I was still in school working toward my Ph.D. when I had each of my three children. Times were different then, and the presence of women in the workforce—let alone flexibility for women in the workforce—was not common practice. I was also consulting at the same time, so I had to figure out early on how to make it all work. I quickly learned the importance of an extended family, and was motivated by the encouragement I got from my mom as well as my husband. Still, I was a bit of a renegade for the time, and there was a lot of juggling in our family to make it all come together.
Flash forward to present day, and while I would never say the experience of motherhood is any easier—and especially the experience of working moms—it’s definitely changing for the best, with the nature of the way we work. There’s more freedom and more flexibility. How you define your role as a mom is an individual choice. And with Mother’s Day right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to rethink the mom role.
First and foremost, a mom’s greatest opportunity and challenge is to inspire her children. Pushing for big career goals means that moms might have less time for family. This has traditionally been seen as a negative, and many moms feel guilty for not being available 24/7. But the age-old saying about “quality, not quantity” holds true in parenting. I would argue that kids want “quality” time with their moms and dads, not just “more” time. And, moreover, for children to succeed in a fast-changing, competitive world, they need to be inspired to reach for tough goals and work hard for them. Working moms are the perfect models and can teach kids the right values to succeed.
Celebrity moms are helping to reshape thinking about motherhood. Serena Williams just won the Australian Open tennis tournament, her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, while she was in her first trimester. Serena’s message to her unborn child: “You gave me the strength I didn’t know I had…I am so happy to share being the number one in the world with you.”
Science also points to a new image of motherhood. New data show that moms during pregnancy and years afterward may have enhanced cognitive abilities. Maybe this is where the word “supermom” comes from. We need these supermoms in the workforce. In fact, women rate higher than men in many areas that contribute to leadership, including communication, relationship building, and problem solving.
Working moms can teach kids a vital lesson: how to dream, reach for the stars, and juggle family and independence. In her new book, Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success, Ivanka Trump writes how important “meticulous planning” has been in enabling her to do school drop-offs and stick to her family bedtime routine while also juggling a busy professional life.
A study published by Fatherly shows that little boys today mostly dream about becoming athletes, firefighters, or engineers, and that girls who used to dream about becoming nurses and flight attendants now dream of becoming scientists or doctors. We all define fulfillment differently, but on this year’s Mother’s Day, I want to take a moment to applaud the moms who, like me, have strived to set an example for kids on how to dream about their most ambitious career goals.
Kathy Bloomgarden is CEO of Ruder Finn.