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Why becoming a parent has made me better at my job

In the UK we risk facing the lowest employment rate in nearly two decades and one of the areas in hot focus is getting new parents/parents of young children back into the workforce.

As someone who took a small career break after my second child was born, I know the feeling of returning to work after a prolonged break and the associated dent in your confidence from having that break. Now that my son prepares to start school, I’m reflecting on my career since becoming a parent and I realise how many of my soft skills have improved. My hope is that someone who has just returned after a career break, or who is hesitant about returning to work after a career break, can read this and get that boost of confidence to erase any self-doubt.

When you become a parent, you certainly learn a lot of new things, like how to change a nappy and how to feed yourself one handed, but I want to highlight how some of my soft skills have improved and how that makes me better at my job.

  1. Communication skills/Clarity of message – I always thought of myself as a strong communicator but having to adapt my communication style to deal with toddlers and young children has been a whole new learning experience for me. Children are brutally honest at letting you know when they don’t have a clue what you are saying and adjusting the message and the delivery style to the audience is key. The same goes when communicating at work – know your audience.
  2. Prioritisation – being a parent to two children has made me reach new levels of multitasking, and really made me realise that prioritisation is key. Both my husband and I work full time so juggling four people’s schedules can be particularly challenging but must be done. This translates directly into better prioritising your workload at work, and ties into number 3 below.
  3. Saying no/setting boundaries – The work as a parent is never done, but when juggling this with a full-time job you really learn to focus on what is important. This is one of the best lessons I have learnt since becoming a parent. I’m not going to say I’m perfect at it, and I’m still learning (see point 7) but in some ways you become forced to set boundaries, because the nursery has a last time pick up and your child can’t go without dinner, so you find you have no choice but to learn to be comfortable saying no. You understand so much better the importance of time and setting those work/life boundaries.

For numbers 2 and 3 – something I learnt about from a mentor of mine was the Eisenhower matrix, and when I feel overwhelmed with my “to do” list I use this matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix: Introduction & 3-Minute Video Tutorial

  1. Adaptability – Becoming a parent pushes you outside your comfort zone like nothing else. When you first become a parent, you are exhausted and you question everything about this new small baby that is suddenly your responsibility, but it soon becomes second nature, and you adapt because you must.
  2. Patience – When your child becomes a toddler and you have them ask you “why” for the 100th time in the day, you become so much better at not acting impulsively. Counting to five in my head before responding has been a good technique I have learnt, and one I can transfer to use in the workplace. Things do not always go your way at work, and this particular soft skill is one I still need to keep working on!
  3. Negotiation skills – whether it’s bedtime or sharing a toy with a sibling, becoming a parent gives you so much practice in negotiation it becomes an art form.
  4. Thirst for learning – this one I found particularly interesting. After having my daughter, I found myself wanting to understand so much more about psychology and how the brain works. I’ve read potty and sleep training books and listen to parenting podcasts. My thirst for learning is re-ignited, and that has transferred to the workplace.
  5. Increased emotional intelligence – Tied to number 7 is an increased emotional intelligence after having children. When my daughter first had a tantrum, and I realised she was not able to express what she was feeling…queue my reading lots of info I could find relating to empathy and understanding emotions better, thus increasing my emotional intelligence.

Whilst your IQ is fixed, your EQ (emotional quotient) is not. You can learn to increase your EQ and it is a better indicator of success in the workplace. The quote below explains the concept of EQ in the workplace well.

“The interest in emotional intelligence in the workplace stems from the widespread recognition that these abilities – self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skill – separate the most successful workers and leaders from the average. This is especially true in roles like the professions and higher level executives, where everyone is about as smart as everyone else, and how people manage themselves and their relationships gives the best and edge.”

Goleman, 2012

My kids have brought so much joy into my life, and a beautiful side effect of being their mother is the lessons they have taught me, and the fact they have helped me become a better version of myself.

If you are someone who has taken time out after having children and have made it to the end, thank you for reading and I hope this gives you a confidence boost and helps you reflect on your improved soft skills.

If you are reading this as an employer and are hiring – I implore you to think about casting your net wider in your hiring practices. There are some great return to work programs out there, partnering with returner programs can encourage those new parents back into the workforce.