Navigating Career & Motherhood: Mentoring for Working Moms
According to the US Department of Labor:
- 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-time.
- Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18 today, compared with 11 percent in 1960.
What these statistics don’t represent is the challenge that comes with juggling a career and motherhood, and the potential identity crisis of working motherhood. As a working mother myself, much of my journey over the last several years has been focused on this very topic: navigating my career and motherhood and deciding how I would design my version of an integrated life. I started my professional journey looking up the ladder and very focused on launching my career, moving up as quickly as possible and defining success by my professional achievements. As I moved through my career and worked at different companies, that’s when life started to change; in 2010 I became a mother! Becoming a mother changed my entire perspective on what I want my life to be and how I want to live it. I could never have been prepared for my journey as a working mother and the different choices I would make to pursue the career I want and to be the mom I want to be. In addition to my own internal struggle and tensions, the same debate has been playing out in the external world as well. Lean In. Motherhood Penalty. Ban “Bossy”. Work/Life Balance. Opt out. Workplace flexibility. Gender pay gap. Gender balance. All of these concepts have been pervading my thinking and my psyche, as there has been more and more focus on women in the workplace playing out publicly.
Lucky for me, I had many mentors along the way who helped me make tough decisions about leaning in, leaning out, and honestly everything in between. At a particularly tough time in my so-called balancing act, I really thought my only options were to either opt out of the workforce completely or to just stick with it and grin and bear the pressures of it all. One of my mentors stepped in and she helped me realize that I had options. By asking me powerful questions, she helped me to get really clear on my priorities, my non-negotiables, and what I really wanted so I could make a decision that would be right for my family and for me. She helped build up my confidence to have the courage to ask for what I wanted, and to realize there was an entire spectrum of options. After I had my second child last year, I hit another turning point in terms of aligning my values, my work, and my new identity as a mom of two. I had a very candid discussion with one of my mentors about work/life balance and she said to me, “Missy, there is no such thing as work life balance. You have just ONE LIFE, how do you want to live it?” These words have stuck with me and I often use them as I mentor other working moms. This mentor gave me a new lens through which to see my life and to make decisions. She also helped me get crystal clear about my priorities and my conviction around designing the life I want. This led to making many difficult decisions and ultimately, making different choices at different stages of my career and motherhood. My vision of success has changed through the years and that has meant moving up, moving back and moving side to side throughout my career thus far. I am very grateful to my mentors and now try to pay it forward because I have experienced firsthand the power of mentoring and how it has actually empowered me. My tips for navigating work and motherhood based on the lessons I have learned along the way:
1) Be unapologetic about your choices
Stop thinking about the “should.” Stop feeling guilty. Stop doubting yourself. Do the internal work to decide what you need and want to live a fulfilled life. Like my mentor told me, you only get ONE life – so create the life you want and don’t apologize for your needs and wants.
2) Think about what is possible vs. what is
Sometimes we get so caught up in the chaos and expectations of our day to day routines that we become passive bystanders of our own lives. Think beyond what is and consider what could be. In The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander says, “In the measurement world, we set a goal and strive to achieve it. In the universe of possibility, we set the context and let life unfold.” There is so much power in shifting the typical paradigm of how we view the world; you will be amazed at the shift once you think about the possibilities.
3) Be bold
While I have not always had the confidence to be bold in certain moments and experiences, I have found that when I am willing to take a risk and make bold decisions, the outcome has always been a positive one. Being bold helps you ignore your self-doubt and harness your passions to play big.
4) Cultivate a strong network
It’s all about the network. Take the time to build and cultivate relationships. It is through a strong network that I have been able to identify new opportunities and ultimately turn them into reality at critical points in my career/motherhood journey. You will be surprised by how many people will open their doors to help you turn your world of possibilities into reality and connect you to opportunities you might not even know exist.
5) Find and/or leverage your mentors
If you don’t have a mentor(s), I highly encourage you find one either informally or formally. If you have a mentor(s), use them! It is through strong mentors that I have navigated through the most challenging times in my journey. More importantly than giving advice or having answers, they offered me different perspective, built up my confidence, supported me and ultimately were able to dig deep to help me come up with my own solutions. I would not be where I am today without the guidance and unwavering support of my mentors.
For more interesting workforce stats, visit the U.S. Department of Labor Blog.