Can a woman be as good at her job after she has kids? Of course she can.

Can a working mother be as good at her job after maternity leave?

That’s the question – a Telegraph article headline – that caught my eye yesterday. The writer, UK journalist Antonia Hoyle, goes on to say:

Post-children I am distracted, indecisive and less confident. I am more prone to mistakes and often counter-productively manic in my desire to succeed.

I don’t think I’m alone. Surely no working mother can be as competent in her career as she was pre-children

“Me, Me!” I want to shout, “I am just as good at my job as I was before I had kids!”

And lots of other people are too. Most women I know become super-productive once they have children; the criticality of leaving the office on time to pick up children means no second of work-time can be wasted. A four-day-week necessitates fitting everything into those four days. A job-share means not letting the job-share partner down.

Women, especially in private sector jobs where it can be very difficult to be approved for part-time hours, fight hard to win the flexibility that they have, and aren’t going to jeopardize it by leaving work undone. They find ways to work faster, to work smarter, and to leave on time to pick up the kids. Many log back in at home after the kids go to bed – doing whatever it takes to make it work.

The writer in this article is a journalist – she tells a story about sending her daughter to crèche although she knew she was sick, because she had to interview an actress. That sounds incredibly stressful, and it’s not surprising that she felt terrible when the crèche called her to collect her daughter – we’ve all been there to a greater or lesser extent. But in my job, I don’t have to interview actresses or field calls from editors at bath-time as Aontonia Hoyle does. I can work from home if my childminder can’t turn up for any reason, and I’m not so indispensable that my job can’t be done by someone else for a day if I can’t make it in. I feel sympathy for the writer – it sounds very stressful trying to juggle the kind of role she has with having two small children, and a very busy husband too. But it’s not how the rest of us live. And she’s doing that classic thing of projecting her own situation onto every working mother, via a newspaper article.

She absolutely has the right to complain; to express how stressed she is. And she makes lots of valid points about flexibility, cost of childcare, fathers sharing the workload and mothers feeling under pressure to show they’re coping.

But the core point of the article – that we’re not as good at our jobs – is what rankles; I’m not comfortable with the assumption that we’re all the same. An employer who already makes negative assumptions about working mothers or allowing flexibility, will read her statement that “We can’t expect to compete with women who don’t have children or perform as well as we did pre-motherhood. It is disingenuous and self-defeating to try,” and feel that it confirms all previously held suspicions about mothers.

Office Mum post: photo of Gwyneth Paltrow

Just like Bryony Gordon declaring that working-mother guilt is a myth, Kirstie Allsopp announcing that girls should eschew college in favour of having babies, and Gwyneth Paltrow explaining that her life is harder than the typical working mother, Antonia Hoyle is making universal pronouncements based on her own experience.

And of course, I’m doing the same – but my belief that working mothers are as (or more) productive than they were before they had kids is based not only on my own experience, but that of the countless mothers I speak to and encounter every day in real life and online. Now I just need a Telegraph column to tell everyone about it.

Office Mum photo of mothers
Some very productive mothers – click on the image to read their stories
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16 thoughts on “Can a woman be as good at her job after she has kids? Of course she can.”

  1. I’m infuriated by this! Perhaps she’s trying to provoke a reaction.

    For every one woman I’ve seen switch off after returning to work, I’ve seen countless more become even more productive. When I went back to work after having my daughter, I was even more motivated as I now had this gorgeous baby to provide for and I want to be able to give her everything. I dont understand why this journalist would do working mothers such a disservice. I wonder does she think working fathers are equally incompetent?!

    1. LOVE your point about working fathers Sarah – so very true. Yes perhaps she’s tying to provoke a reaction, or perhaps she is genuinely struggling and assuming that everyone else is too. But I agree, it’s a disservice to all working mothers to write about it in a way that suggests it’s applicable to all of us.

  2. A lot of companies focus on hours in the office, instead of actual quality of work done. Measuring an employee’s contribution purely on that basis is infuriating for people that recognise that they work better when they don’t sit in the office late in the evening (probably after surfing the internet for a good chunk of the day). I can accept that mothers (and fathers) might change their priorities after having children. And that might mean they’re not willing to put in the same amount of ‘extra hours’. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as, or more, productive than before.
    Sheila recently posted…The cult of the steam mopMy Profile

    1. Exactly, exactly, exactly. It absolutely should not be about time spent in the office – it needs to be about output, then it’s an even playing field. I can’t bear the culture of staying late to be seen to stay late – everyone loses.

  3. So, what would Hoyle have done if she herself was so sick she couldn’t do the interview, what if she found herself in a hospital bed? And what if her boss forced him/herself to go to work if they were too sick, would that make them a better boss/worker? An employee can be prone to making bad decisions without ever becoming a parent. Hoyle making a choice to do the wrong thing by her child by sending her to creche knowing the child was too sick to go is a failing on her part, it doesn’t reflect her ability to do her job, it just reflects badly on her decision-making skills.

    1. Such a very good point Joanna. YOu’re right – it’s not about her ability to her job at all. I do see that she’s stressed and that her job is difficult to do when also being the primary carer, but she’s definitely looking at it skew-ways.

  4. Great article Andrea.

    I too am uneasy about the points made by Antonia in her article. I work for a very worthy charity and have always taken pride in my job. Since having my two children I have been fortunate enough to reduce my hours and am currently in a job share situation. I have never worked harder nor more productively in my life. My time management is impeccable and I achieve all goals set for me…I make sure of it. All I see around me is hard working, focussed and competent mothers. THAT is a fact.

    Love your articles…..keep them coming!


    1. Denise thank you for the great comment – you are one of the people that comes to my mind when I say things like “most working mothers I know are incredibly productive” 🙂
      I think you make the job-share work fantastically well, but I know it’s hard work too. Long may it continue to work for you, and hopefully more employers will start to see the value of flexibility.

  5. This tarring us all with the same brush practice is getting on my wick these days. Yes of course there are going to be parents who give less to their job than they did before they had kids, there are people who give less to their jobs before a number of different things happened and kids are just one of those factors. It is already hard enough to go back into a work environment that you’re trying to make more flexible after maternity leave without nonsense like this being out there to further cloud the judgement of the management who decide whether or not that flexibility is deserved. I’m about to head back and am dreading it given the environment I’m going into and its reputation for inflexibility, this kind of stuff does not fill me with more confidence at all.
    Lisa recently posted…The Irish SummerMy Profile

    1. Lisa that’s tough going to be heading back to an inflexible environment – it’s such a shame, and so shortsighted. And I completely agree with you – people to better or worse at work for all sorts of reasons. There are slackers who have kids and continue to be slackers – for sure! But if someone is a hard worker, I don’t believe that they automatically become less capable and less hardworking after having kids. Good luck going back – I hope it goes better than you’re expecting.

    1. You have me curious now about what you did that other mothers would tut at!! And I am certain that the PR consultancy regrets it 🙂

    1. Exactly – anyone who starts out as a hardworker isn’t going to sit back and slack just because they have kids – it makes no sense. And to be fair, I get that that’s not what the writer is saying but I agree with you – homogeneity syndrome, nice term.

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