Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mommy Track not Mommy Brain

Women increase in intelligence after becoming mothers. That old adage about mommy brain or baby brain is bunk. It’s been written about and studied. Katherine Ellison wrote a popular book about it in 2006, The Mommy Brain.  This does not explain why, during the last weeks of pregnancy with my first boy and for months after giving birth to him, I went to the grocery store, leaving the front door wide open for several hours. Or, the afternoon I came home, went into the house, correctly locking the front door but leaving the car door wide open for the entire day. Or, the time I poured milk into my mug and filled the baby bottle with coffee.  Leaving those aside for the moment, research says I’m smarter. Check out this article by Erin Crawford in the Des Moines Register, 2006 about Katherine Ellison’s book.

Ellison says my perception improves. I’m more clued in to sounds of need and distress in my babies. This is true. I can hear my little guy (now almost 3) yelling in the living room while the older one does Power Ranger karate moves on him; Or, the older guy yelling because the little guy has retaliated by pulling his hair. Sometimes I wish I could tune these signs of distress out. They occur often.

Smart mommies are good at
childrearing and jobs, too!
photo by healingdream
She also says I’m more efficient. Supposedly I’m better at prioritizing and more focused and quicker at finishing work. This is absolutely true. I don’t know how I do it, but I get my work done in the 45 minutes I have to do it, instead of the 3 hours it used to take. I read stuff I have to read while standing at the stove or waiting in the car park for school to let out.
I started prioritizing the day I got home from the hospital with Zach. After he’d fall asleep I knew I had only minutes before he woke again for more time on the breast. I learned to prioritise immediately. Thoughts at the time:
1 Toilet – has to be done
2 Shower – dying for one. There’s breast milk all over my torso. 3 minutes, max, no hair washing.
3 Dress – can’t leave the house without clothes
4 makeup – if he wakes while I’m on step 3, I can skip this
5 eat – I can do this while breastfeeding, so will multi-task it
6 sleep – God, I wish I could put this at number 1, but will try and snooze while he feeds
My ability to prioritize has been improving ever since. I’m such a master at mommy multi-tasking now, I don’t understand why my husband only does one thing at a time.  I can simultaneously wipe a nose, send a text message, turn off the oven, start the dishwasher, answer Zach’s question about unicorns and begin the grocery list on a sheet of paper. Concentrating on one thing at a time makes me feel constrained and boxed in. I can’t ONLY do ONE thing at time. That is totally underutilizing my capacity.
Anyway, look, I’m re-opening this debate because despite the evidence, and the supposed status of women as having equal rights, working mothers get “mommy tracked”. There’s no denying it – check out this article about a GoldmanSachs working mother who claims she got put on the mommy track and is now suing. I’ve seen it first hand, I’ve experienced it. Why does this happen if we’re smarter, more empathetic (as per Ellison), can prioritise better, manage better, and get the same amount of work done in half the time? Trust me, if we leave the job ON TIME to go collect our kids from day care, we will still meet the deadlines set, come in on the weekends around trips to soccer matches, and generally outperform the guy sitting across from us who can stay until 7 pm, dials in on his laptop Sunday mornings and goes to after-work drinks with the lads. He’s spinning his wheels. I’m working.
Limiting the workplace to single people and men is not diversity, and it isn’t healthy. Would businesses advocate limiting the workplace to white people or males? How about limiting it to brunettes? They’d be losing out on valuable input from people who, due to the release of massive amount of hormones, are now smarter, calmer, happier, more empathetic, more perceptive and better able to prioritise and multi-task. Some may be blonde. We do, however, want to go home on time to collect our children; need to take our legally, duly-earned vacation days for time off with the kids; and will, on occasion, have bits of oatmeal or baby formula on our lapels. These can be cleaned with baby wipes, which we carry in our large handbags, since we are so organised.  
And, by the way, if you don’t have kids or are not a woman, I’m not saying you’re at a disadvantage or not as smart as me. Sleep deprivation (for me) evens us out. I’m just saying: we’re equal.


  1. I absolutely agree about the increase in productivity and efficiency when kids come along. I get far more done now than I ever did - both at home and at work.

    Despite the increase in productivity, I feel I have to explain myself as I run out of work at 5.30 to collect the little guy (2.5yrs). I want to shout out to the whole office "I got all my work done in the alloted time because I am more productive."

    When he spent four weeks at his grandparents in March this year, my productivity fell and so did my efficiency. It seemed like I was an athlete without a pacemaker.

  2. wow, excellent comment, Orla. I agree - my productivity falls when they're not around. Less pressure takes the gas off the pedal, I think - am I mixing metaphors?

  3. I think you're leaving the door open is a result of fatigue. Your senses may be sharper after childbirth, but you also become sleep deprived.

    As for increased perception, I would argue that not only are mothers more perceptive, but dads are too. Before my first child came along, a bomb could go off next to me while I slept and I wouldn't stir at all. After Sarah was born, I'd wake up if she coughed or stirred in the night, and she was in another room. It's amazing what little sounds I now hear at night.

    Great post!

  4. This is a really interesting post and, in many ways, quite a relief for me. It's a lot about your priorities naturally changing and so you *have* to become more productive. Necessity propels you forward. I'd love this to work for my husband too, though, because there's pressure on him to stay late at work and I don't want him to miss out on evenings with the baby.

  5. I think i've got smarter in many ways. I can definately multi-task more, and this comes from an ex-teacher of classes of 35 or more. Just 2 kids..... they'll do that to you. But I think the thing is, we get pushed back at work because they know, and we know, we care less about the job. They offered me head of department instead of part-time. I said no. Now I have nada, but I don't really care. I will never crawl up the (somewhat pitiful) teaching career ladder now. If I ever go back. It takes an extraordinary mum to go back and still care as much about the job. Most men know this, and will exploit it. Working: it's just completely shit.

  6. Great post. I think I am more perceptive and efficient since my kiddies were born. And I am definitely AWESOME at juggling a hundred things - which is the problem really, that and the sleep deprivation really even out the positive gains.

    I'd love to go back to work before forever. I know that as a mum with a lot of commitments, getting hired will be tough - a shame that it's that way.

  7. "..the guy sitting across from us who can stay until 7 pm, dials in on his laptop Sunday mornings and goes to after-work drinks with the lads. He’s spinning his wheels. I’m working." Perfectly summed up - so much of it is perception and bullsh*t!

  8. I received an average education, and as a teenager and throughout my 20s, I went around rather blinkered. But as soon as I gave birth to my first child I changed overnight. Like every good mum I wanted to do everything prefectly - I woke up! Later I took on the education of my two children full time. And on the whole home educating has been a hoot and extremely fulfilling. I have found myself to be more studious, more 'scholary' and inquisitive than the old me before children. Interesting too what you say Lory about the fact firms still choose to steer clear of providing childcare and allowing flexible working for mums - they are missing a trick! Silly beggars!

  9. I feel so much better now after reading this. I felt that I was less efficient after having babies. After reading this I now realise I'm probably doing 5 times as many things now than before. It's definitely a juggling act trying to keep all the balls in the air.

  10. OMG!!! I LOVE all the hard working family first MOM"s out there because you are "SPECIAL" never EVER let anyone tell you other wise...you try to bring up someone KIND! and LOVING into this world, and that is the hardest thing to do in any JOB!!!!!


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