By Silviya Zustiak, PhD
We have all heard about the challenges of motherhood while maintaining a career, or about the lack of understanding that professional moms face every day at work. In this article, I want to focus on a more positive aspect of motherhood: how it teaches us to be better professionals. After talking to moms in research, industry, and academia, I came up with ten major ways in which we can apply our mothering skills to our profession.
- Motherhood gives us authority
Just think about all the times your toddler has tried to get the better of you or the numerous times you have heard a stubborn “no” from his cute little mouth. No matter how soft or insecure you are by nature, eventually you learn to deal with an unruly child at least most of the times. In fact, you become so used to being the authority figure that this new identity manifests itself in all other aspects of your life, including work, gaining you a well-deserved respect from your colleagues.
- Motherhood teaches us to let go
I have heard multiple stories of new professors, who in their eagerness to be successful, become controlling of every aspect related to their work, including micromanaging their students and re-checking grades assigned by their assistants. Then comes the first maternity leave when this exhausting-for-all routine has to be put on hold. Despite all odds, the lab and the university still run smoothly after the leave, and as a bonus, the students in the lab have ideas of their own. Then comes the realization that simply managing may be easier and more efficient than micromanaging.
- Motherhood teaches us about priorities and balance
In fact, keeping your priorities straight is the only way to balance both professional and personal life. Even if you were a workaholic prior to having a baby, once you have the little one onboard, things change dramatically. It suddenly becomes important to go to the park, to actually take the weekend off, to spend the evening reading a book over and over to your child, or just to sit and watch her play.
- Motherhood teaches us discipline and multi-tasking
Now that you have duties 24/7 it is important to get your work done by 5 p.m. and to utilize every minute efficiently. You can no longer procrastinate thinking that you will catch up later. You can still work weekends and evenings, but you need a well-justified reason to withhold the attention your child craves.
- Motherhood teaches us creativity
There is so much to learn from babies: the way they take in the world around them, the questions they ask, and the little things that can entertain them for hours. If you allow yourself to become a part of your baby’s world, you can feel life slowing down. And once you forget about the urgent needs, you can dip in the quieter part of you that is responsible for your creativity. Just let your baby teach you.
- Motherhood teaches us patience
After going through night-time nursing, I don’t-know-why-the-baby-is-crying-for-hours episodes, to I-want-this-candy-right-now tantrums, you quickly learn how to enter a Zen state of mind on demand.
- Motherhood helps us deal with rejection at work
This doesn’t mean that moms are immune to failure and rejection. It just means that they have something positive to focus on, to help them overcome the negative feelings. And, as one distinguished professor put it: “Even if everything else fails, I will always have my children.”
- Motherhood helps us unwind in the evening
What faster way to unwind than trying to fulfill the needs of a child. I used to be one of those people that would wake up in the middle of the night, after some restless sleep, to start working on a paper or jot down ideas or plan my day so that I don’t forget all the things I needed to do. I am still the same when I don’t have my baby around. The first time I went to a scientific meeting alone, I spent half of the night tossing around. It is amazing how beneficial it is to have somebody in your life who is more important to you than you yourself.
- Motherhood teaches us compassion
Would the world be a better place if we all become compassionate and sensitive to other people’s feelings? Would you like the people at your work place to be more compassionate and understanding? As Gandhi says, you should be the change you want to see in others. So, instead of being coveted about your new status, open up to it, embrace all the changes it brings with it, and be an example for others.
- Motherhood makes us happy
Isn’t that what we really want from our lives? It is also easier to perform at our best when we feel happy and satisfied with our personal lives and ourselves.
The bottom line: If you can focus on the positive aspects of being a professional mom, you could make others see it positively and help bring forth a long-awaited change in attitude in the professional environment.