Life as a new working mom can feel a bit like you’re on a rollercoaster. There are ups and downs and sometimes you’ll want to scream. But what exactly changes on the work front? We know that your body goes through changes during pregnancy and after childbirth. But what about your professional self and identity?
There are probably as many answers as there are women. We certainly heard a range of responses. What we appreciated most is the diversity of views. Many times, people (including other women and moms) can assume that becoming a mother makes it less likely you’ll be committed to your work or career.
While we certainly meet women who share that point of view, for others, things aren’t that simple. Some women are the primary breadwinners, while others simply don’t experience any long-lasting decrease in ambition once the worst pangs of mom guilt fall away.
If you’re looking for a short-cut “guide” to how you might feel about your work, we are pretty sure it’s impossible to predict how any individual will change after becoming a mom. What we can do, however, is share the perspectives of seven very different women.
Before you have children, you may think that people who want flexibility simply don’t prioritize their careers anymore or aren’t “hard core” about their jobs. After you become a mom, people who feel that way often have a change of heart.
For example, media exec, Katherine Zaleski started to realize that it was possible for women to be productive and not have to choose between their careers or families after she had her own child. Previously she had dismissed women with children as not concerned about their careers. She says: “All the tools exist for remote work: Slack, Jira, Skype, Trello, Google Docs... Furthermore, millennials — with or without kids — want that flexibility.”
Not everyone who seeks flexibility is looking for it because they still value their careers as much as they used to. That’s what’s tricky about stereotypes. Sometimes they are true, and sometimes they just aren’t.
There are absolutely women for whom becoming a new mom means wanting flexibility because their jobs are less important to them. For example, Vivian, a mom working in Silicon Valley says that “Life is a balancing act... At this stage, I’m OK trading career advancement for a flexible job with predictable hours I can handle. I may not get a promotion, but I hope to be able to have time with my daughter while she’s still young and also maintain my sanity!”
One woman at Thomson Reuters told us: “My job is now more important than ever to ensure I have a steady income, but some of the issues and people that I deal with seem [more] trivial.”
In other words, children can be a financial wake-up call. You may find yourself realizing that you want to be a certain kind of role model to your daughter (or son) as a working mom. You may also simply see new financial goals and your career as providing the support that makes things happen (e.g. college funds, private school, moving to a better neighborhood, paying for better childcare or simply making ends meet).
Regardless of whether you view your current job as more important or less, your view of your entire career trajectory may also change. For example, Randi in New Jersey told us:
Becoming pregnant did not cause me to to question my career. I don’t even think I really processed what was happening at all. But after I had [a baby], I had a full-on identity crisis. I always thought I wanted to be a CEO...and I thought I would just hire nannies...And as soon as my son was born, I felt a really strong sense of responsibility and felt I needed to be very present and involved. I realized very suddenly and clearly that I would never be a CEO because I was suddenly entirely unwilling to miss so much of my son’s life. And so I completely re-calculated. It was even more true after my second was born.
Keep in mind, however, that your feelings about the overall arc of your career may change as your children grow. Allison, who works in the healthcare industry, told us:
My professional ambition was gone for quite a while and I wondered if I wasted all that time and money on education. My kids are now four and seven and my drive has come back… If you want to raise your kids and can, don’t feel bad about stepping back from career, but try to keep toe dipped in.
The complication, of course, is that while career ambition and job interest decrease for some women, for other new moms there is no such change or they may feel even greater ambition. The problem is that others at work cannot tell which category you fall into and, as a result, may pre-judge you and treat you differently.
It’s called “mom bias” and it’s difficult (even for other women) to combat. As the Chicago Tribune reports:
A Chicago real estate agent said that while she was on maternity leave at a former sales job, her commissions were cut drastically, even though she’d already landed the accounts and her assistant was handling the follow-up. At the time, she said, she was the No. 1 salesperson in the office, but her supervisors somehow convinced themselves that she wasn’t going to come back to work. ‘I gave them no reason to believe that — except that I had a baby,’ she said.
It’s a cliche for a reason. Most moms agree that they become more ruthlessly efficient... at, well, everything.
As Katherine Zaleski says: “There’s a saying that 'if you want something done then ask a busy person to do it.' That’s exactly why I like working with mothers now... Moms work hard to meet deadlines because they have a powerful motivation — they want to be sure they can make dinner, pick a child up from school and, yes, get to the gym for themselves.”
Bottom line: becoming a new mom is a time when your identity will feel challenged. Every new mom comes out a new person in some way. It took a long time to get your education and you spent a lot of time working before you had a baby — so go easy on yourself and give yourself the time to work through this new transition!