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Career Woman or Career Mom? Are They Mutually Exclusive?

In today’s modern world, it’s increasingly difficult to have it all. There are so many pundits out there that will tell you that you have a choice, to be either a career mom or a career woman; you can’t do both. Don’t believe it. They are selling you a whole bunch of hooey.  In many […]

Photo by Bruce Mars.
Photo by Bruce Mars.

In today’s modern world, it’s increasingly difficult to have it all. There are so many pundits out there that will tell you that you have a choice, to be either a career mom or a career woman; you can’t do both. Don’t believe it. They are selling you a whole bunch of hooey. 

In many ways, the idea of being both a great mother and a fantastic business leader is archaic. Consider this: Men don’t face the same kind of pressure to do both. Society expects men to simply be the successful breadwinners, though that is gradually changing. The idea of being either a career woman OR a career mother is something that is rooted in old beliefs and is in desperate need of updating. In many ways, the “choice” is a false dichotomy, created and enforced by a patriarchal society. 

As women, the old model implies that we face a dilemma of sorts: a choice between being a career woman or a career mom. But in many cases, it doesn’t have to be just one or the other—you can, in fact, be both. Being both a career woman and a career mom is attainable; it just takes some work. 

Actively Choose Your Language of Success: “Integration” NOT “Balance”

As humans, we are hemmed in by our language choices. Language is, after all, the way we communicate and interact with one another. The words we choose determine how we see the world outside, and by watching our words carefully and choosing the words that define us, our careers, and our passions, we can change both our own perception of our success and the way that the world talks about our success. 

First, a bit of data: A study from the University of San Diego back in 2013 discovered that the way we talk about social problems like climate change, the economy, and politics frames the solutions and outcomes we experience. Lera Boroditsky, one of the authors of the report, also studied how language even impacts cancer outcomes. The work discovered that even subtle changes in the way we describe or frame a problem will impact the outcome and shape the solution. 

Another study published in May 2018 in Harvard Business Review looked at the words used to describe male and female military leaders’ performance in the workplace. Researchers analyzed more than 4,000 people and 81,000 evaluations and discovered that the language used in performance evaluations differs significantly for men and women, and the differences are largely based on gender. The study went on further to discover that women are more regularly assigned negative attributes like “temperamental, indecisive, and frivolous,” while the words used to describe the negative attributes of male leaders are “arrogant” and “irresponsible.” The number of negative words used to describe male leaders is also significantly smaller than the number of words used to describe female leaders. 

All this goes to show that the way we frame our problems and goals and the language we use to evaluate where we are on the path toward those goals determine the solutions, outcomes, and success we have in attaining those goals. It is clear from both of these studies that language and word choice impact perception and are in sore need of modernization, particularly around the idea of work-life “balance.”

To this end, I suggest that describing having it all as “balance” is a misnomer. The use of the term “balance” suggests a state where both sides are equal: get equal weight and equal attention. The truth of it is that reality does not work this way. There are always going to be times when the home front demands more attention than the work front and vice versa. Balance also suggests that at any one time you are solely focused on one thing—either work or home. This simply isn’t the case in the real world, and its high time we let that archaic idea go. 

Instead, a better option is the idea of work-life “integration”: a way to offer both work and home lives the space and opportunity to develop and grow. Reframing the idea of balance to become integration means that you will be able to do both and hold both the idea of the career woman and the career mother in your mind at once. They are no longer mutually exclusive, and they can be integrated into one complete, holistic experience. They no longer become two competing ideas. 

Integration Means Being Ruthless with Your Focus and Your Time

One of the keys to melding the ideas of being both a successful mother and a successful business leader means that you absolutely have to set boundaries on your time, attention, and focus. If work needs your attention at a specific time, give it all of your attention and intention. When home needs your full attention, that’s when you move into the career mom mode. 

One actionable way to put this into practice is to actively disconnect from your work when you are home and vice versa. Put the smartphone on vibrate and put it in another room when spending time with your family. When you are at the office, unless there is an emergency that needs your utmost attention at home, focus solely on your work. Think of it like changing channels on a television set. Giving yourself the opportunity to get deeply into the work you are doing both in the office and at home will give both your work and your family life the full opportunity to flourish and grow. 

Consider this: The skills required for being a great mom are not mutually exclusive to those skills you need to be a great leader. Most great leaders offer compassion, support their employees, and listen, the same way that a great mother does. Being a great leader means multitasking, keeping all the trains running on time, and being efficient with your time and focus—all traits that are crucial in raising a family as well. 

A big part of integrating your work and your home life into one holistic experience is leveraging your skills as a mother in the boardroom and your skills as a leader in the home. The things you do at home to raise your children use the same kinds of skills you need to become a successful leader. Each situation determines how those skills will be applied, and it’s important to be able to offer your complete focus to each space when needed. Being ruthless with your focus and your time will help you discover that being a career mother and career woman are not mutually exclusive. 

Allow for Fluidity

One of the key features of “having it all” is that you have to allow for fluidity between work and home. Sure, we have set times and hours we must be in the office and when we must be at home, but allowing for some wiggle room in those spaces in order to deal with what needs to be addressed is key to being a successful mother and leader. 

Fluidity also allows for self-care and self-work. If you aren’t happy in your career, it’s okay to spend time trying to find something new. If what worked for you before no longer works, allow for space to discover what might need tweaking to find a better way to integrate work and life. 

That’s the thing about life, in general. As they say, nothing is certain, except death and taxes. And we are not the same humans from one moment to the next—there is no guarantee that down the road we will want the same things we want today. 

Things happen in our lives that require change and, in some cases, force it. Things happen that force us to reevaluate our values and our coping mechanisms. Allowing for fluidity to discover and evolve as our lives change is key to integrating our work and home lives and successfully managing both. 

Don’t expect to continue to be the same person you are today—change is the only constant, and allowing for fluid movements from one state to another is crucial to integrating our work and home lives. 

Final Thoughts

While the idea of being both the perfect mother and the perfect leader is somewhat archaic and in need of major updating, there are some things you can do to “have it all” in the current day and age.

Being both a career woman and a career mom are not mutually exclusive. They can both be achieved, but first you have to reframe your idea of “balance” and choose to define your goals carefully through integration instead. 

Once you have those goals in mind, it’s crucial to become ruthless with your focus and your time, whether you are tending to your family’s needs or holding a shareholder meeting. 

Finally, being fluid is vital. As we age and as time marches forward, our priorities shift, our desires change, and our needs evolve. Being open to those changes and allowing for fluidity in our lives is key to finding the ever-elusive happiness that we all crave in both our home and our work lives. 

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