The Career Mom Conundrum: 9 Ways to make both Motherhood and Your Career Work
Updated: Mar 1, 2019
My journey from 'career-driven independent woman' to 'mom on maternity leave' to 'career mom' has been complex to say the least. Being a career oriented independent woman is not simple by any means. Like many of you, building my career to be independent, self-sufficient, a definition of my being, and doing something within the remit of what I studied and love, was a ideal turned reality. I spent a decade and a half dedicating time to my career: learning different areas of the business (pharmaceuticals in my case), working long hours (sometimes weekends and evenings), taking on projects out of my job scope, studying courses including a full legal degree part-time, and building my expertise to grow my career along a idealistic trajectory. It defined who I was in so many ways. Don't get me wrong, I always had life outside work. Work hard, party hard was my motto, and I sure did. I bet many of you can relate.
It's so amazing that now, even in this early motherhood journey, when the conversation about 'me' arises, it's usually revolves around a) my son or b) how I manage work around now being a mother. What's so striking is that it's never about who I really am, and these are questions mostly coming from people who know me. Which leads me to define who I am, not just a mom, not just a working mom, but a career focused mom who still maintains who she is, her interests, yet loves her son and new found motherhood to bits.
So how did I find myself here? Finding the right balance as a mom is so personal and needs to be respected. Before having my son Alexander, I worked in large global corporates, at times competing for roles with colleagues who were older (and male). Some of the corporates didn’t support a healthy work-life balance or fully endorse women in senior management positions with kids, which was evident by the fact that the senior management roles were taken mostly by males or women who were past their 'prime'.
Work defined me and I was happy to climb the corporate ladder taking on roles of increased responsibility, which also required more frequent global travel. I then found the love of my life, got married and we started planning a family. I have to admit, not until I was pregnant did I start thinking about how my latest role would complement life as a mother on a day-to-day basis. It's worth noting that we are the quintessential millennial couple in a sense: my husband is also very career driven and works in a high pressured environment which also requires frequent travel. Even then, I still believed I could have it all and would be the mother who would have help in the form of a nanny; and would spend quality evenings and weekends with my son. I couldn’t wait to welcome my son, but the thought of being on maternity leave, scared me as working was just a part of who I am. Frankly, I thought I would be bored after 2 months and would crave going back to the grind again. But I didn’t.
'Trying to do it all and expecting that it can all be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment.
Perfection is the enemy.'
Once my little one arrived, I couldn’t let go and my world revolved around him. He consumed me, but I also lost myself and any remote sense of balance too. It was so strange to think that I almost did a complete u-turn in my thought process. But after a few months, I realised I was losing my sense of identity. I had a knawing urge to find myself again and relaunch my career but in a way that suited my newfound family needs. But I didn't know how as I was in a permanent position where I had been recently promoted and felt that any change in my industry would mean a role that held the same challenges.
'What could you do if you weren't afraid?'
You could say I had a mini mid-life crisis in a sense as I opened my mind and starting exploring how my creative side could form a new career. I studied fashion design, a hobby & talent that I long had. Ironically, doing this reinforced that I actually love my career. However, I still mentally struggled with the juggle of motherhood and my career: how would I travel for a week abroad away from my son; how would we manage frequent work travel when we both have such pressurising careers; what would my day look like with a long commute when I returned home; how would we work the logistics of leaving early and coming back late; how would we manage all the mundane yet essential chores whilst having a child and jobs; and most importantly, what would quality time with our son mean. It made me reanalyse my needs and goals, so I resigned from my then job as I wanted a fresh start with a role that had more flexibility. I found myself extending my vast experience to new work as a consultant at a company that endorsed more flexible working. I didn't expect it, but the first few 2 weeks were tough. I felt so much guilt about leaving my baby, and didn’t know how to cope with working, travelling abroad, commuting, cooking, and spending quality time with my family. Mom-guilt is such a real thing, don't undermine it.
'You can be a good mom and still workout, get your rest, have a career, or not. My mother encouraged me to find that balance.'
But after a few weeks, I found a rhythm. Working allowed me to be myself again, enjoy my career which was important to me and spend quality time with my son where I was more present, engaged and happy.
This was a journey for me so as a new parent or mother and I am still realigning the 'balance'. I have a few tips to extend if you too are becoming a parent and are keeping your career.
1) Evaluate your Current Company's Leave Policy
Is your company or work environment child friendly? Consider what your company offers. These are some areas you should research ideally before joining the company or before your pregnancy.
Maternity and paternity leave
As an example, we also planned our maternity and paternity leave to coincide so that we both we present during and immediately after our son's birth. Consider how you want to structure this and enquire about how much time you have. Ideally, find a company with a generous leave policy so that you have options. In some countries, like Germany, parents can co-share the parental leave time allocated.
Childcare days when your little ones are ill
We found the first 3 months of nursery meant our son was ill almost every second week and we had to find back up childcare on these days.
2) Does your Company support Parental Flexibility?
You might want to ask whether your company has the option for you to work compressed hours over fewer days, to reduce your days/hours or allow more flexible working.
Consider your Role
what would this mean on a day to day level if you are a parent. Are your hours at work still feasible? How much time would you have to dedicate to your job (whilst still being good at it) and your child? Does this align with your childcare needs and budget?
If you cannot transition to a role that offers more flexibility to support your new needs, or find a company that is child-friendly, consider taking your experience and translating it to a more project management or consultative type of role, where you can manage your time accordingly.
Evaluate Work Travel
If you have a job that requires extensive travel, think about how you can cover childcare between yourself and your partner/spouse. If you both travel, are you able to cover to schedule your work travel for different times so there is no overlap perhaps or maybe you can deploy some outside help from the grandparents or a stay over nanny on occasional days?
3) Reevaluate your Career Trajectory
Where do you want to take your career after becoming a mother? This is a big question and one that should ideally be considered before falling pregnant. Does your career facilitate you being a mother or would you consider a sideways move into a role that allows more flexibility to have a family?
4) Focus on your Career and Your Home
Have those tough conversations at work. Set your boundaries with your manager early. Make sure they are aware of they of your childcare pick up and drop off times and which days are impacted in advance.
As much as your are giving it your all at home, on a similar note, don’t neglect your work. If your child is ill and you need time off, make sure you make up the hours it come in earlier or leave later that day. Don't use motherhood as an excuse to let your work standards drop or not shine. If your work is of the nature where you might have to stay late sometimes or work to finish a deadline on a project, don't disregard this each and every time. Prioritise what might need your time. You know best, trust your instinct on this.
5) Get good reliable childcare
Think about how much support you and your family need and base your decision on this. For us we considered our working hours and commute times. Full time nursery hours didn't work for us and we also wanted more one-on-one care for Alexander. So we chose a mix of nursery for 2 days, to allow for social interaction for our son, on days, when we both not likely to travel, and then a nanny for the remaining 3 work days.
6) Schedule & Plan
Plan your meals. Taking the thinking out of cooking, allows for better time management and makes life easier. Keep it simple. I used to love cooking elaborate dinners, but being a working mom means I now have a realistic, yet delicious and healthy menus that can provide us for a comforting meal quickly.
Eliminate doing tasks outside if you can accomplish them online. Ocado, services like Hello Fresh where ingredients are menus are provided, toiletries delivery etc. are great ways to cut corners. We do so of our shopping online now as it allows us to free other moments for quality activities
Get help with a cleaner and cook if you can. It’s the small things that add time and you will not have a lot valuable time in a day. Set that time for things that you want to invest in like time with your children, for yourself or your partner.
7) Become the Prioritising Queen
It's time to take prioritising to a new level. The truth is you won't be able to do it all like you used to, so it's time to decide whats important and needed versus what might be nice.
8) Quality over Quantity
For any time you spend together, make it a quality activity. Bond, have lots of laughs, enjoy
Don’t forget to relax. It’s okay to have that lazy Sunday on the couch or mosing around the house. Take that time out. You don’t need to be on overdrive.
9) Practice Mindfulness
Take it slow. Don’t push yourself and try to live your old pre-baby or single life. Things change, a lot.
Don’t lose yourself. Set time aside for yourself to indulge in your old hobby or find a new one that suits your new found motherhood and career.
I hope these help. Wishing you much joy and balance in your motherhood and career journey. It's goal to achieve the work-life balance, but its also an ongoing journey that you will no doubt adapt with each milestone.
Shanti | The Kensington Diary