It seems counterintuitive that having children can actually make you a better – not worse – professional and employee. Between leaving work earlier to pick up baby, being exhausted, and taking ridiculous amounts of sick leave, new parents can get that sinking feeling their career is doomed. And yet, I truly believe the opposite to be true.
I’ve been reading All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, where Jennifer Senior put into words in the most eloquent way I’ve ever seen the idea that having children can lift us up to bigger, better places – both in our work specifically, and in life more broadly. I love love love this passage from pages 98-99 of the book (emphasis is mine):
“Young children may be grueling, young children may be vexing, and young children may bust and draw the contours of their parents’ professional and marital lives. But they bring joy too. Everyone knows this (hence: ‘bundles of joy’). But it’s worth considering some of the reasons why. It’s not just because they’re soft and sweet and smell like perfection. They also create wormholes in time, transporting their mothers and fathers back to feelings and sensations they haven’t had since they themselves were young. The dirty secret about adulthood is the sameness of it, its tireless adherence to routines and customs and norms. Small children may intensify this sense of repetition and rigidity by virtue of the new routines they establish. But they liberate their parents from their ruts too.
All of us crave liberation from those ruts. More to the point, all of us crave liberation from our adult selves, at least from time to time. I’m not just talking about the selves with public roles to play and daily obligations to meet. (We can find relief from those people simply by going on vacation, or for that matter, by pouring ourselves a stiff drink.) I’m talking about the selves who live too much in their heads rather than their bodies; who are burdened with too much knowledge about how the world works rather than excited by how it could work or should; who are afraid of being judged and not being loved. Most adults do not live in a world of forgiveness and unconditional love. Unless, that is, they have small children.
The most shameful part of adult life is how blinkered it makes us, how brittle and ungenerous in our judgments. It often takes a much bigger project to make adults look outward, to make them ‘boundless and unwearied in giving,’ as the novelist and philosopher C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves. Young children can go a long way toward yanking grown-ups out of their silly preoccupations and cramped little mazes of self-interest—not just relieving their parents of their egos, but helping them aspire to something better.”
Having children teaches and us new skills and rekindles some that were latent (creativity, prioritization, efficiency, problem-solving, anyone?!), all of which we as mamas absolutely can use at the office. Studies show that parents are more productive over the course of their careers than non-parents. And becoming a parent can make you a better manager. Can liberate you from ruts. And can make you more dream up new plotlines for your own life story that would never have crossed your mind.
All of which, I’ve found, helps both in your career and in life in general.
If you’re thinking about those big questions of parenthood and identity, Senior’s book is definitely worth a read.
Making that transition into working parenthood and want some support? Join the next session of Mindful Return.