While there is no guaranteed pathway that leads to success, I will say that the path I followed up from start included making two very key decisions during my 20s: 1) getting my master’s degree and 2) becoming a mom. Both were things I knew I wanted, but did not realize how badly I had wanted them until much later, and both things helped me solidify my professional purpose. Both were also things that intimidated me for a while until I grew enough to take ownership of them as my choices. No matter what the outcome, I was going to own it. And because I cared, the outcome wouldn’t be bad for either one. But neither was a walk in the park.
One key way I felt I could succeed with both of these goals was to secure a job with my master’s degree that allowed me to work from home so that I could make money with it, but I could also have some added flexibility in my work schedule. I’d been told by young parents at the time that a flexible schedule was a great resource for any new parent. The young parents I saw ‘killing it’ worked jobs with flexible hours, worked from home, or owned their own businesses. At this point, I wasn’t quite ready to welcome a new business venture into my life, but I knew I could certainly use my advanced degree to secure flexible employment working from home.
I began telecommuting for work and school in 2010. It was a different arena then, with many professionals believing that employees and students alike would not give the same amount of focus, energy, and commitment to work conducted in the online space as employees and students did in traditional, brick and mortar settings. In the years since, data has shown that people who work from home are more productive, and that working from a comfortable environment boosts professional performance.
The flexibility, the fact that I wouldn’t have to do a lot of image prep or commuting to show up, and the peace of mind working from home seemed to promise had me convinced that telecommuting would be the golden ticket that allowed me to advance my career while also advancing as a married woman who wanted to be a mom at the same time.
It seemed like a win-win for me then, and I can testify today that it has been. I have been able to take my career in several different directions over the last 10 years while simultaneously monitoring two pregnancies, welcoming two babies, and adjusting to two new children coming into our family and household over the years. I enjoy getting to tell my kids that they do not have to choose between a career or family; you can have both. My concept of work-life balance has become the delineation between my professional pursuits and making myself available for my family’s needs. Working from home has allowed me to do this much more easily than I probably would have been able to if I had been required to report to a physical location for work.
However, working from home has done very little to save me from the challenge of establishing an identity at work that acknowledges all that I am.
It’s a funny act of negotiation that many working women go through when they decide to become moms. Despite the workplace reform that has taken place over the past five decades, the resounding message at work still encourages that women separate their professional selves from the other roles they hold in order to be seen as serious professional contributors. Even the most accomplished professional woman will experience a slowing in her career growth once she has a child. Parenting can also be unpredictable, and each time a professional woman needs to adjust her workday to accommodate her kids, it’s almost like an invisible penalty marker gets thrown at her. Conversely, fathers in the workplace seem to gain imaginary points for wearing suits while also being dads. Men are treated to copious amounts of respect and consideration when fatherhood interrupts work, yet women are rarely acknowledged for succeeding at juggling multiple schedules in order to satisfy every daily obligation that is involved with raising humans while simultaneously making a living.
Even if a mom is managing to “do it all,” the expectation is almost that she shut off the motherhood segment of her identity when she comes to work. Ain’t nobody got time to listen to you complain about how your son’s potty-training regression threw a wrench in your morning, or how you and your spouse are trying desperately to drown out the peer pressure your daughter gets exposed to when she’s at school for six hours a day.
Perhaps it is a streak of rebellion within me, or perhaps it is that I truly love being a mom that much, but I do not make efforts to shield the fact that I succeed at work projects while also succeeding at managing my household. It makes me skilled at project management while also humanizing me. I achieve professional success but I also live for sharing deeply meaningful experiences with my husband and children. All are parts to my whole. Due to all of these things that I am, I am also not ashamed to take five minutes away from a business call to grab a snack for my son or help my daughter with a homework question. The fact that I can manage to make time for you while also being available for my kids makes me an even greater professional. It makes me a momager – an efficient, critically thinking, hardworking professional, not someone who is less reliable or less invested due to my status as a parent.
Probably the greatest reason I have for why I allow evidence of my status as a mother to interrupt my professional life is that I refuse to discard part of what I am each time I show up to work.
Can I be extra real for a second? My family rarely has incidents that become so unmanageable that I cannot log any time for work that day, so when those few and far between times do come up, I appreciate being extended grace and consideration so much more than servings of suspicion or gratuitous verbal counseling. I already know this is important. If it wasn’t important, I wouldn’t be here. Trust me.
I embrace the duality these two very important roles I have are, and anyone I work with has to understand this too. I’m not just an author, not just a creator, not just an editor, not just a teacher, not just a wife, and not just a mom. And if my child needs me so much that he or she has entered my office without knocking in order to get my attention, I will break for them. I will give pause to assess what the issue is. That’s the whole point of me doing this. Of why we’re having this conversation on Zoom instead of right there in your office 400 miles away from my home. Because I needed to be able to pick up my daughter or take my son to his practice. Don’t ignore that. Don’t turn away from my status as a mother and separate my skill set from it. My parenting informs so much of my skill set, and my professional growth is a useful tool for raising children in a modern world.
Antoinette Chanel is an author and motivational speaker who hosts The Midday Reset Podcast, a show designed to help busy people take a break. She also hosts professional development workshops and provides one-on-one long-term goal coaching. Check out The Midday Reset Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or YouTube. You can also listen to episodes and read more blogs from Antoinette at middayreset.com.