A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, featured in the Washington Post (Study: Women with More Children are More Productive at Work), found that “over the course of a 30-year career, mothers outperformed women without children at almost every stage of the game.” Yes, there can be a productivity drop when the kids are little, but guess what: “when that work is smoothed out over the course of a career… they are more productive on average than their peers.” Working mom skills are real.
This breath of fresh air celebrating working mamas stands in contrast to the New York Times opinion piece by Yael Chatav Schonbrun, “A Mother’s Ambitions”, which I admit made me sad. Now don’t get me wrong – I give Schonbrun credit for putting her voice out there in a big way, and for being honest about her feelings of not having enough time to do everything she wants to in her career. (She works part time as a researcher at Brown and as a private-practice psychologist.) I am worried she does a disservice, though, to effective, intelligent professionals who happen to have children, by portraying working mothers as bad employees.
In the article, she focuses heavily on her diminished “productivity” within each of her roles, and declares that she “hated knowing that my mentors and colleagues were not terribly impressed with me anymore.” Does she really “know” this? Or is it her own interpretation of things? She also concludes that “there is absolutely no chance that I will be promoted to associate professor, and I will continue to be an unknown in my research community.”
I’m not in academia so I can’t comment on the path to associate professorship. But to the comment that she’ll remain “unknown” in her research community, I left asking: well, doesn’t she have some control over how well known she is? Aren’t there small but powerful and effective things she could do, with a strategic focus, to get herself known? And to her comment that “my patients get frustrated with my limited availability,” could that not be a sign that she’s extremely good at what she does and is in high demand? Won’t clients always want more time and availability from the professionals they hire?
I am extremely sympathetic to the idea that working moms simply don’t have enough time in the day. I know I certainly don’t. The to-do lists each of us impose on ourselves, whether or not we have children, are endless. And I agree that what Brigid Schulte refers to in her book, Overwhelmed, as the “ideal worker” culture, valuing face time and round-the-clock availability over efficiency and effectiveness, pervades many workplaces and is a force to be reckoned with.
But I will speak for myself in saying that I am a more talented employee and leader because I am a parent. I am infinitely more efficient than I was before having children. I set priorities like nobody’s business. I have a stronger power of connection now with anyone who has children or ever was one (um, that would be everyone). I have honed my skills on how to anticipate needs. I am more patient. I am better at delegating. I deal much better than I used to with the unexpected. And taking time to be in the moment with my kids after work every day and play in a serious way with them lets my brain recharge and increases my creativity. Think of the CEO Schulte talks about in her book, who takes afternoon walks on the beach to get his best ideas…same concept.
Schulte also wrote about a man whose first book took him a year to write. After changing the way he worked – to short bursts of concentrated effort – he was able to write his next 2 books in under 6 months each. He worked smarter. Not more hours.
Working moms need to be more vocal about the skills we’ve gained and stop doubting how effective we can be, even with less time on our hands. Yes, there’s less time for nonsense. But no less time to be thoughtful, mindful, and strategic about what we choose to do and how we choose to use our time. Let’s shout from the rooftops that our value as colleagues, employees, and leaders goes up when we have babies and come back to work.
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