I became a Mother in Oct 2017, and life has never been the same. My life changing wasn't a surprise, but the WAY it changed seemed almost inexplicable. One thing was clear though, and it still boggles my mind, working mothers aren't given the support they need. Whether it's gender parity in raising children and running a household, or from the business world in its systems and policies. Our culture and society hasn't prioritized parenting enough to make having a job and being a mother an easy thing to negotiate. The ways in which working mothers need support is endless, so I sat down with four working moms that I truly adore and respect and got their thoughts on the matter.

Garnett: Why did you decide to be a mother?

Gordon: I always wanted to be a mom. I made the choice to have children early because I didn't want to be an older mom who couldn't run around with her children and enjoy the fun times they love to have. But after having children at a young age, and seeing how it affected my career, I wonder if it would've been better to have children later in life. I guess I'll never know.

Garnett: What do you know about motherhood now that you didn't know before you had a kid?

Gordon: I didn't know just how exhausting it could be. I didn't know just how much time you spend worrying about your children, about your parenting, about what other people think about your children and your parenting. But I also know now that motherhood is unique to each mother and child. It is an experience that no one else has the right to comment on, and I no longer care about anyone else's opinion about how I parent.

Garnett: What do you know about being a working mother that you didn't know before you had a kid?

Gordon: I didn't know how important it could be for children to see their mothers work. And not only work, but enjoy what they do. We are role models, and if we trudge through life tired and unhappy with our work, we set our children up to do the same. We make settling normal.

Garnett: What important changes need to be made to support working mothers?

Gordon: Flexibility is key. Flexibility and authority over our work. We shouldn't have to ask for permission to get up from our desk and leave our job if the school calls and our child is sick. Just as we are responsible enough to take care of our sick child, we are responsible to take care of our work, and we will get it done. If you can't trust your employees to do that, then why hire them in the first place?

Laura Garnett: Why did you decide to be a mother?

Dana Galin: I spent a lot of time considering motherhood. I didn't get married until I was 38, and by the time we started trying to have kids, I was told that I was of "advanced maternal age," so at high risk. We didn't have much luck conceiving on our own, but I wasn't going to stop. Why did I do it all? Because my greatest superpower is love. I had great role models who showed me that there is an unlimited supply of it. Who better to share my heart and personal growth with, then a child...our child.

Garnett: What do you know about motherhood now that you didn't know before you had a kid?

Galin: I am a seeker who has always yearned to grow and develop as a human being. If you wake up to it, having a child is one of the most effective ways to stretch yourself and evolve as a person. It's not that I didn't anticipate this, I just couldn't imagine how it would feel in my bones to have a front row seat to my own incompetence. I'm not denigrating myself, rather, I'm acknowledging that to grow, you have to admit what you don't know. I am reminded of what I don't know every day as a mother. While it can be extraordinarily challenging, I wouldn't change it for the world.

Garnett: What do you know about being a working mother that you didn't know before you had a kid?

Galin: There is no such thing as balance. I have had to reframe how I think about it. I believe we do ourselves a disservice by expecting that we can achieve it. Some days balance looks like I am on the road putting 1,000 percent of my energy into my leadership coaching business, and some days I have to disappear from work and allocate my time and focus to my family. So, balance for me has to be viewed at the 10,000-foot level. It's not a zero-sum game. Otherwise, I can make myself crazy with self-judgment around being "enough" in both spheres.

Garnett: What important changes need to be made to support working mothers?

Galin: In the workplace, at a big picture level, leadership needs to pay attention to what the culture actually supports verses the vision, mission and values that are framed in the hallway, and then TRULY gain alignment. You have to start with a mechanism that creates the policies and procedures meant to support working parents - the people.

Garnett: Why did you decide to be a mother?

Northrup Watts: I always knew I wanted to be a mother. It wasn't really a decision. It was more of a knowing since I was a little girl. When I decided to try to get pregnant it was a feeling that my husband and I had that the time was right.

Garnett: What do you know about motherhood now that you didn't know before you had a kid?

Northrup Watts: I had no idea how difficult it would be and how much support I would want/need. I thought being a mother would be easier because I always had wanted to be one. When I became a mother, I realized that just because having kids was something I wanted didn't mean that it would be easy!

Garnett: What do you know about being a working mother that you didn't know before you had a kid?

Northrup Watts: I didn't realize how much I would still love my work. Before I had kids, I was open to the idea of being a stay-at-home mom. Once my first born was 5 weeks old, I knew that I would want to work, too, and that in some ways my work gives me a much-needed break from mothering. Having a dual love of my vocation and my children is challenging, but I'm so happy I get to be a model of what pursuing your dreams looks like for my girls so they can have permission to pursue theirs.

Garnett: What important changes need to be made to support working mothers?

Northrup Watts: We need policies in companies and in the government to support families, not just men with wives at home. What will change this is more and more men demanding flexible schedules, paid family leave, and more. The more men demand policies that make raising a family easier, the more our working world will support mothers, too.

Garnett: Why did you decide to be a mother?

Sullivan: I grew up in a large family with six kids, so I developed a deep love of babies and children as I helped out a lot with my younger siblings. I always just assumed I'd have children someday and stay at home with them. I was married right out of college, and began an exciting career that kept me challenged, but felt having children would be the biggest opportunity for personal growth. I was also interested in gaining a greater appreciation for the child-like qualities of innocence, joy, and purity, and learn how they can be expressed in all stages of life.

Garnett: What do you know about motherhood now that you didn't know before you had a kid? 

Sullivan: When I became a mom, I experienced a bombardment of fearful suggestions I didn't expect. I have never been a fearful or worrisome person, so it was a big surprise to me. I'm not sure if other mothers experience this and how they deal with it, but I found it was so important to grab ahold of that fear and understand where it was coming from so I knew what I needed to really address and what to let go of and dismiss as meaningless. 

Garnett: What do you know about being a working mother that you didn't know before you had a kid? 

Sullivan: Before having children, I never realized that there are so many different kinds of working moms. I assumed I would have to be totally committed to work and be bad mom, or quit working and stay at home to raise my children. What I know now is that I can shape my career to fit me and my family. For me, being a working mom means making sure that the work I am doing is meaningful and I have the support and flexibility from my organization/team to prioritize my family. I also didn't realize that it would make me care for people so deeply, which has made me a much better teammate and manager.

Garnett: What important changes need to be made to support working mothers?

Sullivan: From my experience, the ability to create my own flexibility is the result of the risks I took early on in my career that have given me unique skills and experience. Supporting women (and men) earlier in their careers to discover their talents and gain experience that can give them the leverage to create their own roles, or flexibility to figure out what is right for them when they have children, is key. 

 

Published on: May 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.