Motherhood And Ambition

I was wrong.

I thought the challenge of being a working mother was the sheer number of tasks, to-dos, reminders, and duties that are demanded of me both at home and work. It seemed obvious the workload was just too much.

But now as my kids get a bit older, and I get better about not multi-tasking so much, I’ve noticed that the push and pull hasn’t really lessened as I had expected.

This has led me to the realization that the difficulty isn’t with the tasks, as voluminous at they are, but the existential struggle between motherhood and my ambition for my career.

Despite the recent Disenchanted movie reminding me that a woman’s ambition was once viewed as evil (Amy Adams’ character shares that one of the definitions of an evil stepmother, after vanity and cruelty, is ambition), it feels like this trope is slowly receding. No longer do we turn on the news to hear many voices finding ways to put down Hillary Clinton; rather Dom Lemon was asked to take a leave of absence on CNN for attacking a female presidential candidate. While the number of women CEOs at large companies is declining, female entrepreneurship is up by 48%. Women with college degrees now outnumber men in the U.S. labor force, and more ambitious women than ever are taking their rightful place in the professional sphere and reshaping the workplace.

I have my own unabashed ambitions for myself, and I get to work with so many incredible women who do as well. We are working harder than ever to make our mark, even if that eagerness to achieve something doesn’t necessarily look like higher rungs on the corporate ladder, but rather to learn and grow for ourselves, in ourselves, and to make an impact on the world and those around us.

Simultaneously, parenting has changed in the last 40 years or so. Kids have much more autonomy and awareness now, as parents look to support a child’s journey, rather than shape them into a version of themselves. Whether its neurodivergence, gender and sexuality, or even big feelings, parents are exploring new approaches to help their kids, rather than allowing labels such as “difficult”, “tomboy” or “sensitive” be the main narrative.

And while we hope this approach will result in less pain and trauma, creating happier children (and eventually adults), there is no doubt that this way of parenting is intensive. It takes both self-awareness of our own triggers, as well time to teach (and listen!) on topics such as how to express our feelings, adopt a growth-oriented mindset, and navigating the adventure to become ourselves. With limited real-life examples of this style of parenting, we are mostly creating these new models from other parents we know, data and psychology learnings, and/or our own self help, therapy or coaching.

I feel the pull between these two priorities – my ambition at work and my desire to be there for my kids and provide a safe place for them to explore their identities – on weekday evenings in particular. When my mind is still thinking about that proposal on my desk, the best way to support a client, or the arguments for providing support beyond paid parental leave. Yet, I need to put this on pause to be present and ready to hear the worries and needs of these little people.

In these regular day-to-day transitions, supporting myself can be a challenge. While I’m continually exploring different approaches for managing these transitions better, I’ve found the following three techniques to be the most helpful for myself and others who are attempting to be both an ambitious mom and career woman.

Create transition time for yourself

Just like you give your kids a heads up 5 or 10 minutes before playtime is over or it’s time to leave the house, figure out what will help you transition out of work mode and into mom mode. Maybe it’s meditation or a work-out, but find a way to decompress and leave behind the stress of the work day so that you can find the right speed for your kids. For example, one of my clients has picked a specific song and has a dance party with her toddler to signify the end of her work day. This technique is so fun, and lets the child know that mom time has begun!

Consider your values and set goals 

One of the first exercises I do with all of my clients is to articulate what’s important to them, from a personal, professional, and family point of view. Then when we set goals, schedules or brainstorm solutions we make sure that we are in alignment with those values and moving their lives towards what’s important to them. So, if you are feeling pulled in various directions, it’s important to check-in with yourself and remember why you are doing these tasks. It’s always a good time to prune items that don’t serve you and re-consider if there are other ways to accomplish your goals.

Be kind to yourself

One of the ways I think we vary from the generations before us is in the way we talk to ourselves. I work hard to not get down on myself or call myself names, not only for my own mental health, but also in order to set a model of self-love for my kids. Trying to raise kids to be their full selves while creating space for our own self is a major undertaking – and in many ways we building the airplane as we fly it. There will be turbulence – the question is how will you handle it? With compassion and understanding or more pressure and anxiety?

None of this is easy and may not solve the existential crisis, but creating time and space for yourself to figure out what you want and how to get there will make you a better communicator, a better advocate for yourself and others, more focused and efficient, and more successful.

And the impact of that? A happier woman, which makes a great mother. And really, what else could an ambitious working mom want for herself?