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The Challenges and Opportunities of Being a Mother and a Professional

I am a professional. I am also a mother.

Motherhood is wonderful, all-encompassing, and sometimes overwhelming. It’s easy to let it become the main highlight of my identity because it’s such a big, defining part of my life. But it’s not the only thing that defines me. I’m also a dreamer, a partner, a leader, and so much more.

Parenthood changes you. It presents challenges that I like to reframe as opportunities for growth. It can feel like you’re torn between two worlds: work and home. Finding balance can sometimes feel impossible. There aren’t any one-size-fits-all answers, but I do think there are positive ways to approach these challenges and turn them into assets.

Here are some common challenges we face as mothers and how we can reframe them in a positive way:

The Challenge: “Mommy Brain”

Our lives aren’t the only things that get redesigned after becoming mother. Our brains change too. Maybe you’re familiar with the foggy, forgetful thinking or just feeling like you aren’t performing at the same level you once did, before having children. The Washington Post article “Is there really such a thing as “mommy brain”? reads, “Neuroscience research supports the idea that women’s brains physically change after giving birth. A 2017 study published in Nature Neuroscience found there is a decrease in gray matter in the area of moms’ brains that is responsible for social cognition. This shrinkage was still present two years after childbirth, suggesting that having a baby may lead to permanent structural changes in the brain.”

Your brain “on motherhood” isn’t any less powerful – the powers are just manifesting themselves in new ways.

The Opportunity: Superpowers

Okay, okay. Superpowers may sound like an exaggeration but the brain redesign isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our brains are actually optimized to understand what others may be thinking and perceiving. We may intuitively find ourselves tapping into a newfound ability to recognize our baby’s cries and know what they need. We may discover more sensitivities as the brain regions involved in emotional regulation and empathy have grown. Your brain “on motherhood” isn’t any less powerful – the powers are just manifesting themselves in new ways. If you can harness your newfound abilities and apply them in business, you just might find you have a superpower after all.

The Challenge: Identity Crisis!

I remember after I had my daughter (my first), I caught myself in the mirror one morning and froze. I hadn’t showered in days. I was breaking out like a teenager. My body looked different. I felt unrecognizable. I felt different, too. I didn’t feel like myself. I cut my hair (“Mom hair”) and bought new jeans (“Mom jeans”). I went full Mom (whatever that means), and I have no idea why I did any of it.

You haven’t shrunk or lost anything. You’ve just expanded. You’re not less – you’re more.

The Opportunity: “Let Me Reintroduce Myself”

A lot of mothers experience major shifts in how they view themselves. The lines between home and work become blurry (even more so as more mothers find themselves working from home.) These changes can be confusing. While the shift may feel extreme, it helps to remember this isn’t the first time our identity has changed. You don’t have to give up the old parts of yourself: your roles, interests, hobbies. You haven’t shrunk or lost anything. You’ve just expanded. You’re not less – you’re more.

I am so much more (better) in all aspects of my life — personal and professional — than I was before motherhood. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

The Challenge: Failure

Failure. It sounds harsh but, if we’re honest with ourselves, a lot of us feel this way.

I’m not doing enough.

I’m not a good enough mom.

I’m not doing well at work.

I can’t focus.

I can’t get things done like I used to.

When you’re used to focusing on being fast, efficient, and effective and suddenly you find yourself floundering, fighting to tread water, it’s easy to fall into this “I’m a failure” mindset.

It’s time to show yourself some grace. You’re doing better than you think you are.

The Opportunity: Grace

Imagine your best friend is sitting across from you, berating herself, “I’m not good enough. I’m a failure. I suck.” Would you agree? Maybe add a few items to her list of things she’s failing at? No way. But, when it comes to ourselves, we’re ruthless. We are our own worst critics and we don’t cut ourselves any slack, even when we need it most.

It’s time to show yourself some grace. You’re doing better than you think you are. Every day is full of things you do get done. Instead of focusing on the things you’re getting wrong, focus on what you get right. Celebrate the small things. Being successful is more than what you get done at work. Maybe you think to be a “good mom” you need to make a gourmet dinner every night or read four picture books to your kids before bed. You don’t need to be a “perfect” motherhood influencer to be a “good mom.” It’s time to rethink your definition and show yourself some love.

The Challenge: I Can’t Do It Alone

Being a mother can feel very isolating. It’s not just losing touch with old friends or having less time for our relationships. There’s often an unequal burden – and expectation – placed on mothers. Parenting isn’t meant to be only a woman’s job but that’s not always reflected in the reality of society. We often find ourselves the subject of judgment when the kids show up to school missing a sock when no one would bat an eye if our partner did the same. Achieving a work-life balance and finding a balance of roles in the home is an ongoing job for many of us.

The Opportunity: Redefining Roles

There’s a reason we say, “It takes a village.” Parents deserve support from their partners, grandparents, workplaces, and legislature. Sometimes we simply don’t have it. While we can vote for politicians who support things like expanding maternity and paternity leave, some of these aspects may be out of our control. Try to focus on what you can control. Can you have an honest, open discussion with your partner about responsibilities and expectations at home? Don’t be afraid to redefine roles. Are there friends or family members who have earnestly offered to help but you haven’t taken up on the offer? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

When I was promoted last year, a client sent me this note:

“[Your employer] has recognized what any of the [Loan Officers] that had worked with you could see; talent; swift and insightful problem solving. Compassion.”

I wholeheartedly believe that the challenges and opportunities of being a working mother have made me who I am. The person my client described is me only because I have juggled every impossible task thrown my way, taken care of the people who need me without neglecting self-care, learned to work more efficiently, and have felt (and survived) every emotion through it all. I know that life will bring more challenges, but opportunities will present themselves as well.

What challenges and opportunities has motherhood presented in your life? Share your personal story of a recent challenge you’ve faced, and how you plan on reframing it.

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