I’ve been researching, to my dismay, the “motherhood penalty” that women experience in the workforce. I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details because it’s super depressing (and much has been written on it), but basically, women with children are perceived as less competent at work than women without, by basically everyone. We are seen as less deserving of hiring and promotion and deserving of less pay, and also as less “committed” to our careers.
Fathers, on the other hand, are viewed as being as good as if not better than childless men.
Obviously (I should hope) this is a steaming pile of bullshit. Being a parent is a game-changer, for sure. But men don’t have a monopoly on growing and improving in their jobs as a result of becoming a parent. And with 72.9% of women with children under 16 being in the workforce, maybe we should start acknowledging that women with young children aren’t just ditzy, distracted shells of the workers we once were. We’re as brilliant and dedicated as ever.
Here are a few of the ways that I have personally improved in my post-mat-leave career:
- I’m Responsible
I didn’t find much about why specifically fathers are viewed as stronger workers than childless men, but I suspect this has something to do with it. Of course it applies to women too. I have a family now, and a responsibility to take care of it. After 12 months of maternity leave during which I was responsible 24/7 for a tiny human who couldn’t be trusted not to straight-up murder herself if left unattended for a few minutes, I know a thing or two about real responsibility. I can take it.
- I’m Emotionally Resilient
Now this one there is some scientific evidence for, so it’s not just me. Research has shown that mothers are better able to deal with “workplace incivility” (read: your coworkers or clients being total dicks to you) because of the protective emotional benefit of having children. I get this. I used to get extremely worked up about work conflicts, and now I care a lot less. A happy home life, even though it has its own stresses, really helps me emotionally to deal with any ugliness at work. And that makes it a lot easier to focus on my job rather than drama.
- I Have a Clear Focus on My Goals
This is less about my value to others in the workplace and more about my own career path. Throughout my 20s I pretty much worked the same job the whole time, occasionally getting promotions and raises, never making my way up to the job I wanted or really working towards any big goals. At 28 I felt frustrated: like I would never be able to move out of my run-down apartment, never be able to afford to start a family, and just like I was stuck in a rut. I was just starting to try to figure out a plan to be able to afford having kids when I got pregnant. We were so thrilled! And of course it all worked out. It pushed me out of my rut, and now I know I can make the life that I want. We’re renovating the run-down apartment into an awesome apartment. We’ve got the family, and we know we can survive the financial strain of me being on maternity leave. And the money will come, because now I’m out of my rut and determined as hell.
- I’m a Fast-Thinking Problem Solver
This isn’t some superpower I developed overnight. I was always a good problem solver…except when I would get overwhelmed and panic and procrastinate. Then I spent a year dealing with a baby. The first time she had a massive poop explosion all over both of us, my brain didn’t even want to process the enormity of the mess. But I just sprung into action anyway, and dealt with the literal shitstorm. Deal with enough literal shitstorms, and the figurative ones seem a lot more manageable.
All in all, having a child gave me a clarity and focus that I lacked before. It forced me to grow up and take responsibility for my life, including my career. I want to be a mother and I want to work, and I’m great at doing both. If anyone doubts that, I’ll be happy to prove them wrong for the rest of my life. No antiquated notions of a mother’s role are going to define me.