I wrote this article for Forbes.com.
Since my time at Wellesley over 20 years ago, I have constantly learned about the struggles women face in advancing their careers while being mothers. Motherhood has always been portrayed as a choice working women must make with the understanding that they will have to sacrifice their career. Yet women like Sandberg continue to defy this assumption every day.
While Sandberg spoke eloquently of the challenges of balancing motherhood with a fulltime career, she did not discuss the flipside: How motherhood has added to her skills and achievements as an executive.
We always assume that motherhood and work pull women in opposite directions. We talk about having a boundary between work and life. But motherhood isn’t an automatic detriment to a career. While it certainly brings challenges, it can have positive effects on work as well.
Here are five:
1. Sustainable Perspective
When working with businesses toward sustainability, senior executives often tell me they “want to build a better world for my grandchildren.” The older we get, the more we are forced to internalize the fact that our world is not permanent and that we leave a legacy. The desire to improve the world at large is augmented by our kids because it forces us out of our own individual perspective. Suddenly, life is about more than just ourselves. Being a mother requires a certain amount of selflessness, and we have the power to reflect that in our career as well as our family.
Being a parent pushes us way beyond previous limits. We increase our capacity to multi-task. We’re forced to try things that we never thought we would. Meeting all our new responsibilities is a stretch, but that “stretch” can mean that we’ll be adaptable multi-taskers.
3. More Accepting of Other’s Challenges
Being a parent forces us to accept and live with imperfection. We work with our kids to overcome their challenges. Being a parent reminds us that our co-workers were children once, that they had their own struggles, that their childhood experiences helped them become the person they are today. That kind of tolerance and acceptance doesn’t have to be left at home; if we can take that with us to the workplace, it can benefit everyone.
4. Letting Others Grow
We strive to be the kind of parents that nurture and teach our children while letting them develop their own skills and abilities. Mentorship has an important place at work, and we can build relationships that are similarly rewarding and require similar skills as those with our children. And if we can use our nurturing capabilities to help others grow without controlling them, our companies benefit as well.
This makes some mother’s gasp but honestly, some women feel stifled at home. Advancing their career is a choice that brings fulfillment, challenge, and stimulation. The office can be a break from the chaos at home. By balancing both work and home, we maximize our enjoyment on both turfs.
Being mothers, just like being women, doesn’t make us unfit for the workplace- it just makes us different, and in many ways, more accomplished. We shouldn’t constantly try to separate our parental lives from our careers, because they’re both part of who we are as individuals. Work and life can coexist and complement each other; they don’t have to be opposites.
Leave a comment or connect with me @SustainableJobs.
The rest of the blog post is here.