Being a mother cured me from my perfectionist and workaholic ways

Being a mother: Not perfect, but better.
Being a mother: Not perfect, but better.
Image: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
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As a manager and a mom, I find that spring no longer brings only the promise of outdoors time. Instead, it’s a flurry of school and work events and summer planning for the family on the one hand and an office team on the other hand.

I miss the days when I could more easily get together with friends for a drink, catch outdoor concerts, and escape on my own to the beach. Instead, for the past couple of weeks, I have been researching summer camps, hiring staff, drafting budgets, and planning family gatherings. This, like many women, in addition to regular “life”—daily work and school schedules, meal planning, play dates, meetings, and on it goes.

But this year, as I plan at the office during the day and at home during the night, I am struck both by how much time these tasks take and how much more effective I have become at them after parenting for eight years. True, being a parent means I am more overextended than ever before, but I am much more likely to make decisions that are good enough than I am to agonize over what might be the best possible decision. Not only have I become a better decision maker, I have also evolved into a more thoughtful and empathetic manager, and a better long-term planner. My priorities haven’t necessarily shifted, but they have expanded, to include time to pause, to compliment, and to celebrate.

Let’s begin with pausing. When I was single, I could (and often would) go from dawn to midnight at emails, meetings and phone calls. It’s no wonder that it’s taken eight years as a parent to realize that work will never end. I finally have learned to carve out work and device-free time with my daughter (at least in short bursts). Sometimes that means baking or cooking, going to the library or participating in a school activity. As a result of having those hours, I find myself less resentful of the pressures of work, and I suspect and hope, a better person to be with at the office. I also am more cognizant of the demands my colleagues might have on their time, whether they are parents or not. Learning to pause for life has helped me understand how and why others pause, and made me less hard on myself and on others.

As a mom, I have also learned the value of compliments, and the importance of framing those compliments in ways that acknowledge specific accomplishments. I have a long way to go on that front. (I am after all the daughter of parents for whom coming in anything less than first in class was taken for granted.) But, working on staff reviews this year felt easier and more genuine than before I was a parent. I acknowledged the specific contributions each team member had made, and framed their areas of improvement in the gentle, thoughtful way in which I encourage my daughter to check her work or slow down as she writes. I am a firm and demanding parent, I know. I try to balance those qualities with encouragement and support, and attempt to bring that balance to the workplace.

Finally, I spend more time celebrating as a mom—first (and last) days of school, of breaks; a school project, new lessons. Taking more moments to celebrate my daughter has meant more recognition that there is much to celebrate in general. At work, I am more likely than ever to see how far we have come and not only how far we need to go as an organization. I am generally an optimist, but workaholism often got (and gets) in the way of that. Celebrations of childhood milestones help me remember that efforts and process are as worthy of recognition as outcomes and success.

Before I became a parent, I had high standards for my colleagues; those haven’t changed. But I have. Now, I try harder to balance those standards with a greater understanding of the efforts that everyone makes to do their best, of the support I can provide to ensure that everyone is able to do their best, and of my need to be thoughtful when their, and my, best is not what I hoped for.