I rarely agree ideologically with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But her recent New York Times article had a positive note on motherhood often missing in today’s society: Ginsburg said her infant daughter helped advance her career.
My success in law school, I have no doubt, was in large measure because of baby Jane. I attended classes and studied diligently until 4 in the afternoon; the next hours were Jane’s time, spent at the park, playing silly games or singing funny songs, reading picture books and A.A. Milne poems, and bathing or feeding her. After Jane’s bedtime, I returned to the law books with renewed will. Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked.
When I talk with expectant moms, the discussion eventually drifts to the issue of returning to work. They share their underlying fears and anxieties: What to do in terms of childcare? Will they be able perform at the same level, or be able to advance? Does work-and-life balance even exist?
Sadly, I think many women postpone the joy of children for fear their careers will be sidetracked—or as this study suggests, that they will miss out on extra income. I can’t guarantee careers won’t be altered because of children and changing priorities, but I don’t think a newborn is a career death sentence.
In fact, I’ve found that returning to work (after being fortunate enough to take off 12 weeks) gave me a new zeal and appreciation for what I do in the 10 hours of the day that I’m not with my adorable daughter. My experience exemplifies research such as that from the New York Federal Reserve finding that mothers outperform childless workers. Here’s how my baby helped me be better at my job.
Babies Foster Your Focus & Efficiency
Being a mother forces you to prioritize and learn to say no, which can be a challenge for women. I was forced to cull some extracurricular activities I once did more out of duty than passion. I also had to give up binging on Netflix all weekend (not that I don’t sneak in a show or two when my little one is napping).
This not only simplified my life and helped me focus: it also helped me foster a habit of preparation. I would take a few minutes in the evening, baby sleeping on my chest, to check emails. Or I’d use a half hour on the weekend to map out my plans for the week.
Because let’s be honest—for moms, weekends no longer offer the opportunity to sleep in or be lazy. You get up with that baby whether it’s the wee hours of Sunday or Wednesday. But that extra effort helped me feel more confident and ready for the week ahead. I don’t dread Mondays and the return to the office as much as I used to.
When I’m in the office, I also try to maximize my time because I’m eager to get home to my five-month-old. Sure, I bypass cocktail mixers and evening events—but that challenges me to seek new networking opportunities that won’t infringe on my little girl’s bath time.
Even at the gym, I am not wasting time on my workout. I jump on the exercise bike or pick up those weights with gusto. Most of the time, I only have a few precious minutes before the gym’s daycare provider hunts me down and tells me to come pick up my screaming child (she usually taps out at 27 minutes).
Babies Make You Tough
Sleep deprivation is what governments use to get information out of enemy combatants. Navy Seals endure hours of the sound of a crying baby to be battle-ready. Moms go through both—just to make it through the first 12 weeks of their child’s life.
That’s not counting the blowouts, diaper rashes, spit-ups, endless laundry, and other issues you never thought you would face. And those are just the challenges of a healthy, non-colicky baby—spend a morning in the pediatric side of the emergency department with a sick baby and see if you don’t come away stronger.
In other words, having a demanding baby (or just a regular baby) helps you deal with tough clients and managers. I’ve found I can handle a lot more, especially the curve balls, now that I have a baby who is constantly changing—both in her needs and routine. And those little coos and smiles make it all the more worthwhile.
Babies Teach You Greater Patience & Perspective
Catnaps should be something only cats do. But when I really need a good two hours to decompress and accomplish a few things, my baby gives me a 45-minute catnap. Forty-five minutes. That’s barely time to use the bathroom and open my email before those telltale murmurs start emanating from the baby monitor.
But what are you going to do? Yelling is not an option. I cannot discipline my baby. So I suck it up, and remember that eventually I will get a longer nap out of my child.
Sacrificing life priorities and order to care for a baby requires patience. And that same patience and perspective will help moms systematically reach the goals they set at work. It will help them deal with inevitable setbacks and difficult people. Failures won’t be as daunting, because moms have already “failed” with their babies many times.
Through it all, we learn to tell ourselves, “this too shall pass.”
Embrace New Motherhood Skills
So my advice to new moms is not to fear what your baby will mean for your job. Soak up the new skills and perspective that motherhood brings, because they’re valuable for your career. It doesn’t matter if you’re a C-suite executive or a bus driver—the experiences you garner from motherhood (both good and bad) can only help you move forward as a more well-rounded woman.
Now, I need to stop typing and pick up my baby girl because she’s fussing.