Can I Have A Successful Career And Be An Amazing Parent?

5 min read

On reading this in the Guardian last week I almost choked on my Weetbix,

Would happiness and confidence return if full-time motherhood became the normal expectation again for women?

Despite my initial reaction, I have been wondering whether there is some truth to this question because, from where I’m sitting, women still can’t ‘have it all’.

The challenges of work-family balance

I am a lawyer and I have worked in law firms and most recently in-house at a company. I have been umming and ahhing about my career since having my first child five years ago. Life has been a flurry of office, home and children. My job ticks a few boxes: income, a solid routine, meeting other adults and having an identity which is independent from parenthood.

I had days when I was euphoric to be leaving my adorable but crazy children behind, striding freely to work, cup of coffee in hand. I also had days when I was consumed by guilt at not seeing them enough. More than that though, I simply missed my kids.

Work family balance and job satisfaction

We talk a lot about the G-word – working mothers feel guilt at not being present enough for their kids. What we do not seem to acknowledge as often is the need of a mother (and a father) to spend regular stress-free time with their children.

A relocation halfway across the world forced me to quit my job a couple of months ago. At first I was upset at having lost the income, my freedom, and my coffee. While I have spent the last couple of months packing and moving I have also spent a lot of that time with my children. Somewhere along the way, I realised that I don’t want to be away from them five days a week, 12 hours a day.

This is where it gets tricky. I can no longer be both the parent and the professional I want to be.

A new theory of work/family balance

Prior to becoming a mother, I was described as ambitious, driven, motivated. I don’t feel that these adjectives apply to me any more, or at least not in the conventional sense.

I wrapped up my identity with my profession. I don’t know how to be anything other than a lawyer. Many of my peers from law school are either already partners at major global law firms or are well on their way to becoming partners. Some people have launched successful careers in management, academia, or as entrepreneurs.

Work and life balance – can I be a lawyer and ‘have it all’?

I want to spend quality time on motherhood; to help my kids be healthy, kind, warm, independent, and successful. Equally, I want to have some success of my own that is not my children. In my experience though, partnerships or even senior legal jobs at most companies do not allow a parent the flexibility to spend substantial time nurturing their family. I see friends and peers around me postpone motherhood time and again, to make it to the next promotion.

I want to have some income and continuity in my career, but I also want to have enough time to focus on my family and to explore alternative opportunities.

I know that I don’t want to be a partner in a law firm, but when I try to think of alternative careers which enable me to spend real time with my children and which offer the professional success and satisfaction I seek, I draw a blank.

I’m beginning to understand what Anne-Marie Slaughter was getting at when she wrote her famous 2012 Atlantic Magazine article entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” That’s a pretty sobering thought when you have always believed that you can be anything you want.

Does this mean that if I want to be a lawyer I need to accept that (in some sense) I’ll never ‘have it all’?

Can I have a successful career and be an amazing parent?

I figured that one way to think myself out of this conundrum was to get myself a career coach. I met with a coach who is highly regarded and works with a variety of professionals and entrepreneurs.

We had a few sessions and these were the questions she asked me:

What do you like about your career?

I like that it is logical, solution-oriented, commercial, and that I am a subject-matter expert whose opinion people rely on.

What do you dislike about your career?

It’s not very flexible and working in-house at a big company is not terribly cutting-edge or exciting, most days. The work is repetitive and very often I feel like a cog in a wheel.

What are your priorities?

Spending more time with my family, working on something that is interesting, feeling like I am an important part of a whole and interacting with like-minded people.

What is your vision?

I visualised my ideal career/vocation: in my mind was a clear picture. From this picture I understood the goals I had to work towards. My coach also asked me to imagine my own picture of success and to then place myself in it. I had to consider what it would take to get me into my own picture.

All of these still seem like abstract ideas to me, but now I know where I am headed I can make a start.

Your work-family balance vision and priorities 

Once you have made a decision to make some changes in your life, you should keep your priorities front and centre in your mind when exploring opportunities. This will help to narrow down the available options or motivate you to think outside of the box in search of other solutions.

We all know that when you are in between roles (read unemployed) it is easy to jump at the first job which comes your way. But beware, this may land you right back in the same place you were before.

While I haven’t yet come up with a coherent future plan, I will be guided by my priorities when considering my next steps and options. And I have decided to heed Slaughter’s advice, ‘Don’t drop out, defer.’ That way, ‘If you keep your hand in the workforce while you are devoting more of your time to [family] care, it will be easier to ramp up than to get back in.’

My own definition of ‘having it all’

So, for the moment I will focus on finding flexible, short-term legal roles. I want to have some income and continuity in my career but I also want to have enough time to focus on my family and to explore alternative opportunities. This is somewhat easier as I am starting afresh in a new city. Maybe here is the perfect place for me to reset my own expectations and to discover my own definition of ‘having it all.’ Because ‘having it all’ means different things to different women and that’s okay.

I could’t finish this piece without touching on a very important point. It is abundantly clear to me that the pressure to be a breadwinner comes at the expense of time and relationships with family. This describes the struggle of many working women across the globe. But it describes the situation of most fathers too. This internal struggle is something my husband must feel everyday, perhaps to a different degree. That is why it is so important for us to push for family-friendly working environments for all parents.

Neeti x

Have you faced similar work/family conundrums? Let us know in the comments below and head over to The Squad to see how other working mothers create their own definition of ‘having it all’.
You might also like this article about going back to work with a baby and preparing for parenthood with a fur baby.
Can I have a successful career and be an amazing parent?
Can I have a successful career and be an amazing parent? Photo:
Meet Neeti

I’m a thirty-something lawyer, mum, and freelance writer. I was raised in India and have since lived, studied, and worked in Dubai, the US, London and now Hong Kong.

Can I have a successful career and be an amazing parent?

  1. Tanya Khanna says

    Very Well written- Can totally relate to it, am fortunate enough to have sorted the balance that you talk about. Good Luck!

    1. Neeti Jain says

      Thanks, Tanya! I’m glad you could relate to it.

    2. Neeti Jain says

      Thanks, Tanya. I’m glad you could relate to it. I would love to hear about your experience/tips on finding that elusive balance, if you would like to share anything.

      1. Tanya Khanna says

        I enabled a work journey, that brings my passion together with my skills. Also, focusing on getting the job done, rather than profits etc. initially, kept me more focused on enabling a better reputation for myself. I also try and ensure my team gets the flexibility as women as well. Good Luck to you too!

    3. Iris Lillian says

      Amazing Tanya! How did you achieve this balance?

      1. Tanya Khanna says

        Its an ongoing process, and a constant struggle! But Planning ahead of time, figuring out an entrepreneurship opportunity that allows me flexible hours, and discipline of getting work done in the morning and evening, and enabling a firmer routine for the child that allows me some downtime for work or myself- makes life a tad bit easier. Of course, taking support from parents/ In-laws and appreciating them for it- adds to it!

  2. Anekha Girn says

    A very well written post and interesting read! Always good to have a balance.

    1. Neeti Jain says

      Thank you for reading. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    2. Iris Lillian says

      It really is isn’t it. How do you find balance in your daily life?

  3. Lindsay Newton says

    This is such an important topic today! It’s something everyone is striving for, but women have so much pressure on them. A sorority sister of mine started a business because of it called Werk. She was a lawyer who wanted to figure out a way to make the hours work for her. It’s super interesting!

    1. Neeti Jain says

      Thanks Lindsay. I agree. It’s a very important topic and I hope that it gets more attention. I have heard of Werk! I will check it out again.

    2. Iris Lillian says

      I’ve never heard of it! It sounds great. What exactly is the premise? Would she like to write about it for

  4. Nancy Seeger says

    Thank you for opening the discussion on a very important topic! I love the authenticity in the post. I hope you find the balance you are looking for, but for me it was totally about changing my paradigms about what I expected/wanted/needed. As you coach advised you, once you know where you want to go, it is easier to get there, but the limitation that I see most women take is around paradigms. So I ask you to challenge those around your job. If the type of job you need doesn’t exist then why not create it? As long as you are solving problems there is a market in the world. As a lawyer, you are solving problems. So there is always a market for your service. Best of luck.

    1. Neeti Jain says

      Hi Nancy, thank you. You’re absolutely right. We must create jobs and workspaces where we can exist and be satisfied and successful. I will keep that in mind as I continue to look for my equilibrium.

    2. Iris Lillian says

      Thanks Nancy, this is really helpful advice. Changing paradigms is difficult isn’t it, when you’ve grown up thinking one way and then suddenly have to shift this way of thinking. How did you shift this? Are there any exercises you practiced to get there and which you can share with all the IL readers?

      1. Nancy Seeger says

        It all starts with the decision. Deciding that you will make it happen is the most critical step to changing anything. Decide on exactly what you want, what does it look like and how does it make you feel. Then ask – HOW? Not is this possible, but HOW can I make this possible. HOW can I get this done? HOW can I find the right person to do this/support me/mentor me? Question everything about your choices, and then question how you came to those answers. By questioning what we want and expect – we learn more about the limitations we are setting on ourselves. By focusing on the life we want, we push ourselves toward that life and away from those limitations. It just takes time to get everything you want. 30 years ago went I wanted to stay home with my children, and work remotely. That wasn’t done if you back then. But I managed to by challenging everything that was expected. Made it work with my corporate job for a while and then transitioned when they no longer wanted to support that option. Now I have a team – I still work from home and my children are successful adults. It wasn’t the fastest path to success and there were lots of short detours. But my business is still growing and I am still happy with the path I chose. My children were my greatest gift so I wasn’t going to miss that opportunity. It was just too important to me. But the first biggest step that anyone can make around life changing paradigms is to simply decide. Once you decide that is the path you want to take, focusing on that path, with priority and urgency will make it happen.

  5. Chevelle says

    More people should be talking about this. Just become you become a parent doesn’t mean you need to lose who you are. The more we talk about balance, more employers will be open to flexible working arrangements. Great post!

    1. Neeti Jain says

      Hi Chevelle, thanks! That’s so true. I was talking to a friend about this today; that we need to be having these conversations with employers more and more, so that it starts to get recognised as something that is normal and that can be addressed.

    2. Iris Lillian says

      Hey Chevelle, I couldn’t agree more. We need to keep this conversation going. What are a few ways you have kept the conversation going? Do you talk about it with friends and at work? I’d love to hear your advice and I’m sure all the other IL readers would too. Thanks!

  6. Odette Umali says

    I can totally relate! I am a working mom all my life. We can “have it all” but it comes in different stages in our career life and in our parenting journey.

    1. Neeti Jain says

      Thank you, Odette. Yes, that is very true. Sometimes you have to bide your time and slow down a little bit on the work front, to give your family the time they deserve. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t ramp up when the kids are older. Would you like to share how you managed the different stages? I’m sure it would help me and lots of the other mums!

  7. Evrim Numanoglu Ozgen says

    Thanks for the article Neeti. What a subject! I experienced all the possible emotions about this topic every day since i have become a mother. I have a 4 yrs old son and am 4 months pregnant for the second one. My husband and I could make the decision for the second one only after we figured out what we wanted from life as individuals and as a family after 3 years of nonstop search for an alternative. That ‘alternative’ is different for each person as you have beautifully pointed out. There is no right or wrong. The best way in my view is that the person clears herself from collective consiousness/expectations/standards and sterotypes about being a woman, mother, wife and business person and develops the courage and faith to find and accept what she truly desires and to go for it. This may be a full time demanding career at a corporate. Then thats find, the next step is to create a healthy environment and the support network which are crucial in my experience. I have changed how, where and with whom i spend my time significantly in the last 3 years and even that is a huge thing! With love, Evrim

    1. Neeti Jain says

      Hi Evrim, I’m sorry I only just read your comment. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your own experience. I think you are so right when you talk about dropping the stereotypes. I think that’s a very good place to start if you want to find the right balance for yourself. I also totally agree with becoming more selective about how and with whom you spend your time. I really enjoyed reading your comment. Good luck for baby number 2. I’m sure your family will become even more joyful.

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