Being a parent is the most wonderful thing, but it can also bring with it some inner conflict as we try to navigate who we are and who we were pre-kids and to get our heads around why there is suddenly a discrepancy. This often comes back to our careers and our goals for success.
Picture this common scenario. Before becoming a parent, you were career orientated. You were working your way up the ladder of success, looking for all that is associated with this. A great job, financial freedom, your own home, a nice car.
Post children, suddenly, these goals become less important. Of course, you still want to do well in life and be able to afford all you need and more, but somehow, the grind doesn’t seem so important. The thought of returning to your previous career with all its stress and commitment is too much to bear. Life has suddenly become about striking a balance.
What happens when parenting and success collide?
The truth is, having children often changes our priorities, and we can, as a result, feel differently about a career that we once loved. Very often, although life as a parent seems like a whirlwind, it has children that make us slow down and see the world from a different perspective. Suddenly we have a new focus, which can make other things we once prioritised as important seem trivial in many ways.
These little people are what it’s all about, and our world shifts. This can mean that career goals also change or become something of a burden and stress rather than a focus. Whereas we may have once loved the thrill of chasing targets, fast-paced work environments, and the power that comes with that, sometimes this can feel at odds with motherhood.
This can bring with it some inner turmoil because slowing down, working less, not prioritising a career is at odds with our traditional definition of success. We are conditioned in our society to believe that success is based on what we do as a career, how much money we make, where we live, and what we drive. We let these factors define our success, and we use these to measure the success of others.
From early on in our lives, we are supposed to know what we want to do as a career, and we are taught to work our way up to the top if we want to achieve success. The higher you go, the more money you make. Whilst it’s not bad advice to aim high and work hard, making this our only measure of success is dangerous.
Parents who choose to slow down and make career changes that favour balance can often be left feeling like a failure. Being a stay-at-home mum, reducing hours to part-time, or changing roles completely can feel like a backward step on the traditional monitor of success. It can cause a huge amount of stress, and so many women end up feeling like failures. They believe they have to choose between being a mother and being successful. This messed-up view of winning at life is one of the reasons that, as mums, we put so much pressure on ourselves to have it all.
In this situation, I work with women to revaluate their definition of success. Being successful should ultimately make you happy, right? That is the goal. What is the point of success if it doesn’t make you happy? We want to be successful so we can live a happy life, so it’s very important that our measure of ‘success’ really does equal happiness.
It’s hard to undo all we’ve learnt about what makes us successful; it’s engrained from such a young age. At school, we are encouraged to think about what we want to be when we grow up. We take subjects that might help us get closer to this goal, and then we go to college and university to help us further along this path.
Life follows a linear structure, with little opportunity to deviate once we are climbing that ladder of life and ultimately ‘success.’ But it’s so important that mother’s do not feel defined by this outdated, hierarchical definition of success.
Success should be a personal definition. We are all going to feel that we are achieving in life by doing different things. For some of us, success will be about money; for others, it will be about being the amazing role model we never had; while for someone else, it will be about finding a balance between work and home life that allows for time to simply live.
Before you start berating yourself and feeling like you haven’t achieved anything because the parent/work juggle is tough, stop, take a moment and think about what you’re doing it all for. Are you fighting to be successful by your definition or society?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is success to you?
- Why does this mean success?
- What makes you feel successful as a mum?
- Do you associate being a mum with success?
- Does success need to be about money, power, leadership, status?
- Can success be about balance, enjoyment, lower stress levels?
- Do you feel successful right now?
The answers to these questions should be able to help you to redefine success on your own terms. Take these answers and write down what is success to you. Remember, the goal of success is ultimate happiness, so this is where your version of success should lead you.
Use this version of success to help you navigate your life as a parent that makes you and your family happy. This is your version of success. If you are happy, you are successful. Remember that.