Four years ago, I was in my final months of business school, negotiating opportunities, and fixated on titles..
Two years later, as my son turned four months old, I chose to shift my work and lean into motherhood and did away with any title beyond Mother. I quickly realized I had to find my own sense of validation and ego in that. Mixed reactions included questions about what I was going to do all day and worry that I might feel bored. It would temporarily send me into a tailspin about worth but more so gave me a view into the cultural rhetoric on motherhood and the chasm between power at work and power as a woman making choices for her and her family.
I get it. As women, generations of us have had to fight to have respected identities outside of the home. The storyline that emerged was if we choose to prioritize family over our paid work for a period of time, we are in some way giving up ourselves. What’s left is a cultural narrative around motherhood that is antiquated.
To rebuild my own narrative, I leaned into motherhood further, networking (read: hosting endless playdates) with women. Some were negotiating for a flexible schedule, others taking a full pause or others building their own businesses to afford themselves control and impact. Some were staying in full-time work but switching employers who could “re-meet” them as mothers. The shades of grey in the space between motherhood and ambition were more present than our black and white notions of the “working mother” and “stay-at-home mother”.
This camp of women that I spent my days with were far from the caricature of women lost in the trenches of motherhood that American society has developed that includes conversations limited only to the particulars of the children and mindless days. Our real conversations were yes, about our kids’ development and parenting approaches, but also about marriage, health, creative concepts, and culture. Women who were pausing talked about classes they wanted to take or areas for self-improvement. Women who were flexing talked about ways to get more efficient. Women starting their own thing were committed to making it more meaningful.
I’m not going to say there weren't the stereotypical vats of coffee and wine, top knots, athleisure and maybe even piles of laundry around the periphery. Or that there weren’t disclosures about lonely and messy moments. But the camaraderie and connectedness that came from that shared experience felt most novel. New mothers talk about a deeper appreciation for each other and a parting with that competitiveness from our 20s.
I’ve now spoken to and profiled over 75 women who have chosen paths to make room for motherhood, and the undercurrent is powerful. These women didn’t trip and fall into a dark well of motherhood. They chose to be involved mothers, set an intention for who they wanted to be as a mother and as a woman and allowed their choices, shifts or pauses to open up new ways to think and feel. They learned more than they expected from raising their children - in their capacity for patience, empathy and ruthless prioritization.
I spent ten years in advertising before starting Mother Untitled and I often say the rebrand of motherhood may be my greatest challenge. But I think the pay-off is significant. If we can reclaim the respect for the role of the mother and recognize the opportunity for growth in motherhood, we allow women to openly embrace this part of their life without penalty on the other side. Ultimately, our culture’s recognition of women as relevant and connected during these years and an appreciation that the space between ambition and parenting is fluid, can allow female talent greater confidence in returning to work and advocating our worth.
The common assumption is we get soft as mothers. Yes, motherhood made me softer, but it also made me stronger. It's a powerful combination with a wild amount of potential.
Neha Ruch lives in the Flatiron neighborhood of New York with her husband and two year old son, Bodie. After 10 years in brand strategy & advertising, with an MBA from Stanford, Neha paused her career trajectory to focus on her family. One year into raising Bodie, she launched Mother Untitled (www.motheruntitled.com), a site to empower ambitious women making space for motherhood. The movement shifts the narrative to celebrate the community, creativity and growth in that space. Join the conversation @motheruntitled.