By WMM Contributor: Melissa Feldmeyer
Some things just go together- peanut butter and jelly, cheese and crackers, Bert and Ernie, motherhood and the American workplace.....
Oh wait.... you don't agree with that last one?
It is about the worst kept secret ever that the American workplace has not adapted well in support of mothers being a part of it, even after all these decades. Which seems so strange given that we are such of force within it at nearly 75 million strong. More frequently I am reading articles about a company putting a new maternity or paternity policy in place that recognizes the fact that babies exist and need to actually be taken care of. It gives me hope, but we obviously have a long way to go because these companies show up in the news for 1 major reason- they are NOT the norm.
Having kids is a personal life choice- and I made it knowing the antiquated American ways parental leave polices. I knew becoming a mother would require certain sacrifices and that it would quite honestly, at least temporarily stall my career or could be viewed as a professional liability. I knew that for what I would be paying for daycare for 2 children over the next few years I could buy a brand new (nice leather seat kind of) car each year. No one could say any of it caught me by surprise or that I was uninformed about the decision I was making. But that knowledge didn't make it sting any less when those things actually did happen. And that knowledge coupled with personal experiences definitely made me wish for better for all the working moms to be that come after me who want (or need, or want and need) to have both a career and family.
I’ve found it really doesn't help our case that working moms are so often portrayed in books, movies and on TV as frazzled, distracted and unreliable, and rarely shows them happy or fulfilled with their life choices. Maybe don't see the flip side enough. Yes, I am tired most of the time. Yes, it is really sometimes REALLY hard to try to get these two very demanding and vastly different areas of our lives to blend harmoniously. But yes, I do also feel overall happy and content with my choice to be a working mom. I think sometimes in attempt to be real and connected to our fellow moms, we are more likely to publicly share the challenges we face than the victories. I know I do it. I probably share about 20 stories about my car and house and life being a mess for every 1 story I share about how I was rock star and got everyone ready and out of the house on time without anyone crying, nailed my work presentation and even managed to go the whole day without spilling anything on my white shirt.
Maybe if we started sharing those highs as often as those funny and relatable lows we could, at the very least, start shifting the perception that can come with the working mom territory just a little bit? So I just want to put THIS out into the world- the highs, the good, some of the positive ways that becoming a mother has actually made me a BETTER employee than I was before I had children.
I treat people better.
I do my best to live my life by the golden rule. To treat others as I would like to be treated. I know I’ve messed that up plenty of times, but it is something I do consciously think about and make efforts in daily. Shortly after coming back from maternity leave, I had to have a "talk" with an employee that I managed that we'd had some challenges with. PB (pre- baby) I really wouldn't have put too much thought into this conversation. PB me held everyone to the standard I held myself to, which was pretty high and didn't leave room for a lot of life's messiness. I thought work was work, personal was personal. And the two really never needed to impact each other if you were a true professional. I remember the night before the meeting, holding my sleeping baby and just crying hot tears onto her head at the thought of this meeting the next day. All I kept thinking about what that this person was somebody's baby. Someone that was loved and had been cradled and rocked like I was doing with my baby. It was just one of many, many (many) moments to come where my idea that I would be the same person I had been before I had a baby began to crumble. I thought about what I was going to say to this employee for a long time; what I hoped someone would say to my baby if she grew up and was struggling at work. I thought about how grateful I'd be to someone who took her feelings into consideration, encouraged her, built her up and made her feel valued and hopeful moving forward that things would get better. The conversation went well the next day. It was far more productive for both sides than it would have been had I gone in handling like I would have in the past. But I also must say, as much as motherhood has brought out a softer side in some ways- it also has toughened me up a bit. After your cherubic cheek toddler marches around the house chanting “I don’t like momma!” for 20 minutes, it starts to take more than your boss not liking one of your project ideas to hurt your feelings….
I work more efficiently.
Becoming a mom has been the ultimate education in being flexible, adapting to changes and multitasking. Or I would be dead by now. And all of those skills transfer right on over into the way I work. PB-me would have freaked out if someone came to me and said "I need this by the end of the day." Now-me has the skills to stop, shuffle, and make it happen. I also have to be a much more efficient worker. I use to be able to work as late as I needed to. When I felt my work was done, I would leave. Sometimes this was 5. Sometimes this was 8. Sometimes if I wasn't done I'd even come in on a Saturday. Time, time, time was on my side. Now I have a deadline each and every day and I go into my day know that this checklist of items must be done by the time I have to be out of the door at 5:00 pm. I have to prioritize what I need to get done and exactly how long it is going to take me to get done. Time management is my friend these days. And maybe even do a little delegation, as much as it goes against my nature. I have found that more hours do not always translate to more work being done. As the saying goes- “it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it.”
I am more creative.
Back in PB days, I would go to work, come home, jump on my email, and work some more. There were no boundaries really of where work ended and life started. It felt pretty monotone. I was in the zone, but it was just 1 zone. 1 dimensional. Almost robotic. These days once I get home, those few hours between when I walk in the door and when I go to sleep are for my girls. We read books, we play magna-tiles, dance party, and we talk about our days. Not only does my mind get a break from thinking about the same issues I’ve been thinking of for the past 8 hours- but all this creative play engages different parts of my brain. I have had some of my best out of the box work ideas in the midst of play sessions with my kids- special event ideas, campaign themes, all sorts of gems. Carl Jung said “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct”. Play and make believe doesn’t have to end when your childhood does. As an adult it can just spark something extra in your way of thinking that sitting in front of your computer in your cubicle isn't going to. Becoming a mother reminded me of what an important role play is in exercising the brain.
I work with more meaning.
I have worked in the nonprofit sector since I was 20 years old. So, like, a lot of years now. I couldn't legally drink, but I could help improve my community. I didn't grow up in Wisconsin and when I put down my roots in Milwaukee, I knew we were a multifaceted community with some very unique strengths, opportunities and challenges. I have always loved being a part of organizations that are working hard every day to inching towards that goal of making sure that everyone here has access to what they need to thrive. But this all took on an even deeper meaning once I decided to raise a family here. This is the home I chose for them. I want them to be in love with it. I don't want them to have to experience some of the negative bi-products we see on the news that come as a result of some of the community's more serious issues. And I don't want them to grow up and feel like they need to move far away to find the opportunities they are seeking. So when I am showing up for work every day, I feel like I am also showing up for them- playing a small role in helping to make the community one that my kids will grow up and feel proud to say "I am from Milwaukee." For me, that's a lot more motivating to me than a 2% pay raise (but...I mean... if they're giving those out, I'd like that too).
One of my greatest dreams is that by the time my girls are grown and have children, that they hear stories of today’s working moms and the moms that worked before us and think feel the stories are just too foreign to even comprehend. Like when I read articles from the 50’s about “100 Ways to Find a Husband” that include “always use an ashtray”, “read the obituaries to find eligible widowers” and “have your car break down in strategic places”. In this particular case, and only this case, I’d be happy to have my kids think I was just super ancient to have lived in such a time, because it would signal that progress has been made. In the meantime I am going to keep spreading the good word about the good work we working moms do- both at home and out in the office (classroom, clinic, etc.), and I hope you’ll join me in that. I’d love to hear some of the ways you feel becoming a mom has made you a better employee!