Motherhood and business: redefining success
“Good mums give up their lives.” That was a comment from one woman during last week’s Insight program that focused on why some women and men decide to not have kids.
Now, while I totally respect the decisions of those who decide they don’t want to be parents, I do not agree with the premise that in order to be a good mother you must give up your own hopes, dreams and ambitions.
A lot of people argue that there is an inherent conflict between motherhood and being a success at … well … anything else. The notion that the ideal mother is self-sacrificing to the point where she doesn’t exist outside the needs of her family has been a constant theme throughout history. And this narrative has served men — specifically fathers — really well for a long time. It gives them the freedom to seek out self-actualisation or at least explore their ambitions, while having a partner at home to care, nurture and tend to their needs and those of their children.
This underlying idea that motherhood cannot be done alongside anything else challenging or meaningful needs to change.
To me, becoming a mum never felt this way. It wasn’t something that closed me down, took away my freedom or lead to unfulfilled dreams. But in thinking this way I need to acknowledge that I stand on the shoulders of others — namely my mother — who has allowed me to explore what I want to do, and who still supports me even today in rearing my own kids.
This is why starting a business was not a ludicrous idea to me. It wasn’t fundamentally at odds with my family’s life. In fact I could only see expansion for all of us if I had something that I was passionate about and expanded my mind (and our income) in new ways. In addition to putting me in control of my time and my vision, it also allowed me to build a lifestyle that suited my needs.
That is not to say that the path hasn’t been — and continues to be — challenging at times. Living in a world where mother-guilt, entrepreneurial competition and perfecting the “art of busyness” are all around us has made me aware of how much we need to redefine what parenting and business success can look like. An integral part of this is looking at what our own success narratives are based on – what do we think we need to do in order to be “good enough”?
Many women carry the constant feeling that they are faking it or are just not successful in any of the roles they perform. We are members of a society that Katrina Alcorn says “expects us to do our jobs as if we don’t have children — and then raise our children as if we don’t have jobs.” We often blame ourselves for not being organised enough, focused enough, determined enough to make things work, but we need to revisit society’s crazy ideals and question: are they right for us?
Research has already shown that the long hours and lack of leisure time of the “ideal worker” is making people sick, less innovative and unproductive. Meanwhile, the world of parenting has become a battleground for what will help your child get ahead in the modern world. From scheduled activities, to extra tutoring and dietary requirements, the weight of information is overwhelming, and accordingly the pressure on mothers in particular has increased. No wonder as Mums we are burning the candle at both ends and feel completely overwhelmed by our roles.
Redefining success for ourselves will take work from everyone in our communities to decide on what is is to be an ideal mother and an ideal worker. It will even require challenging the stereotypes of men in fulfilling a provider role. Success in terms of money, fame and possessions needs to be placed alongside relationships, family and doing work that fulfils us. As women, we need to become confident in our abilities to ignore social pressures and decide what is important for us and our families. At its core this is about sustainable living, better business, happy families and healthy communities.
I am here to let you know we can do this and do it together. It is time for us to brush aside expectations and stereotypes and fully understand what it is that you want. You can be a great mum and a great business owner at the same time.