The Intersection between Motherhood, Career and Identity. Blog Link Up

Intersection between career and identityToday I wanted to talk about my experience of motherhood, career and identity. And I would love you to do the same. If you have written a post about the cross-roads of career and identity, please feel free to link up below (your post needn’t be motherhood related).
This is my first ever blog link-up and I’ll be honest:
I really hope I don’t stand here with a full bowl of pretzels and no guests.

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I went to the kind of high school that told its students “girls can do anything.” And we believed it. There was nothing in the way of our dreams, least of all our gender. All career paths were wide open. The war had been won and equality surely assured. Our mothers may have faced discrimination and difficulty but we would walk easily on the road they paved for us.

I chose a degree in IT & Law. My law classes were filled with ambitious young women and my IT classes were filled with men. I don’t believe being female has ever been a liability in my career. Having a love of coding, coupled with a love of a language and an ability to translate complicated concepts into simple terms has always served me well. If anything, the things that women are perceived to be good at helped me stand out amongst my peers. Opportunities came my way and I happily took them up. I was proud of being a successful career woman in a field full of men. I had no intention of letting an imagined glass ceiling get in my way.

The motherhood happened.  It was not until I became a mother that I truly understood what drives a wedge between women and their careers.

I naively thought this was what happened to a woman’s career after children:

Career and Baby 1

When I first went on maternity leave, I was convinced I would be back within six months, itching to be back in the office and thoroughly bored of looking after baby. I thought I would be perfectly fine leaving my child in care or with a nanny, because that’s what successful career women did. My expectation did not meet with my experience. Six months seemed impossibly early to return to work. I wasn’t comfortable with another person looking after my baby for so many hours per week. So, like many women before me, I extended my leave. I started to wonder if this was what happened to a woman’s career after children:

Career and Baby 2Eventually, after watching my family and friends, I learned that this is what happens to a lot of women’s careers after children:

Career and Baby 3Working women with children have these choices:

  • Return to work full time, try to leave motherhood at the door each morning and place your child in other person’s care (if you are lucky, that person is your partner or a relative).
  • Return to work part time, try to leave motherhood at the door on the days you work, take a career hit (hopefully a temporary one) but have more time with your children.
  • Leave your career, stay at home to look after children and hope like heck that you will find a re-entry point in a few years’ time.
  • Leave your chosen career, find a less demanding (and lower paying) job that offers the flexibility you need to achieve the balance you want.
  • Start your own business or freelance, in the hopes that self-employment will allow you more time with your children.

I do not believe motherhood is a barrier to career success – I know many mothers with stellar career paths. BUT the demands of a full time career are a barrier to the flexibility many mothers crave. The reality is that a full time career remains the primary way to get ahead. The reality is that if you have children, someone needs to look after them. Work places are very slowly figuring out how seniority can work in part-time positions. But, in all fairness, there are so many senior roles (particularly leadership ones) that demand full time attention. Meaning that if you want to continue to climb the career ladder as a mother you are welcome to it, but you have to play by the old rules.  I have never found any philosophical or cultural barriers to career success as a woman but there are plenty of practical barriers to career success as a mother. Barriers that both workplaces and mothers themselves have constructed.

There is also the shift in identity and purpose that makes previously held values not quite as important. The primary role in my life is mother. My primary role prior to my children was career woman. That is how I saw myself and how I valued myself. I would fight tooth and nail for my career. Now, that kind of passion belongs to my kids. I still value my career. I still want to contribute my skills in a meaningful way, but the fire in my belly does not burn as strongly as it once did. I imagine my twenty-five year old self, shaking her fist at me in desperation. Angry that I am squandering all her hard work.

I am currently running my own business and I am scared of failing. Not necessarily the monetary cost of failure: that’s the kind of wolf-at-the-door fear that spurs me into action. But rather the fear that I am going to disappoint that twenty-five year old version of me. That is a very different kind of fear, the paralysing kind that helps the fear realise itself.  But that twenty-five year old doesn’t know what I know now. She doesn’t know what it’s like to pick up her son from school and have him hug her fiercely. She doesn’t know what it’s like to be there when her son takes his first steps. She doesn’t know what it feels like to be separated from her children. She doesn’t know the preciousness of a newborn baby or the unbearable weight of loss. Her life is different, as are her values. I am not that woman anymore. And I need to let get go of her judgement.

Note: I realise that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I have a choice about working that not all mothers have. I know that there are plenty of women in jobs they do not enjoy and wishing they were spending the time with their kids. But I can only write from my experience and what I see happening amongst my friends who have similar career paths to myself. I would love you to share your experience in the comments section.

Do you sometimes find yourself in the shadow of your previous self? Have you ever found yourself at the cross-roads of career and identity?


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You are invited to my very first link-up party!
Career & Identity Link Up

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38 thoughts on “The Intersection between Motherhood, Career and Identity. Blog Link Up

  1. Sarah Gooley says:

    I don’t have a link but with regards to career post-baby I learned a lot from reading Annabel Crabb’s “The Wife Drought”. Apart from the fact that I could do with a wife, so much of what she said really resonated with me, especially this, “…women are expected to mother like they don’t have a career, and work like they don’t have children.” Something that I have found true in my experience of returning to work. She challenges the Paid Parental Leave scheme very elegantly and the social “norm” of mother’s doing everything. I can see a lot of value in her argument that policy needs to be driving employers to provide father’s with more opportunity and encouragement to be more involved in their children’s day-to-day lives. My husband is in construction and it is so inflexible and puts all of the pressure on me to be the one who stays home when the little one is sick, etc, etc. I love being a mother first and foremost but I love working and I am proud of my success. At the moment though I have had to make a deliberate decision to “sit tight” as going any further would require me to work full-time and that’s something I don’t want to do just yet. Sometimes I question this decision though when i see utter turkeys being promoted… It’s a tough one.

    • Robyna says:

      I LOVE that quote and think it is so true. When I first had Mister I and returned to work, it was a huge revelation to me to be surrounded by other mothers in the workplace – I just kept thinking “you have this huge, messy, crazy life outside of this place that I knew nothing about and you never talk about – how can that be?” It really is tough, but then these precious little years are not something to miss either.

  2. Christine says:

    This is soooooo relevant to me right now. I’ve been beating myself up for a long time about career and where to go from here after quitting my full time job when I was pregnant and moved to the US. I can’t put my daughter in full-time care (just can’t do it!), so options are limited, and I’m constantly worried about basically the whole thing. Where I’m going, what I’m doing, am I making a mistake? I don’t know.

    • Robyna says:

      It’s hard isn’t it? I feel like that a lot of the time. I think we do have to accept that it’s not possible to have everything all at once – and that it’s okay not to have everything figured out as well.

  3. Amy says:

    I’ve never posted about this! I will soon though because I’ve just had baby #3. After the first two, my ‘career graph’ looked like the middle one: A good trajectory, a dip, and a guilt-ridden, stressful, agonising climg upwards. This time, I’ve decided to change it… and I’ve started a whole new graph! As soon as I had the new-again-parent thing sorted I got to work on redesigning my work life. I embraced my passion (writing) and started madly plugging away at it to figure out how I could make it pay. I’m in that awful zone of not being able to afford to go back to work (because childcare fees) and not being able to afford to stay home (because money!) so I HAVE to make this work. So far, it’s doing ok!

    • Robyna says:

      I love that you are creating a new graph. I think lots of mothers are choosing the freelancing path these days, and it’s great to everyone supporting each other in that venture.

  4. potentialpsychen @ Potential Psychology Blog says:

    What a wonderful idea Robyna. I know this is a massive issue for a lot of mums. I gave up corporate for self employment 13 years ago this month and it has made a big difference to my work flexibility since I became a mum almost seven years ago. There’s still so much I’d like to do work wise but I really feel strongly about being an everyday mum too. I just keep reminding myself that life is a long distance event and I can hopefully still achieve work goals in my 50s, 60s and maybe even 70s. When you love what you do it doesn’t feel so much like work!

    • Robyna says:

      Exactly – I love what you are saying about life being a long distance event – I think we forget that those early years actually incredibly short.

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  6. Have A Laugh On Me says:

    Thanks for the tasty pretzels! Mine is a bit off topic but I wanted to link to show my support. I am so fortunate to love what I do, have the ability and means to do it from home and that’s unlikely to ever change. I do work from home and have to ignore kids while doing it, some times, but I tell myself that it’s okay as at least I’m around. We all have to do what is right for our own circumstances and not criticise others for their decisions…. xx

    • Robyna says:

      I think that a hell of a lot of hard work was behind that good fortune. I struggle with the ignoring thing, BIG time, but it’s not necessary that our kids have our attention 100% of the time. Thank you so much for linking up – let me get your some bubbles to go with those pretzels.

  7. Lisa says:

    Sorry Robyna, I thought I had commented on your post. A fab linkup and which got my writing mojo back. Lots of fantastic POV from those above.

  8. Sew Crafty Deb says:

    I actually have a post on this very topic in draft mode at the moment. Not quite ready yet for the link up though. My career has taken so many twists and turns and interestingly I find myself almost back to where I started. We absolutely couldn’t afford for me to be a SAHM back when I had my first child 16 years ago today! but I knew very early that I would put my career on hold for my children, whatever it took (because I thought it was as simple as that – just put it on hold and pick it up again later). I grew up in a household with incredibly hard working parents and as a result I spent a lot of my childhood fending for myself. I’m not angry with my mum for this (her career was very important to her), but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted for my own children. So we have made enormous sacrifices to allow this to be, including giving up my career in graphic design all those years ago. Now that I am trying to get back into my graphic design work again I’ve found much has changed. So here I am at the age of nearly 50 feeling like I am starting all over again. But I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

    • Robyna says:

      The link up will be available for a while, Deb, so please feel free to come back. I think you are amazing doing what you are doing and I think you will be very successful. The tech and the competition may have changed, but an eye for beauty and an illustrative talent like yours doesn’t alter.

  9. Emily says:

    Great post. Will be sharing it around. My linked post doesn’t mention motherhood specifically but discusses finding your career path when you never knew what you wanted to ‘be’ when you grew up. I think that suits identity and career, but sorry if it’s off topic!
    All these things and more. Pre-kids, we agreed we’d share the load and that we both wanted to spend time with the kids while they were still kids. But now that reality is here, it hasn’t happened. Not only have I been out of the corporate workforce for five years, but hubby has changed jobs twice and had a major promotion as well. When I finished up, I actually earned slightly more than he did. Now he earns more than double that. So money is the inevitable final destination of all our discussions about balance and childcare. It’s so frustrating!

    • Robyna says:

      Definitely not off topic! Thanks for linking up. I identify with the equality in income before kids and kids changing that balance. It is frustrating and slightly terrifying – there definitely feels like a power shift to the one with the greatest earning potential. It’s not keeping me up at night, because we have a very secure and happy relationship, but it does niggle at the back of my mind.

  10. Dawn says:

    Robyna this is such a fantastic post and an important conversation. Like you, I’m in a position where I have the choice to stay home or not- and I find it almost makes it harder to chose (or to justify the choice) when you are gifted with that freedom. Love your work girl. x

  11. Anna@PositiveParenting says:

    What a great post! I have had a very similar career experience to you. I also went to an all girls school who told me I could do anything I wanted to do and so I flew to the top of the Public Relations ladder at an early age. I then had my first child and knew that a 70 hour working week was just not going to work for me – so I left, studied education at uni and became a school teacher. (I also married a man in the military and so had the double whammy of moving every few year and trying to find myself a job!). I have been lucky enough to switch between both careers in the locations I have lived and done some part time, some full time and some consulting work along the way and feel entirely privileged that I have been able to spend the time raising my kids just the way I have wanted to – with love, kindness, positive thinking and going to their swim carnival and Easter hat parade whenever I want to! I have also started my own business to keep the freedom and can’t ever imagine going back into an office job working 9 to 5 (or 7am to 7am) and loosing the special one off time we have when our kids are young. While the juggle has been hard at times, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  12. mummywifeme says:

    Excellent post. I really loved it. You could have been talking about me. I feel very stagnant in my job at the moment. I was on my way up the career ladder prior to kids and now I have stalled. I have something pulling me at the moment to try something new career wise, but I am scared to leave my current job as it is flexible. With my eldest starting prep next year I need that flexibility. I am bored, bored, bored with my current job, but there just aren’t that many good part-time jobs out there in my field. I’ve toyed with the idea of working for myself, but haven’t taken the leap yet. I’ve written a few posts about mother and working. I’ll link one up. Thanks 🙂

    • Robyna says:

      It’s a hard decision – to leap into the great unknown. And a secure part time job with flexibility is touted as the holy grail for mothers, but you have to listen to your heart too. Good luck!

  13. Liselotte says:

    Where are the dads? They never get a look-in in these discussions. Why do we assume they don’t want work-life balance, why do we assume they do not want to spend more time with their children or that we are more capable than they are when it comes to looking after sick children? Until women take a good, hard look at themselves and the choices and demands they make for themselves, how can we expect anything to change from employers?

    • Robyna says:

      That is an excellent point. I think a lot of men do want to spend more time with their family but are even more concerned that moving into a part time role would result in career suicide. We need to start seeing child-care as people issue, not a women issue.

    • hugzillablog says:

      I’m sure that dads are capable of having their own conversations about this and agitating for their own changes. It is not up to women alone to solve the problems of men, but this is part of the feminist agenda as well. Reinventing social and cultural norms around childrearing and caring roles help men as well, because it challenges gender norms around work. These conversations do assist men, because they advocate for overall workplace flexibility.

      • Robyna says:

        I agree – although I read an interesting article about how workplace flexibility has just made us all work more hours rather than giving us more time with our families. I do think that this question is non-gendered – I have been reading some of the stay at home dad blogs and it’s interesting that issues that I had considered inherently female actually have more to do with who is the primary care giver than gender.

  14. Vicki @ Boiled Eggs & Soldiers says:

    Hello kindred spirit! How interesting that we wrote about the same thing on the same day! However, you have written far more eloquently than I exactly how I feel too. I agree that it is the practical barriers that make it challenging to juggle a senior role and motherhood and a lot depends on your partner too and their flexibility. I do think however that the Australian culture does need a shift as well as while the sentiment may be there and the right policies the reality in a lot of workplaces is still back in the dark ages. I like how you have given your 25 year old self a talking to as well, that hits the nail on the head. We didn’t know any different back then and we do now and I think that is a key point in letting go of the identity crisis and be kinder to ourselves.

    • Robyna says:

      I actually can’t believe I hadn’t discovered your gorgeous blog before Vicki! I do think that companies give lip service to flexibility and family friendliness and when things get a bit hard, they revert to old behaviours. But I also DO believe its changing – I have to believe that the world my nieces will work in will be different again.

  15. hollymthethwa says:

    So beautifully written! I’ve experienced these same emotions and appreciate the way you put them into words–for all of us career women turned mothers turned entrepreneurs.

  16. dashoftonic says:

    I used to feel defined by my career. I spent years working long hours, climbing the ladder and generally being stressed. Then three years ago, I decided I needed more out of life. I also felt I needed to get my stress levels under control before starting a family. It was the best decision of my life.

    I started studying Communications and Journalism – something I should have done 15 years ago – and allowed myself to work part-time. I was finally happy. Broke, but happy! 🙂 By doing this, I think I dealt with the ‘career loss’ before my child came along.

    These days, I juggle marriage, a 20-month-old and a part-time job. I’m content to do a job where I know I can give 100% while also giving 100% to my family. I believe if I choose to do something, I better do it well otherwise there is no point to it.

    When I think back to my 20-year-old self – not much of my life turned out as expected!

    • Robyna says:

      That’s such a brave thing to do – to follow your heart and change career directions. I guess life would be pretty boring if it turned out the way we expected in our early twenties.

  17. Helen K says:

    i just came across your post via Em Hawker’s May round up (so a bit late to the party, sorry!) This has been a struggle for me – I’m in the fortunate position I guess that my husband is happy to do whatever – to be more of the home Dad or to be the primary worker. However from an income perspective, and also from a more competitive focus, it suits me best to work.

    So we tried four years of me having a more senior, full time role – but by the end I burnt out. My challenge is I want to be both – the main one with the kids and the main breadwinner (but I am not two people, and I don’t enjoy being pulled in multiple directions, doing none of them well). And I think that is one of the main challenges for mothers today – can you do it all, at the same time? If not, what do you want now, and what can wait (and can more senior roles wait – is industry willing to re-engage older workers at a senior level , if they have not been working full tilt for a number of years – because being with your kids can’t wait – they grow up). I feel like I’m in a bit of no man’s land at the moment – four days a week. Which gives me a day off (which I use with my family) but less responsibility. I know lots of people would love this choice – and I feel bad complaining.

    So part of the challenge for me is to make work more interesting – shaping the work rather than sitting back too much (possibly for my current employer, possibly somewhere else or for myself – a whole new ballgame). This is quite a challenge – thanks for posing the topic!

    • Robyna says:

      I love a long party 🙂 It really is a difficult balance – and most employers do not value the time that has been spent at home with children – it’s seen as a liability and loss of skills, rather than a period of time that really teaches a person an incredible amount. I went to that burned out place, trying to be all things to everyone and feeling like I was failing at all of it, and it wasn’t fun for any of us. Thanks so much for such a thoughtful comment and of course for popping by.

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