THE BLOG

Can You Ever Be as Good at Your Job After Having Children?

06/07/2014 23:01 BST | Updated 05/09/2014 10:59 BST
Getty

Cast your mind back to Life Before Kids.

Did you ever roll your eyes when your boss left at five to pick up her kids and you knew you'd be working til seven?

Had you ever done an hour's work already by the time The Mums arrived at the office?

Did you ever feel like your time - to exercise, to be with friends, to make a decent dinner for your partner - was not seen as as important as your co-worker's, who just HAD to leave the office at 2.15pm for nursery pick-up?

If you ever felt like that, I have two little words for you: Me too.

I was that person. I worked long, long hours for many years, and I viewed The Working Mums as part-timers who weren't serious about their careers. I had Working Mum bosses who left the office way before me, and Working Mum colleagues who arrived way after.

Sometimes I felt resentful. But mostly, I just thought they were lightweights. Let them pootle about in their non-committed way, distracted by grocery lists and calls from day care and taking their kids to doctor's appointments. Let them do that, I thought. The grown-ups will stay here and work, and get the job done.

What a narrow-minded little fool I was.

Because life happened. And now I have children. Two hilarious, squeezable children who only really want one thing from me. My time. Maybe one other: My attention.

Co-incidentally, I have a job which demands exactly the same things of me; time and attention. But my job also requires a few others, like punctuality. Reasonable thought. Ideas. Some words.

I like to think I still have those things to offer. But then I read this story in the UK's Telegraph newspaper by working mother Antonia Hoyle that made me think I should probably pack up my lunchbox and go on home.

"We can't expect to compete with women who don't have children or perform as well as we did pre-motherhood. It is disingenuous and self-defeating to try," she writes. "Accepting our limitations is the only way we will keep our careers, our families and our sanity intact."

Antonia (who wrote an excellent story, despite being, you know, a mother) makes a very compelling, and not unfamiliar case for the fact that once we reproduce, we will never be the 100-per-cent committed fembot employees we were before, what with our laser-like focus and our happy desire to work around the clock. If you know any of those.

My first reaction to those words about work were angry. I am still good at my job. I am just as committed, just as focussed, just as competitive, my time management is better, I'm more understanding... and then I stopped, and considered why I was really upset by those words in this story - a story in a newspaper on the other side of the world.

It's because they are true.

One of the most challenging things about parenthood is learning to accept change. Accepting the fact once the baby cyclone dust settles, nothing looks like it did before. Not your body, not your relationship, not your friendships. Or your work.

If you loved your job before you had children, you will still love it afterwards, but your relationship to it will have changed. It's not the only measure of your worth to the outside world any more. It's not the definition of who you are. And with that, like it or not, comes a deep seismic shift in priorities.

I, like many other mums I know, spend a lot of time trying to convince myself and others that I'm handling everything. I can do 15 things at once! I can do my job, and raise my kids, and keep a house in (somewhat) order! I'm not really losing it! My kids are not really cranky and overtired! My partner isn't really feeling put-upon and exhausted!

But some days, I'm not handling everything. All of those things are true, and I keep juggling, keep trying to convince myself that all the balls will stay in the air, even as they are hurtling at light-speed towards my head.

So, Antonia was right that you'll never be the same at work after you have kids. But what she was wrong about was that it's a competition. Of course you can't compete with your childless colleagues for hours spent in front of the boss. Because once the stakes are so high that other people's happiness depend on it, you don't want to compete in that game. The people whose happiness is at stake are a part of you, they have handprints on your heart - and they're going to win. Game over.

So it's not a competition with those old yous, sitting at their desks rolling their eyes at your 5pm Walk Of Shame.

It's not a competition with your child-free colleagues, who have their own struggles with balancing their personal life with work.

It's not a competition with the other mothers in your workplace, who may have completely different circumstance to you, - more help, less help, older kids, younger kids, more family support, or less.

And it's not a competition with yourself. You can't out-work the old you. Because the old you has gone.

You have changed.

This post originally appeared on ivillage.com.au