This piece was first published at For Working Ladies.
Is Momnesia really a thing? Or Baby Brain, the condition where your once reliable grey cells supposedly mash into porridgey mush, the moment you introduce another human being into the world? Or, come to that, the idea that once you have a family waiting for you at home, there’s a risk you suddenly become a less effective version of your former professional self.
Adding to your skillset
As someone whose daughters are now ambitious young women in their early 20s, I couldn’t disagree more. Exhaustion, occasional frustration – stress, even — are all of course part and parcel of the parental package. But far from weakening your hand, raising a family enhances your skills and brings to the surface ones you never knew you had.
Conflict resolution in front of Saturday morning TV, anyone? Preparing for a conference call, while administering antibiotics to a hot and sweaty three-year old? Keeping 10 different items simultaneously on your internal to-do list, without dropping a single domestic ball? Tick, tick and tick again.
Because when it comes to hard stops, there’s nothing quite like a school or day-care pick-up to focus the mind. Forget catching up on Love Island around the coffee machine. Whether they’re in an office or working at home for themselves, women with families have to squeeze every last drop out of their available time.
If you want something done, ask a busy person
Rachael Singh, digital marketing, KPMG in the UK, and mother to a three-year old, agrees. “My capacity to multi-task, cut through the noise and prioritise has increased exponentially. I often find myself thinking ‘why did it take me so long to do that before?’ when I look back at home or work tasks. I am also much more health conscious now, going to the gym and eating better than I have ever done before, which has helped me both physically and mentally allowing me the strength and focus to work more efficiently.”
“My capacity to multi-task, cut through the noise and prioritise has increased exponentially. I often find myself thinking ‘why did it take me so long to do that before?”
And as for multi-tasking, not even the star performer from the Chinese State Circus knows how to juggle priorities like a mother. All those essential tasks keeping the show on the road – from in-date food in the fridge, to an acceptably clean home to sorting out the family diary? Study after study shows it’s still women who do the lion’s share.
“Bringing up two children while working full-time has certainly improved my ability to multi-task and delegate, which in turn has benefited my work,” says architect and access consultant, Ann Sawyer. “It’s also made me much calmer in dealing with the unexpected. And it’s actually nice to be able to switch off from home and family issues when I’m at work and focus on something completely different!”
When it comes to skill sets, some women returning from time out worry that they won’t have the know-how to deal with the digital juggernaut. Yet learning how to navigate Microsoft Outlook or master the art of SEO or an eye-catching Insta account are easily fixable gaps. In the credit column, meanwhile, these women have accrued a CVs worth of transferable talents. Well-versed in the art of compromise, they’re likely to be good team players, with a range of soft skills – including heightened intuition of when something is afoot.
After perhaps years of handling tantrums, they are also well equipped to defuse tense situations or bad behaviour from testy, possibly testosterone-fuelled, colleagues. Many also find they suddenly have a finely tuned ‘bullshit detector’, endowed with a new ‘cut the crap and cut to the chase’ mentality. And they know the importance of staying calm in a crisis – because, well, what other option do you have, when your six-year old runs towards you with a swell on their temple the size of an orange, thanks to a direct hit from a tennis ball?
Suzie Thorpe, presenter/broadcaster on Cambridge105 Radio and presenter of podcast Women Making Waves, puts it perfectly. “When my children came along, I considered it my role to give them opportunities to play, to find their own ideas. The day my children extracted clean linen and towels from the linen cupboard to build a cave in the garden, I figured that the skill I was learning was to remain calm. This, I discovered later, was going to help me see the bigger picture in the work environment. Let it be, see how colleagues work, listen and if you need to scream with frustration ‘sometimes’, go run to the loo! It’s worked for me on many occasions!”
Rachael Singh agrees. “Becoming a mum has made me a better manager. I’m much more compassionate, willing to find new ways of teaching and more open to a growth mindset.”
For journalist and author, Annie Ridout, it’s been a win-win situation professionally, right from when she had her first child. “With a newborn who slept 20 out of 24 hours, no commute and long days alone, my productivity peaked. I had new ideas for articles to pitch (and was commissioned by the Guardian, Stylist, Red Magazine). I got a book deal to write The Freelance Mum: A flexible career guide for better work-life balance and, while pregnant with my third baby and keen to set up a passive income stream, launched three online courses for freelancers and entrepreneurs which now form the bulk of my work and income. I have to squeeze work in when the kids don’t’ need me, which means I’m able to switch into work-mode instantly. There’s no time for procrastination.”
Rachael Singh is equally enthusiastic about the work-life benefits. “Although becoming a mum is the hardest thing I’ve had to do, it’s also the most rewarding. It’s shown me that I am capable of more than I previously thought, which gives me the confidence that previously I didn’t have.”