How Being a Mom Changed the Way I Work

Unlikely lessons in leadership

Becoming a mother has changed many aspects of my life. I sleep less, I eat a lot more chicken fingers and mac and cheese, and I know the theme song to Vampirina. 

But over the last eight years, I've also come to realize that my kids have taught me invaluable lessons on how to be a better human being. These lessons have naturally extended into my career, and my ability to lead, in unimaginable ways.

What I quickly learned from my first daughter is that babies are incredibly empathetic. They can't see you or understand what you are saying, but they can tell when you are stressed or off balance. Their mood changes with yours, and if you don't catch it in time, everyone has a crabby day.  

The same thing can happen daily in a work environment. One person's energy can alter an entire section of the office without anyone realizing why. I'm not always effective in catching my emotional swing, but being a mother has made me far more conscious of my potential impact on the agency. 

I've learned that being cognizant of your own pulse helps you influence the pulse of your entire organization. If done successfully, this awareness can lead to better morale universally. 

As my second child was learning to talk and struggling to communicate, I would often try to fill in the blanks for her before she finished. Although done with good intentions, all this did was add to her frustration and trigger a meltdown. 

Even as she developed her vocabulary and was able to speak more, I'd still find myself cutting her off to correct her or answering her questions before she completed them. When she was finally able to articulate "I wasn't finished!" I understood. 

Her frustration wasn't over the language she didn't have but that she wasn't being heard. All she wanted was the time to express her thoughts before being given an answer. Inherently I want to provide all the answers, but my 5-year-old taught me that sometimes the most valuable thing I can do is stop and listen. 

Likewise, there are so many opportunities in an agency environment to take the time to hear someone out, as opposed to filling in the blanks for them.

Regardless of age, gender, or title … who doesn't want that? 

This seemingly simple change encourages a team member to develop their own thinking and problem-solving skills as well as empowers them to be confident in their choices and establish themselves as a leader. Not only does this provide an employee with increased professional growth and opportunity, it establishes trust in a working relationship. 

Anecdotes aside, being a mom has also taught me about priorities and the importance of giving context to my to-do list. I love what I do, but I have a new understanding of how quickly moments pass. 

My kids change every day, and the experiences I have with them at 5 and 8 will be completely different from those at 6 and 9. They have taken top priority on all my lists, and because of that, I am forced to be more efficient in the way I approach my work and accomplish my goals. 

Because I emphasize taking time for them, I end up taking time for me; and that, more than anything, has helped me create a work-life balance that keeps me motivated as an individual and gives me the means to lead others. 

As Situation's ninth team member (and we're now reaching 83), I'm gratified to have had the opportunity to be a part of shaping policies that enable everyone here to take time for these kinds of moments and life experiences. 

While it's still a work in progress, we've been increasing our flexible work offerings to allow everyone to make the most of their time—both in and out of the office. Not only does this make the work better, it also makes everyone feel appreciated as a person rather than just an employee.  

When I took on my role as Mom, I didn't realize I was being given a unique opportunity that would have a lasting impact on my leadership skills in the workplace. Every day, you have people who depend on you and look to you as a guide as they develop into amazing individuals. 

For me, I believe the lessons my kids instilled in me have helped me develop my voice as a leader and become a stronger advocate for my team and the agency. 

Whether it's kids or a business, growing pains always lead somewhere wonderful, and I can say with full confidence that I'm enjoying the journey. 

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Maria Martinez
Maria Martinez is vp of finance and operations at Situation, a digital agency in New York.

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