What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Earlier About Parenting
But also about work, career, and your thirties & forties.
Parenting upended how I work in so many ways. If you're a new parent still trying to work the same way you did before, it might be a struggle. So much of the myth of the “ideal mother” and lean-in feminism says that we should be able to keep driving forward, just with a baby on our hip.
More specifically, we should be able to do it all with a quiet baby—one that’s never seen or heard from much, kind of like Jennifer Aniston’s magical baby in the final seasons of Friends. In her latest book, Reshma Saujani asks us just where that Friends baby was all the time whenever we didn’t see it. The pop television show gave no mention of childcare—and certainly very little crying. Only a well-behaved baby, onscreen occasionally, to give the mirage of a family life without the logistics or the truth.
When I first became a parent, I tried so hard to keep running at full speed. That's the pervasive myth of Lean-In Motherhood—that you can do it all, if you work hard enough and have enough systems in place. It was frustrating and led to a lot of exhaustion. The problem with pictures of modern parenting is that they treat motherhood as an image and a status symbol—or a place to retreat and go spend the rest of your life. It’s not integrated within American society, and that creates a huge problem that’s shouldered mostly by new parents.
The truth is, trying to be everywhere at once and doing ALL the things is just impossible for most people, and especially for parents. The idea that you can "do it all" and "have it all" is a very damaging myth that we share. Most of the people who purport to do it all have unequal amounts of wealth and support, or they’re not sharing the full picture.
So here’s what I wish someone had told me earlier about parenting and working:
1. It's not about getting all the work done and doing all the things, it's about getting one important thing done and leaving the rest.
It’s not about getting all the work done. It’s not about doing all the things. Doing it all is an impossible goal.
We aren't going to win at the speed or volume game. We can't. Parents are already hustling, as they work 7 days a week, from the break of dawn to the dark of night. Telling them to do more or hustle harder is a recipe for burnout. Which means we need to find different ways to have a competitive edge.
Doing it all is an impossible goal.
When it finally dawned on me that “doing it all” was an impossible goal, I had to get more strategic about the way I showed up to work. I still wanted—and loved—to work, write, and create things, but now I had way less time and energy. We need to play a new, smarter game. If you haven't recalibrated yet, it's still important to do.
So I asked myself: How can I do this differently? What's not working about right now? The most radical question to ask in a world that prioritizes hustle: What about doing less work? It felt terrifying to ratchet way back, and focus on just one (maybe two) things and just doing those things. The first few times I started operating this way, it was hard. It was awkward.
There were so many things I wanted to do—be on all the channels, show up everywhere, say yes to everything, have a weekly podcast AND a daily email AND a live event AND a community AND run a facebook group AND have paid programs.
But even massive companies with giant teams aren’t able to do everything they want to do. If a big corporation can’t do it, how am I, as an individual, going to be able to try to keep up with the Joneses? (In this instance, perhaps the better metaphor would be keeping up with the Gates.)
2. Things that used to work (relying on memory, pushing through at night, catching up on the weekends)—won't work anymore.
I also wish someone had told me earlier was that it’s perfectly reasonable for your work to change and adjust to the new realities of your life. So often we ask people not to change after they have kids, as though they should stay exactly the same as before. But what if we do change, and what if we make that change a normal part of life? And as a bonus, what is some of that change is actually a competitive advantage?
After having two kids and living through a pandemic—my kids were born in 2016 and 2018, and then we got walloped with the pandemic in 2020 and lost childcare for eight months, yes, I’m still recovering—my life impressed upon me the fact that I cannot just do things through sheer willpower and determination. I had to come up with a new structure for figuring out how to decide what to do and what not to do. I had to learn how to say no more.
3. Setting boundaries and saying no are going to become even more important than ever.
The competitive edge you build as a parent is the ability to say no. What’s important sharpens into focus, and the busywork and bullsh!t of modern life becomes even less tolerable. Saying no is really hard at first. It can be even harder across class, race, or gender norms. Women, for example, are often expected to say yes to others and do work that’s invisible. Plus, saying no when you’re in the haze of sleep deprivation is a challenge. A big one.
But the skill of saying no will become your superpower. Luckily, you’ll have a toddler to assist you in your learning curve. If they can do it, so can we. “That’s not the right fit,” and “Thanks for thinking of me, but I have to decline,” are two of my favorite scripts for saying no.
If you can’t compete on doing it all, then you’ll need to get better at having radical focus. Radical focus means getting specific and clear about what you will do, and more importantly, what you don’t do. Radical focus means saying no to a huge number of things (across both parenting and work expectations) and focusing on the few things you can do better than others.
Getting better at radical focus: specific examples
What does radical focus look like? I’ve asked hundreds of parents to share what they don’t do—and the answers delight me. As part of my work, I interview parents for a living on the Startup Parent Podcast. During the interviews, I often ask parents to tell me what they don't do, and how they're streamlining their lives.
Here are some of parenting ideas they've shared with me:
Only do one kid activity per season.
Wear clothes twice (half the laundry!). Dress the kids in tomorrow's clothes for pajamas.
Systematize lunches and meals as simply as possible.
A smaller house is less stuff to buy, less stuff to clean, and less money.
Reduce commutes however possible!
House-sharing, nanny-sharing, and babysitting co-ops.
And some of the business ideas:
Only do one social media channel (or quit entirely).
Cut business projects that don't fit 80/20 rule.
Eliminate time-wasting clients.
Change from "every week" to seasonal or biweekly.
Have "no meeting" days or weeks.
Schedule your vacation weeks into your calendar before the year starts.
There are even more ideas I’ve heard, too. After interviewing dozens of parents and navigating through two postpartum periods as an entrepreneur, I created a roadmap for how to get clear, focus, and cut back on non-essential work. Click this link to check out the book and read more of what people aren’t doing.
It's okay if you change because of parenting.
It’s okay if your work process changes because of parenting. It's okay if you slow down and focus on a few things that really matter. It's okay if you get rid of all of the crap work (including those 12 Facebook Groups you no longer need).
That’s what I wish I’d heard more—not that ‘motherhood would make me totally and completely fulfilled and I’d want to be a mother and nothing else forever until the end,’ and not that I should bounce back and keep working and driving like nothing had changed, either. Those two extremes aren’t reality.
I wish someone had told me that parenting is a huge undertaking, and it’s okay if you shift and adjust and adapt because of it. That you’ll probably get stronger and clearer at work, even if you feel like you’re stumbling through. That you’ll probably need to edit some things out of your life.
The idea that your work won't change—that YOU won't change—when you do the most radical thing of bringing a new person to the world astounds me.
Of course you will change.
Of course your work and life might shift.
Why not embrace it?
Accepting that change happens is one of the critical mindset shifts to make parenting a little more do-able.
— Sarah Peck
CEO & Founder
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Love this one. So much yes to having to focus on just one or two things vs. *everything* you could or want to do.
This article gave me goosebumps while reading it. Especially these bits: "The competitive edge you build as a parent is the ability to say no," and on "Radical focus" - means getting specific and clear about what you will do, and more importantly, what you don’t do.
I'm trying to do a lot these days and feel on the brink of burnout with a full-time job, 2 toddlers and a side newsletter. I've been reading a lot these days on managing my energy, rather than my time and it just makes so much sense.