Career and Motherhood Can go Together

August 17, 2023 •

7 min reading

Navigating the Delicate Dance: Balancing Work and Motherhood

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Contrary to popular belief, finding a balance between work and motherhood is not an insurmountable challenge. Although there may not be a clear-cut formula or step-by-step guide available, it doesn't mean we can't delve into this crucial topic together. In fact, exploring the delicate dance between professional pursuits and motherhood can open up a world of possibilities and empower women to create their own unique paths.

Finding balance - or embracing imbalance, for that matter -  is a deeply personal journey, as every woman's circumstances and priorities are different. It requires a willingness to reflect on one's own values, aspirations, and limitations


Why analyze the balance between professional pursuits and parenthood?

This question acts as a valuable launching pad for our exploration. When we explore the confluence of career and children, we encounter two pivotal factors: Being professionals and mothers are inseparable aspects of life, and both require our unwavering dedication and careful strategizing.

Furthermore, work and motherhood demand the development and utilization of similar skill sets:

  • Maturity: to navigate the role of both parent and professional with a sense of emotional equilibrium
  • Ability to maintain perspective: and recognize that circumstances are ever-changing
  • Detachment: to understand when it is time to let go
  • Surrender: because having a career and a family means you may have to pick your battles 
  • Strong sense of responsibility: because juggling work and caring for little ones is no small feat

There are of course many more intersections between the roles of being a parent and a professional. These connections not only impact our personal lives but also have a profound influence on the workplace, shaping it in various ways, perceived as positive or negative.

Studies conducted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have revealed a disheartening truth - men with children are often deemed more "hireable" than their female counterparts.

Of course, it is encouraging to see that the tides are slowly shifting, with women now being hired even when pregnant. And yet this progress comes late in the game and there is still a long road ahead in achieving true equality in the workforce.

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Reflecting on our Journey: Women in the workplace

The very idea of women entering the workforce is a relatively new concept. For centuries, women have been expected to prioritize their families, particularly their children and homes, and in some cultures are still seen as an extension of their husbands. However, times are changing, and more and more women are successfully balancing motherhood with their aspirations of building a professional career. In addition, fathers are increasingly expected to fulfill caregiving tasks.

Working mothers face numerous obstacles and encounter various challenges when trying to balance their careers with motherhood. These challenges include - but are not limited to - long working (or waking) hours, overwhelming tasks, and the constant guilt and anguish of being away from their children or from their work for that matter. Additionally, they often face criticism and judgment for their choices, whatever these may be.

These difficulties can be attributed to both societal prejudice and the lack of supportive labor policies. While society continues to advocate for structural change, the definition of what it means to be a "good mother" in the modern world needs to be overhauled.


What is a "good mother"?

Do ‘good mothers’ and ‘good employees’ share the same qualities? Traditionally, society has placed a heavy burden on mothers to prioritize their children above all else. The expectation has been that a "good mother" is one who shelves her ambitions and desires to provide constant care and attention to her family. However, this narrow definition of motherhood overlooks the fact that women are multifaceted individuals with their own dreams and aspirations.

Author and journalist Amy Westervelt, in her book Forget Having It All, beautifully captures the struggle faced by working mothers: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.”

To redefine what it means to be a "good mother", we must shift away from this outdated notion of self-sacrifice and embrace the idea that mothers can pursue their professional goals while still being devoted caregivers. Being a "good mother" should not be reduced to the amount of time spent with her children, the number of homemade nutritious meals she serves them, or their academic success.

In fact, a study published in 2018 finds that having a working mother has some economic, educational and social benefits for children of both sexes. This is not to imply that children do not benefit from spending time with their parents - they certainly do. However, we, parents, must make choices about how we allocate our limited time. Studies indicate that children of working parents also reap certain benefits.

It is crucial to recognize that when women decide to pursue a career, it is a personal and/or financial decision. Women should base their choice on whether they desire or require work, rather than worrying about whether it may or may not harm their children.

Furthermore, motherhood is a powerful asset in the workplace, providing a unique strength and advantage. Research indicates that women have a significant positive impact on a company's financial performance. Working moms have been found to be highly productive in the workplace. Their role as caregivers, their unwavering commitment, dedication, and ability to multitask effectively can make them valuable assets to any organization.


Embracing challenges, being confident in your decisions, and knowing your worth

In our above exploration, we acknowledged that progress has been made in implementing structural changes, but emphasized the need for ongoing efforts in this regard. Furthermore, we recognize that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution.

This is not to sound patronizing or to tell women—yet again—what they should or shouldn't be doing. Instead, it seems that more attention should be paid to the inevitable moments of uncertainty, guilt, and questioning that women experience when trying to balance the needs of children and career.

1. Accepting the challenges

The demands of work and motherhood can seem insurmountable: but overwhelmed working moms would benefit from embracing this reality rather than avoiding it. By acknowledging these challenges, we can approach them with a mindset of resolve and resilience, understanding that we can discover solutions and persevere. Ask for help? YES! We can reach out to our support network, whether it be our partner, family, friends, or fellow working mothers, for advice and assistance... Or even just someone to remind us that everything will be OK.

2. Feeling comfortable with your decisions

Working mothers are constantly faced with choices and decisions that impact both their children and career. It is natural to question whether we are making the right choices or if we are doing enough. However, it is important to trust ourselves and our instincts. Remember that we are the best judge of what is best for us... Most of the time!

3. Knowing that you are good enough

This is perhaps the most powerful realization that a working mother can have. Society often places unrealistic expectations on parents, and mothers in particular, expecting them to be perfect in every aspect of their lives. However, it is indispensable to remember that perfection is unattainable and that being a good mother does not mean being flawless. We are enough, just as we are, with all our imperfections and strengths.

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Self Determination Theory: How does this translate in the workplace?

The workplace holds immense significance in our lives, typically acting as a key source of fulfillment and joy. While there are numerous theories on this subject, as a psychology graduate, I have a particular fondness for the Self Determination Theory. This theory emphasizes that every individual has three fundamental psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. It asserts that meeting these needs is crucial for individuals to truly thrive and flourish in their work environment.

1. Autonomy

Allowing working mothers to have autonomy in the workplace is fundamental for meeting their basic needs. By giving them a choice in their responsibilities and allowing flexibility in their schedule, they can feel more autonomous and increase their satisfaction in the workplace. Managers and employers must foster an environment that supports autonomy for mothers and caregivers, allowing them to make more independent and responsible decisions. This can include giving them the opportunity to leave early or have a more flexible daily schedule to accommodate their childcare duties.

2. Competence

To ensure working mothers feel competent in their role, good communication between employers and caregivers is essential. This includes creating a plan before maternity leave, outlining what will happen during their absence and upon their return. Employers should also reach out to mothers as their return date approaches to establish expectations and support their transition back to the workplace. Providing a comprehensive handbook for mothers and caregivers equips them with the necessary knowledge and preparation for a smooth transition back to the workplace, ultimately making the process easier and less daunting for everyone.

3. Relatedness

Working mothers should sense their belonging in the workplace. They may feel disconnected after returning from maternity leave or if there are no other parents in the workplace. (e.g., not being able to participate in after work activities due to childcare responsibilities). This can create challenges in an environment where they feel out of place.

To alleviate this feeling, employers and HR departments can establish a dedicated group and space for parents, working mothers, and caregivers. It will serve to foster an environment where these individuals can easily connect with their colleagues who are experiencing similar life stages, have open communication, advice-sharing, and support.

In conclusion, it is crucial to redefine what it means to be a "good mother" in the modern world. Mothers can pursue professional goals while still being devoted caregivers, and studies have shown that there are tangible benefits of employing a working mom. Women should base their decision to work on their own desires and needs, rather than worrying about the impact on their children. Motherhood brings unique strengths to the workplace, and embracing challenges, feeling confident in decisions, and knowing one's worth are essential for working mothers. Autonomy, competence, and relatedness are fundamental needs that must be met in the workplace for working mothers to thrive. Employers can support this by creating an environment that fosters autonomy, clear communication, and a sense of belonging.

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Business Development Senior Manager - Consultant at EHL

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"Growing up with a working mother, I was raised with the belief that my generation wouldn't have to face the difficult decision of choosing between family and a career.

The entrance of women into the workforce was indeed a groundbreaking achievement, one that brought a sense of dignity and independence to our society. In my mother's generation, the focus was rightly placed on achieving equal pay, eliminating the injustices that forced women out of work or into lower-paying, part-time positions, and ultimately striving for an equal division of labor within the home.

Despite the strides that have been made, the journey towards achieving equality in the workplace for mothers is far from over. The world of work remains a daunting and unwelcoming space for many mothers, presenting them with numerous challenges and barriers.

However, in today's world, we must go beyond mere structural changes. It is time to redefine the concept of being a good mother."

"I often wonder if other mothers out there also grapple with the constant struggle of achieving work-life balance? Burdened with an overwhelming sense of guilt - torn between the demands of an accomplished professional life and the desire to be more present at home.

No matter where I am, whether it's at home or at work, I'm constantly plagued by the feeling that I should be somewhere else, accomplishing something important. As a result, I frequently find myself working an extra hour, to make up for the time spent with my sick child or attending a school recital, while still keeping an eye on my inbox for any urgent emails.

It feels like an impossible situation, one that can fill mothers with a sense of being overwhelmed, exhausted, and defeated.  

But, by actively pursuing our own professional goals, aren't we serving as role models for our children? And teaching them the significance of personal fulfillment and autonomy?"