Before becoming a mother, I worked as a human resources specialist. Fortunately for me, I worked under some brilliant women who were also mothers. One of the first lessons they taught me when screening a candidate’s resume was to look for gaps in employment. “If it’s because the candidate took time off to parent, take that into consideration,” they advised. “Parenting prepares you for a lot you’ll encounter in the work force, but too often women especially are reluctant to admit they took time away from work to be with their children. They’d rather you think they took a sabbatical to write a book than time to raise their kids.”
More often than not, this was true. Women devalued their roles as mothers, scared to death it meant they were out of touch or (shock!) “too old” for the professional world. Forget that these mothers often volunteered in parent or community organizations, or started their own businesses from home. Forget that they learned how to read a person inside-out and raise him to be a successfully functioning human being. Our culture tells us that a gap on a resume is the equivalent of professional time lost. What’s worse, women are taught from a young age that they must choose between having children or pursuing a career. And, perhaps the most horrible lesson of all: choosing a career means foregoing children altogether.
Three months after my son’s arrival I almost had a nervous breakdown. While my baby was thriving, I was fast becoming completely unproductive in my professional life. Leaving a full time career to freelance seemed like a good idea, a way to keep in touch with the working world while being able to devote myself to raising my child. But the lie of “having it all” crept up on me. Never did I put credence into the idea that I could “have it all,” but that didn’t stop me from believing the cultural trope I’d been pummeled with my entire life: I should do it all. Only when I reached a point of mind-numbing exhaustion did I finally collapse onto my sofa and admit that I couldn’t do it all.
But could I be satisfied with doing less?
Or, was I simply doing something different?
I was still the 110 percenter I’d always been professionally. It just so happened that now I was pursuing a different profession. I wasn’t an HR specialist, or an office worker, or even a freelancer. I was – I am a mom. As culturally vilified as the role of mother may be, it is nevertheless a profession. In fact, it is the hardest profession I have ever or will ever pursue. It’s like taking on a farm from scratch, only you aren’t growing a crop, you’re growing a human being. Bad squash can be written off. Children are forever.
Rejecting the cultural notion that I was somehow giving up on my professional self allowed me to realize that I can be both a mother and a career woman all at once. I can still pursue success, growth, and promotion. Sure, these things may come along at a slower pace than a quarterly review or a yearly raise. But as my experience in HR taught me, those blank spaces on a resume are far more valuable than the stuff that’s deigned fit to print.