some water and transfer your baby to your husband’s side of the bed, so she feels a body next to her and doesn’t wake up. You make a quick cup of tea for yourself and sketch out your priorities for the day including tracking down these important documents from FedEx, attending an HOA meeting and going to the bank to get a cashiers check for a purchase you need to make. A text comes in, your breakfast guest is running late, which only leaves you 20 minutes with her before you have to drop your son to school. While your son is brushing his teeth, you quickly pack his lunchbox while texting a friend who has a question about her rental apartment, and asks you because you are knowledgeable about real estate in that area. The baby wakes up and it is time to feed her. You grab your phone to scan through your email and send next week’s flight itinerary to your friend that you’ve scheduled a visit with, all with one hand since you are nursing your baby. Your guest arrives for breakfast and this is all before 8am.
Both situations require thinking on your feet, changing gears from low level details to giving high level summaries. The brain is exercised in multiple dimensions. In both scenarios, the priorities are continually shifting.
If women are so skilled in muti-tasking and managing shifting priorities, why does the workplace often see mothers as “less valuable employees?” Why should mothers be nervous about being rehired after taking a few years “off?” Is she not a more multi-dimensional thinker after having children? Is she not even smarter and savvy, having ample practice in balancing shifting priorities?
I find that a woman becoming a mother makes her even stronger and an even more dedicated professional. She has a strong desire to focus and has proved she is dedicated to long term projects. She has the ability to think broadly yet focus on the fine details. She can be firm, yet flexible. She can emphasize yet make tough decisions.
Mothers who reenter the workforce should be seen as more marketable and not less.