From Me to Mom: 2 strategies for Balancing Parenthood and Ambition
With international women’s history month and the 8th year celebration of the creature who transformed me from a person to a parent (AKA my first born) it’s time to share my struggles with becoming a parent and my tricks for overcoming them.
By the time my first child was born, in Feb 2015, I had 17 years of work experience, at least 8 of which as a leader in tech. I was ambitious, I was a feminist. I believed I can do anything and everything men can do, if I only put my mind to it (my post about Daring tells that story). I had many achievements to accomplish and goals to reach.
When my husband and I decided to have kids, I quickly learned that whatever I was doing up to that point wasn’t enough, and more was expected of me. As the person with the uterus in the family, it was my job to conceive, carry, deliver and feed the crown jewel of our relationship. From now on, I should do not only everything I was doing already — being a good partner, co-leading the household, co-funding the family, etc — but much much more.
When the pregnancy test was positive, we set a doctor’s appointment. There, we found out that while there are signals of pregnancy (gestational sac), a heart rate cannot be found, yet. While the nice doctor tried to keep calm and be positive, her actions taught me I’m expected to worry. It was then when I realized that at 6 weeks into my prenatal journey my life had changed forever.
I’m no longer the focal point for anything or anyone, it’s no longer about me. It’s about the baby. I live, rest, breath, eat, drink and exercise all in the purpose of increasing the future potential of my not yet newborn. From now on, I will always worry. There will always be risk. I should worry about the heart rate, I should worry about what I eat (is it nutritious? Does it have calcium?), what I drink (did I have too much caffeine? Did I drink alcohol?). Did I sleep enough? Am I stressed? I shouldn’t be stressed — it’s not good for the baby. But how can you not be stressed when you need to think about all these things every day and every hour???
I did my job well, 2 weeks later we found the baby’s heart rate and I carried the pregnancy well, eating a diverse and nutritious diet. Heck, I was even commended for how well I pushed the baby out of me. WOOHOO! I had breast milk and was able to nurse. I did everything society expected of me.
Except for… I didn’t feel blessed, I didn’t feel blissful. I didn’t think the baby was the greatest thing I have ever created. No, I wasn’t depressed, it wasn’t postpartum depression. I was just an ambitious person, a woman, who had years of experience in the workforce, in tech, in demanding environments where she felt her brain adds value and helps people. And now, this ambitious woman found herself with a new unfamiliar challenge, yearning to keep up her good performance track, but having little guidance on one hand and a lot of expectations on the other hand. Society expected me to be the happiest I’ve ever been and to be good at my new job, albeit the missing training nor support system.
Everyone expected me to be nurturing, to intuitively just know how to be a mom and raise a baby. As if it was coded into my genes. But I was clueless — didn’t know what I was doing. Despite having the female organs, I was lacking on motherly intuition. And when speaking about it, the listener’s reaction made it clear to me that I’m an oddball for thinking that, let alone talking about it [side note: I knew many new mothers felt the same but didn’t dare to express that]. I wasn’t good at calming a baby down, I didn’t find joy in tummy time, I didn’t feel pride pushing the stroller up the street. I read a few parental manuals but they were clearly not written based on experience with my baby.
Without any schedule and with days slipping through my fingers, not being sure what happened even, I realized a big piece of what I was missing was goals and milestones or any feeling of achievement that the workforce offered me. At the time, I was working for Google, which is known for its use of the framework of OKRs — Objectives and key results (here’s a definition of OKRs and a good guide setting those correctly by Itamar Gilad).
OKRs for maternity leave
So… I invented a simple set of OKRs for me! Realizing social interactions give me joy I have defined my OKRs:
Goal: Enjoy social interactions.
Key Results: 1+ social interaction every day.
Then I addressed the need to feel accomplished by gamifying my journey as a new mother. I invented and celebrated a list of achievements for me to unlock.
- The first time I took the baby out of the house (it was just a block away, but it counts!)
- The first time I nursed outside the apartment (it was in the whole food’s food court)
- The first time rode a taxi 🚕
- The first time on the bus 🚌
- The first night out for mom
- The first projectile poop 💩
Each moment like this was celebrated 🥳 mentally and of course on social media as “Achievement unlocked”. Here’s an example below:
During my parental leave, applying these two tricks gave me goals — something to aim for — and milestones — a sense of progress, as well as helped me acclimate to my new status in life. My Focus on injecting daily social interactions helped me feel less alone as I aim to conquer my new challenge.
Years later, I can clearly see that using those strategies was successful for my self care, my career and my family. When my second child was born, I updated the goals and the achievements list. For example: early on as a parent for two young kids (only 2 years apart) I celebrated every weekend we survived as a family. Survived as in: everyone is alive and parents are in speaking terms (that’s really all you can hope for).
Why weekends you might ask? Because during the week we took “shifts” with our amazing nanny. During the weekend, it was full blown parenthood for 60 hours straight, a much harder game to play 🙂. I also defined a metric called “time between cries” and monitored it to understand the kids needs (are they hungry? Tired? poopy?)
What would be your OKRs? Which metrics will you define? What is your favorite achievement unlocked?