I had hoped to meet Barbara in a cafe with a coffee in hand, alas, my little boy fell sick and we had to have a Skype call instead. While keeping an eye and ear focused on him and making sure the fever did not increase too much, I started speaking with Barbara.
Working mom life
What was the biggest change after becoming a mom?
Barbara: The biggest change was to not have any time for myself. I had always had the wish to combine work and motherhood. I need the recognition of achieving results and I just knew that a 100 % focus on my child would not make me happy.
In retrospective, the key to make this combination work for me, was a partner who supports my desired way of living. A husband who does not “help” me, but who also wants to share the home duties and home pleasures. Sharing responsibilities at home was a hurdle for me because it meant to lose control and let my husband do certain things his way. It took a while for me to acknowledge that I had to become flexible on how things were done at home.
Barbara´s daughter recently left home to start her adult life. Barbara is no longer in the phase where she has to juggle childcare, nanny and unplanned fever episodes. She is in the phase where she again organizes her daily life without worrying (too much) about her daughter. But how was it when her daughter was a toddler?
B: Sometimes I needed to put my daughter in second place because I had a very important business trip or commitment. It is very situational, you cannot say your children are always the first priority. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something. I was very clear of what I wanted and what my priorities were.
I find it important to actively manage life. What are my values, what are the dimensions of my life (family, friends, health, professional life, intellectual life) and what resources (time and attention) do I spend on them. And I have to be aware that I have limited resources. When I had this clear in my mind I knew my direction and a lot of the internal conversations in my head stopped.
Easy to say, but do we all have clear goals for our private life?
I really enjoy speaking with Barbara because she always gives me a new perspective of how to look at things and situations. Barbara brings with her a very broad experience from a career in the corporate world and currently works as an HR consultant, communications trainer and coach. She developed her career while having a family, definitely a good example for all of us.
B: At the beginning you have less time for yourself, for your relationship as a couple, for your extended family and friends. But it is not going to be like this forever. We have to remember that at a certain point our children will leave home and we have to continue our life.
Being a mom of a three- year old boy, I have the feeling that now is the burning moment. Organizing childcare, nanny, pediatrician visits, play dates, having a clear weekend program… all activities my son cannot yet do alone, where he needs my constant attention and energy. My hope is that with time this full attention can be reduced and I can refocus more on myself and my career.
B: Well, when the kids are babies and toddlers it is still relatively easy to organize because a lot is about logistics. You organize good childcare, they do not complain when you go on a business trip. It becomes more difficult when they start school. You need to spend quality time to catch the moment when they are open to talk about themselves. You need to have joined activities to stay in a good relationship with them. For me this became even more important when my daughter was in puberty. My recommendation is: Say goodbye to perfectionism! Let go. Surrender to the realities of life. My perspective is that you cannot be a perfect mom and a perfect employee. And by the way – nobody expects us to be perfect mothers and perfect employees.
Does this mean that the infamous mummy guilt comes from society and not from our motherly instincts?
B: It is a mix. It is easier to get into a guilt feeling when we are in a society that expects us to be super mama. You have to listen primarily to your inner voice and take comments from your family, friends or society with a little bit of distance. For some women, the inner voice will tell you to focus very much on their children, for others, like me, it can be different.
Be aware that we are living in a new social paradigm. When in human history have women ever had the time and freedom to say “ I will take care of my child full time?” I believe that a lot of today’s guilty feelings iare related to societal pressure.
Let’s talk about career. Once you become a mum, you realize your priorities in life changes but the world around you doesn’t, especially the business world. So, you have to make tough decisions. How long are you willing to let your child stay at day care? How much of your career are you willing to sacrifice? Are you ready to cut your social time? Barbara had to make these tough decisions when her daughter was younger.
B: After my maternity leave, I started to work 60%. I was the first manager in my company who dared to ask – and I got what I wanted. About one year later I applied for a different position and decided to work full time again.
After I had worked like this for several years I reviewed my situation and asked myself: is my work-life balance as I want it to be? The answer was clear: No.
I wanted more flexibility for myself and my family. I felt a strong need to experience more in life than work, eat, sleep. Obviously, I did not want to throw my professional life away. I decided to take a step down in order to have more time to live. It was a tough decision, because I was fully aware that I was not applying my best professional skills. But my priorities and direction were clear and I wanted to develop a broader set of interests. There were some very basic things I wanted like having a cat, taking Yoga lessons, meet friends and be more present for my daughter.
Barbara works as a consultant for an executive search and consulting company. Therefore it felt natural to ask her if recruiting a mom is different.
B: My rule is to never make assumptions. She could be the breadwinner and her partner takes care of the children when they are sick. I need to understand the priorities of mum-candidates. My experience is that a female candidate is more questioned about their ability to be strong leaders. Sometimes I have to remind a client that it is favorable to have a gender mix in the interviewer group.
This reminds me of my son sick in the room close to me. Is it commitment enough that I stuck to our scheduled interview? I was creative and reorganized it via Skype due to an unplanned rush of fever? Maybe we as mums are better trained at moving away from either-or-thinking and look more readily for combining this-and-that.
As her daughter is starting a new phase in life, Barbara is now at a stage where she has more time for herself and can focus more on her interests. What advise can she share with a working mother like me, who sometimes doubt that dedicating so much energy to keep a career on track makes sense?
B: For mothers it is Important to take a life-cycle perspective. I see my life as having 3 big phases: the first is development and education, from 0 to 30 years old. Then you come into your adulthood phase, from 30 to 55 when a lot of your life is about family. After 55 you are “alone” again. When you want to enjoy having a job, friends, continuous learning and a healthy relationship with your body, then you have to invest in all of this, well ahead of time.
In summary, what is your advice for mothers today, who are struggling with career, child care and time for herself?
B: Think about a life cycle perspective; children will not remain children forever. Dare to ask for what you want at work and in your private life. No one is going to give you what you want if you don’t ask, and avoid perfectionism! Be the captain of your own life!”
That sounds like very smart advise. Thank you!