You do not lose your brain when you have kids

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In about two hours, it will be three years since I gave birth to my son Joshua.  Since I waited until the age of 38 to have kids, I had no idea what the experience would be like, or what impact it would have on my life and career.  But I did hear things like:

  • Your brain loses its ability to function at a high level when you have kids
  • It is impossible to concentrate on anything due to sleep deprivation
  • Your thoughts of work will disappear into a haze of diapers and constant loads of laundry
  • Your career suffers as you turn your focus towards your family

Sure, people said there were upsides as well, but especially in the work department, the folklore was bleak.

I would like to report, three years and one more kid later, that the naysayers were wrong.  I didn’t lose my mind when I had kids.  The opposite happened:  I gained clarity.

Looking into my beautiful boy’s eyes, I could not do work that was not deeply meaningful.  My creativity soared, bounded, exploded.  A couple of months after Josh was born I started this blog.  Although he was still little and required lots of time and attention, having his pure, raw baby self in my home environment set my neurons on fire.  I could hardly capture my ideas fast enough.

My sister-in-law recently came to visit.  She is a brilliant post-doctorate scientist and university professor.  While in graduate school, she was pregnant with her first child and actually deferred telling anyone about it until she could no longer disguise her belly.  There was a pervasive belief in that (almost exclusively male) environment that as soon as a woman was growing a baby, her brains leaked out of her ears.

Like me, she found the opposite to be true.  She grew and thrived in her career, finished graduate and post-graduate studies and got a faculty position at a good university.  In the middle of applying for tenure, at the age of 46, she got pregnant again.

Did having kids complicate things?  Sure!  Was it hard to balance family and career?  Absolutely.

But both of us found that the experience of having kids made us more grounded, focused, compassionate and committed to life in general, including our work.

For me, thanks to the growth of social media, my public exposure exploded at the exact time that I stopped flying all over the country and settled in a remote corner of Mesa, Arizona.  My live social network went from hundreds of friends in the Bay Area to my immediate family, the 3 neighbors who would actually talk to me and the UPS guy (The UPS guy is still one of our favorite people). Through my blog, I have discovered joy in writing, connected with thousands of truly wonderful people and even piqued the interest of mainstream press like the New York Times.

So on your birthday, Josh, I wanted to say thank you so much for the way you have opened my heart.  I am not afraid of things like I was before.  I don’t care so much about what people say, I care about what I am doing and why I am doing it.  I know that I want to make a difference in my life, in my world, so that you have a good path in your life, in your world.  I laugh more, and enjoy simple things with you like pretending that a rock is a chocolate ice cream cone.

You do not have to have kids to experience life to the fullest.  But if you choose to, don’t worry about “derailing” your career.  The direction it takes may surprise you, but if you trust your instinct, it won’t lead you astray.

Happy Birthday Son!

27 Responses to “You do not lose your brain when you have kids”

  1. […] else I want to be? Plus, have you not read the blogs of Carolyn Elefant, Susan Cartier Liebel and Pam Slim? Mothers are warriors at home and in the world! I am blessed and excited to join this army of […]

  2. […] else I want to be? Plus, have you not read the blogs of Carolyn Elefant, Susan Cartier Liebel and Pam Slim? Mothers are warriors at home and in the world! I am blessed and excited to join this army of […]

  3. […] else I want to be? Plus, have you not read the blogs of Carolyn Elefant, Susan Cartier Liebel and Pam Slim? Mothers are warriors at home and in the world! I am blessed and excited to join this army of […]

  4. Anne-Marie says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. As a female entrepreneur at the helm of a multi-million dollar company, the idea of children terrifies me (and my equally busy successful entrepreneur husband). I have heard all the same stuff from all my girlfriends and just keep putting off children (thankfully, I’m only 30 and have a few more years) because I’m worried about what children will do to my business, my brain, my drive and my innovative streak.

    Thank you for your post. It gives me hope.

  5. Jan-Peter Kuiper says:

    Pam, I love this post.
    We (that is my wife Simone and I) had our daughter nine weeks ago today. We receive the same reactions you describe. Although I have to admit that Simone “suffers” more of the brain leaking comments than I. It probably is a gender thing.
    Simone blogs about her experiences as a young urban working mother on http://www.sim1andonly.wordpress.com (it’s in dutch, but she will refer to this your post). One of the things she describes is how she has tot defend herself being at work and not a home with Elizabeth (our daughter), while I (working self-employed and from home) never have to explain anything to anyone.
    Anyway thanks for the insights.
    Jan-Peter

  6. Very nice, Pam. Main advantages of having my daughter: Joy and purpose. Main “disadvantage” – choice re: work becomes more explicit, and sometimes difficult.

  7. Rich says:

    Can I agree with both sides? 🙂 Emma is now three, and before I was born I had my fingers in all manner of things: Websites, books, a business, etc. Since her birth I’ve been forced to cut back dramatically, which is ultimately for the good. I really had way too much I was trying to do, to the detriment of all. I have to concede that my work going forward will be stronger for weeding out a lot of projects, but I’m really missing the “weeds” and sort of the sense that anything is possible. My daughter is without a doubt the most amazing thing in my life, but I still do keenly feel a loss.

  8. Pam,

    I completely agree about the clarity that having children brings.

    I’d been talking about starting a business for years. But it was the resentment I was starting to feel for missing out on class trips and not being there after school that really motivated me to leave my cubicle.

    Currently, I’m probably putting in more hours than I did in my “job” but it’s at my schedule. I get up and do 1-3 hours before my son gets up then I break for breakfast. Once he’s on the bus, I go back to work. At 3:45 when he gets home from school I’m there to ask about his day and get him a snack. Then I’ll go back and do another hour before dinner.

    I’m also able to bring more clarity to my business. I know what I’m working towards – in about 9 years I’m going to have to pay for the many university degrees my son will want.

    Yes there are times that parenting is hard – when he’s up vomiting at 2 am and then I have to meet with a client at 9am – but overall, it’s worth it. And I think being self employed has made it easier to be a parent.

    Thanks for the post.

    Andrea

  9. Pam, I totally agree with you, on everything.

    I took a break in my engineer/project director carreer when my first kid was born 3 years and a few months ago… and decided to go back to work when my 2nd kid was born one year ago.

    Actually, when getting back to work, I managed to do something I would have been unable to do before having kids: I became an independant consultant. I found enough courage, strength and motivation to become an entrepreneur instead of an employee. Pretty big change in my life!

    I’m convinced being a mom and experiencing family responsabilities helped me overcome my fear of working on my own.

    And concerning the “lose your brain” topic, you are so right: everybody thinks you suddenly throw your brains away with a diaper when you have kids. Whereas as far as I’m concerned, I feel very self-confident and work efficient, much more than during some previous times in my carreer.

    Having kids did not make me lose something, it brought me some new skills I’m very happy to use in my new job!

  10. DAR says:

    Pam: Thanks much for the kind words and encouragement. And, yes, since the day I posted (admittedly, in a depressed mood) I’ve tried to take a step back and think about how we can change things around so that I can get where I want to go. It’s going to require a serious heart-to-heart talk with my wife, and require us to make some difficult choices too, but I’m going to be brave and push on with it. Thanks again for the encouragement!

    Richard: I’m a software developer. I currently work for an “enterprise” software company – a non-trivial (though not completely all-encompassing) day job. But in the software/technology/Internet field in general (and for me specifically, given my entrepreneurial aspriations) it’s necessary to always be reading books and papers, always be learning new things, reading lots of blogs and mailing lists to keep on top of who’s who and the latest happenings, etc. And all of that, frankly, is a whole other part-time job!

  11. Tommy says:

    Thank you. Having three kids at home, things get hectic, and sometimes hard to focus on everything that needs to be addressed during a day. This was just what I needed to read this morning.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I too had to change some things around professionally after the birth of my 3rd child.

    I can’t imagine it any other way.

  13. Richard says:

    I can sympathize with Dar’s situation. I’ve been putting off kids for fear of it crushing my entrepreneurial dreams. Now in our mid-thirties we are trying for the first time. I’m still pursuing my entrepreneurial dreams but realize they may be halted when junior comes. At the same time I’m considering pushing through at all costs. I think kids are more resilient than we realize. I’d rather my children rarely see me because of work I enjoy than always see me while in a state of misery and depression.

    Dar, what business are you in? I’m curious to know what corporate job demands so much of your time.

  14. gayle says:

    Very, very true. And thanks for saying it.

    That being said… sometimes I do think I gave my son my best brain cells, especially when I can’t remember my own phone number! *LOL*

    gayle

  15. Jen says:

    This was such a great post! It made me smile 🙂

  16. I think the key thing is that because of the efforts of so many brave women before us who helped break down a portion of the glass ceiling, women today feel more comfortable about having families. I personally chose not to have a family, and have never regretted that; in fact, after seeing so many harried female friends and working with many a distracted mother in a business environment, I am grateful I never went down that path. I do respect every individual’s choice, however.

  17. Meesha says:

    As a woman who is both starting her own business and wanting to start a family in a couple of years, I’ve secretly worried about this topic A LOT lately. You post couldn’t come at a better time, and I’m printing it out and keeping it in my desk. Thanks, Pam!

  18. Juliet Jones says:

    This post is one of the reasons my career choice blog links to yours. Your observations about work and family, in my mind, are right on target. I have a son about to turn 12 months and I work part-time from a home office – a perfect balance for me. And now I watch less TV, move around more, and waste less time.

    But I can see how others, like an earlier commenter, might have a different experience in his career with having a family. A lot of factors influence each situation – how many kids you have, their personality, your financial situation, and of course, your spouse’s influence. Whatever your level of satisfaction is, life is not static and can change at any time. So if anything, I’ve learned in this first year of parenthood not to judge others for their experiences juggling career with parenting.

  19. DAR says:

    Pam,

    I wish I could say I agree with you. I’m a dad of a 5 year-old (on the autistic spectrum) and a 1-1/2 year-old. And one of the difficult issues I’ve been wrestling with lately is that I absolutely *do* feel like my “career suffers as you turn your focus towards your family”. And I’m not even the full-time care-giver!

    I have less time to spend at work, since I have to rush home to reinforce my exhausted wife taking care of 2 kids. (We can’t afford full-time daycare.) I can no longer put in the late hours that I used to that used to keep me at the top of my game at work. Eves/weekends I have little or no time (or energy) to do needed extra reading.

    And – worst of all – my entrepreneurial dreams have hit a complete dead-end, as I no longer have any ability to take the financial risks necessary to get a start-up off the ground.

    Frankly, my whole career has settled into a rut of mid-level mediocrity – and with no apparent way out.

    So I don’t know, Pam. Perhaps things are different for entrepreneurs such as yourself. But for those of us still stuck in “cubicle nation”, parenthood is pretty much a sure-fire way to make sure that you stay there.

    Hi Dar:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I am so sorry to hear about the current situation!

    I certainly don’t mean to imply that parenthood is all peaches and cream, and it certainly does depend on your personal financial situation/work situation, etc.

    If we were having a conversation and I could bust out the life coaching side of me, I would focus on some thoughts that you expressed …namely that your current career situation is the *only* way to provide for your kids. Is it there right now and providing a paycheck? Absolutely! Is it the *only* way that you could configure your work life? Probably not, if we had the time to explore long-range alternatives.

    I am just about to write an ezine article on this topic, and hope to be more specific about some recommendations for changing your situation. For now, I totally sympathize with your situation, encourage you to not give up hope, and send a big virtual hug.

    Hang in there!

    -Pam

  20. Tina says:

    Happy birthday Josh!

    Love this post Pam, it has certainly been true for me. Having my girls is a natural ‘fit’ for the work that I do – I really can’t imagine one without the other (even though they have nothing to do with each other at face value).

    I also find that the online world is much more accepting of people who have children… probably because many of us turned to working online partially for family reasons. I’ve never had anyone give me any kind of negative feedback when i’ve had to warn them that my daughter is around and may make some noise in the background.

  21. Kathryn says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. For those of us who are considering the ramifications of taking this step, it’s very good to hear your perspective.

  22. KS says:

    Great post!

    Having two kids of our own, I can attest to the fact that my wife and I are more grounded and gained a sense of clarity that we never had before kids.

    ps: My wife finally made the escape from cubicle nation two months ago and has never been happier, which in turn has made me happy. I am planning my escape soon, but we felt it would be safer if we did it one at a time.

  23. Oh, Pam, I love this post. It is so meaningful to me right now, at a time when I am feeling terribly insecure about what a child is going to mean for the career I slaved for all these years. Now that I have Jonah, I know I won’t be traveling nearly as much, and your perspective on how it’s possible to be successful in alternative ways is really inspiring. Thank you.

    Best,

    Alexandra Levit
    Author, How’d You Score That Gig?
    Blogger, Water Cooler Wisdom
    http://alexandralevit.typepad.com

    PS – I share a birthday with your son!

  24. Peter Gulka says:

    So true. I used to be sad about all the things I left behind after kids showed up. Not anymore. The clutter is stripped away and my best work comes out in the short spurts I reserve for it. The rest of my time is spent with my family often doing nothing, for they are what matters most.

    I know who I am more than I did before kids and that changes everything.

  25. It looks like your children are helping you work happier. You see joy where there wasn’t joy before. I simple rock can create laughter. The imagination of a child is infinite.

    I’m looking to start a family with my wife and it scares me, but there isn’t anything that I want more. Thanks for the helping me clarify our decision.

  26. Stunning Pam! And so on the nail. I read this post just before receiving the 6-word memoir meme from Granny Mar this morning and you immediately came to mind. I hope you will join us and come out to play …

    http://fortifyservices.blogspot.com/2008/03/pithy-memoirs.html

    🙂 Rowan

  27. Megan Thomas says:

    What struck me as most true about your post is how influenced we can be by what other people tell us, versus discovering what will work best for ourselves. Having a child does “up the ante” and I personally found that to be the case when my daughter was born almost 10 years ago. For me, what you so accurately call clarity, meant making sure that what I chose to spend my time on had to be extremely important, as it was keeping me from learning and laughing with my child. I love your blog, Pam.

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