No one would ever choose to be a parent for the singular purpose of advancing a career. But the experience of being a parent should not be seen as an impediment to career success. In fact the experience of being a parent – and specifically a mom – should make you even more successful in your chosen line of work. That’s the message from a wonderful book I picked up last weekend. The book is called “The Mom Shift”. I had the great pleasure of meeting its author, Reva Seth, last Saturday evening in Montreal. Reva was co-hosting (with the remarkable Catherine McKenna) a fascinating panel about parents and politics.
I love that thesis. I’ve given birth to five beautiful children. Our oldest daughter died suddenly at a young age in the country of Niger. We now have four fabulous children, pictured above – two teenagers and two in their twenties. The oldest and youngest are girls. Our sons are in the middle. The decision to have children had nothing to do with career goals. My husband and I both came from big families. We love kids. Being a mom is my proudest role in life.
What I love about Reva’s book is how it tackles the myth that women have to choose between parenting and career success. Finally, someone has made it plain that motherhood should not impede career opportunities. In fact, the experience of being a mother is a remarkable asset one can offer in the workplace. Being a mom has undoubtedly made me a better family doctor. Being a mom has made me a better educator of medical trainees. It has made me a better leader in a hospital department. And I believe that being a mom will make me a better politician than I would be without that phenomenal life experience.
Now it should be said that not every women can or should be a mother. Some women don’t choose this experience. Some women face barriers in their desire to be a mother. Motherhood is certainly not an essential qualification for any of the professional roles that I’ve had – or will have. But for me, being a mother has made me stronger in each of those roles.
I’ve been thinking about all the ways that my kids have made me better at my job. For starters, they keep me well informed. They help me stay up to date on technology. I know all about Snapchat, Video Star and Star Chart because my kids use them. Believe it or not, I’ve actually used some of these apps for creative projects in medical education. My children help me understand social and economic trends – which helps me now and for my political future. One son has taught me about Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. Each of the four kids show me a unique perspective on current events. And now as my young adult children begin to enter the workforce, I become much better informed about the challenges facing young people in the job market. But it’s not just these bits of knowledge that motherhood makes me better at my job. As a family doctor, of course, it has been helpful to have first-hand experience in practical matters from breastfeeding to toilet-training. Beyond that, parenting develops other skills that are readily transferable to any workplace. Every mother learns about the fine arts of persuasion and negotiation. Motherhood is an ideal training ground to learn about organization and time management.
The most important way that motherhood has made me better at my job is by the attitudes that I have acquired in these past 25 years of being a mom. The ultimate virtue that parenting teaches you is patience. Motherhood has taught me to slow down; to enjoy a different pace and perspective. There is nothing like going on a stroll with a toddler to teach you an appreciation of the joys we can find each moment. Being a mom has made me more tolerant. I quickly learned that my kids aren’t perfect and neither is their mom. Motherhood has made me a less judgmental person through realizing how every person is made differently. My kids have taught me compassion and forgiveness. They have taught me how to respond to pain. Motherhood has taught me about resilience and empathy. Every one of these lessons has made me better equipped for the workplace. What workplace couldn’t benefit from employees who have learned patience, tolerance and resilience?
I would never pretend that it’s easy to juggle the roles of mother, wife, physician, academic and activist. But I’d never trade the privilege of any of those roles. And I would refute any suggestion that motherhood is a barrier to career success. I strongly recommend this well researched book. Enjoy dozens of stories about women who have raised children and found out that motherhood means they can contribute in the workplace more than ever before.