The other day, after learning that I was a working mother, a random woman called me a hero. Her well-intentioned comment caught me off guard. After all, she didn’t know me, or whether or not I did my job well. I was grateful for what seemed like genuine respect, but it drew into focus a real problem: When it comes to admiration for the working mother, it’s usually for the hustle of it all — not the actual quality of work.
Yes, working moms juggle a ton of shit — more shit, typically, than working dads. But what about our professional performance during the workday? Generally, we think of moms as being slightly handicapped when it comes to work — distracted by pregnancy brain, or mentally glommed onto the kids in the picture frame.
But actually, if you have a family and are working, too, I’m here to tell you that you’re killing it, even if it doesn’t often feel that way.
When things are actually running smoothly at home — and kids aren’t sick and there isn’t some school event at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday — I’m often struck by how being a mother has made me a better professional. Parenting can feel like patchwork of sloppy, learn-as-you-go tasks, but the million insane things you do as a mom each day really do give you an edge in the workplace.
And you don’t have to take my word for it. A 2014 study at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, for example, showed that women with children outperformed their childless peers.
Working mothers deserve a stark rebrand. Adopt this as a truth: Good mothers make good business people. Here are eight reasons why.
1. Mothers have grit. Grit — not talent, or an Ivy League degree, or even a penis — is the single greatest determinative factor of success. Grit is the combination of perseverance and passion for long-term goals (in other words, working hard, day in and day out, for years and years). To state the obvious: There is no greater marathon than motherhood. It’s a lifetime of unrelenting effort delivered in the face of humbling, grueling, and ever-changing challenges. If you’ve endured weeks of never getting more than 35 minutes of consecutive sleep and have managed to keep a helpless human alive, you’re more than capable of doing your job. In fact, it may actually qualify you to be a Navy Seal.
2. Mothers pad their deadlines. My kids respect a five-minute warning about as much as I respect the need for volume on televised sports. As a lifelong procrastinator, I’ve learned to build in extra time. If I want to leave at 8, I need to start putting shoes on small maniacs at 7:45. This is good practice for business as well. If success hinges upon a deadline, mothers know that you always need extra time for possible sickness, emergencies, or getting locked out of somewhere, be it the house or a spreadsheet.
3. Mothers know how to manage difficult people. Raising two young children whom I believe to be good at heart, I have developed an expertise around predicting adversity, picking my battles, and minimizing damage. And when things really go awry, I also know when to step away and hide in the bathroom for 10 minutes until it blows over. I now recognize that everyone has limitations, and that these limitations don’t need to end the relationship. (I mean, that would be really cruel; my kids are 5 and 3.) When dealing with an eccentric board member or a narcissistic employee, this muscle proves invaluable.
4. Mothers crave rationality. I spend a lot of time with people who are driven solely by their emotions. Fun fact: My 5-year-old daughter likes to cry in front of the mirror when she’s upset just to reaaally dig into the depth of her sadness over not watching another episode of Spirit. It’s all very dramatic — but it’s so unproductive. When I’m away from children, all I want to do is act rationally and figure out the best path from A to B.
5. Mothers multi-task. Duh.
6. Mothers are wickedly efficient with their time. If, by some miracle, I have 15 minutes at home without kids, I know I have to meticulously allocate my time between activity X online and showering. If I get lost down an internet hole while pursuing X for the full 15 minutes, I will literally smell bad until the next magical 15-minute oasis. Therefore I am painstakingly efficient with my time, and treat others like they must be, too. Nothing groundbreaking here, just business 101: Successful people do things on time. Oh, and P.S.: Hell hath no fury like a mother whose time you wasted.
7. Mothers have a Plan B. I used to set my sights on a singular goal: that job, that dress, that project. But motherhood is accompanied by a suite of messy factors — and failure is not an option when you’re responsible for keeping tiny humans alive. So, in my home life I always have a Plan B: pasta if they won’t eat the chicken; a friend to do pickup if a meeting runs late. Mothers apply this same ethos at work. Next time you’re oddly calm under pressure at the office, think hard about why that is. Chances are it’s because you’ve already got it covered.
8. Mothers know that sometimes a little wiggle is all you need. Working moms know that, sometimes, when faced with what seems like an impossible situation, a little wiggle is all you need. Every morning when I buckle my toddler into his car seat, he complains that it’s too tight. As an adult, I know that the harness must be tight in order to keep him safe. So, in response, I wiggle the buckle — without loosening it at all — and ask, “Is that better?” Every morning, he nods, satisfied. When things are as they should be, but someone is unhappy regardless, moms know that sometimes all it takes is a wiggle: identify their aggravation, validate it, and take some action — perceived or real.
So the next time you find yourself in the midst of one of those harried moments working moms experience dozens of times every day, stop and reflect upon the ways you leverage your mom skills to be better at your job. Stand proud!