12 vital job skills you’ve honed as a mom
Moms returning to the workforce after taking a break to raise their child, must highlight all the ‘super skills’ they have acquired during the course of parenting
By Aruna Raghuram • 17 min read
It’s a reincarnation of sorts. Getting back to work after a career break taken to raise children can certainly be challenging. For one thing, you are now responsible for another human being in so many different ways. As you attempt to make it back to the workforce, it is only natural for you to be concerned about the gaps in your resume, particularly the skills you think you are lacking. Suddenly, you feel you are no longer such an attractive prospect in the job market.
But what you may have ignored in all this confidence bashing introspection, is that you have acquired several skills in your already exciting mommy journey. Trust me, many employers today value this versatile basket of skills, coupled with the maturity that parenting invariably brings.
In fact, mom skills can be transferred to the workplace! In addition to listing their innate (unique to their personality) skills, academic achievements, and other job-related skills, touching upon these ‘mom skills’ will make them stand out as candidates who have utilised their break fruitfully.
According to a 2012 survey conducted by US-based Korn/Ferry Institute, 95% of female professionals reported that raising children has given them transferable job skills. The top transferrable skills, according to the respondents, include motivating and inspiring others, learning agility (applying past experience in new ways), and confidence. The study concluded that being a mom offered training in psychology, time management and diplomacy that could easily be applied in the workplace.
Let’s dig deeper and look at a few ‘mom skills’ that would be very useful in the workplace:
1. Multitasking: Although there is a growing debate on the goods and bads of multitasking, this remains one of the foremost skills moms acquire. And why not! Ask a mom who supervises her elementary schooler’s homework while checking to ensure that what’s on the stove does not get burnt, getting rid of the wrinkles on the shirt and fixing an appointment with her toddler’s pediatrician at the same time. Yes, it is possible only with mommies. Comedian Milton Berle famously asked: “If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?”
Tied to multitasking are efficient time management skills (as there is so much to do) and the ability to meet deadlines. For instance, getting their child ready for school is a hard deadline mothers need to meet every day.
2. Effective communication: Dealing with a young person requires the talent for ‘active listening’ and sound communication skills. Active listening is basically concentrating fully, responding with understanding, and remembering what has been said. It helps a parent gauge the feelings behind the words being said by the child. According to management guru Peter Drucker, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
Again, there is need to communicate with clarity when talking to a child so that he understands fully what is being said. This applies to both giving instructions in a note and giving verbal advice. Good communication skills (both spoken and written) are much sought after by employers.
3. Planning and prioritising: Imagine the attention to detail required to plan the birthday party of a preschooler! There are invitations to be sent out, the party dress for the birthday child and trendy return gifts for the guests to be bought, the cake to be baked or procured, the food and drink menu to be finalised, and the decorations to be set up. And of course. the party games to be organised so nobody feels it is a boring birthday party. Planning a child’s birthday party is a test of organisational ability and event planning skills. This is where planning and prioritising becomes critical. Mommies are masters at deciding which activities are ‘musts’ and which you can let go.
4. Problem solving: This is another essential skill for a mom. For instance, if your child is facing academic problems at school, you have to think through how this problem can be best tackled. From evaluating the extent of the problem, to analysing the causes, finding a solution, and seeing whether it works – a mommy has to go through all these steps in consultation with her child and his teachers.
5. Dealing with uncertainty: Dealing with the unplanned and keeping one’s calm in a crisis are invaluable job skills that moms develop sooner rather than later. In fact, having to deal with uncertainty is a certainty for mothers! You may have planned a party at home when suddenly your young one gets a high fever. Change of plans – you rush to the pediatrician trying to keep your anxiety in check. Similarly, when you are travelling with children you may face unexpected challenges. Your toddler may develop a food allergy. Being used to dealing with the unplanned, moms also become decisive and handle stress situations quite effectively.
6. Negotiation and conflict resolution: Toddlers and teens have this in common – it is difficult to persuade them to do something! Consider this situation. You are dog-tired at the end of the day but your five-year-old is still bright and chirpy. You need to negotiate with your child exactly how many books you will read or how many stories you will tell him at bedtime. Another example is negotiating with your teen about how much screen time is acceptable each day. After discussing all points of view and setting rules, you have to ensure the rules are implemented.
Moms are frequently required to intervene in a conflict between siblings. Media personality David Frost once said: “Having one child makes you a parent. Having two kids makes you a referee.” Mothers have to patiently listen to both sides to understand the conflict situation before presenting an ‘acceptable’ solution after ensuring that neither party thinks you are favouring the other. That’s a super skill for sure.
7. Ability to influence others: The ability to influence our children is the cornerstone of parenting. A mother is able to influence her child by modelling the kind of behaviour she wants her child to follow. And, also by forming a close connection so that her child listens to her when she gives advice. Similarly, by setting a good example and becoming skillful at persuading and mentoring team members, an employee can exert considerable influence in the workplace.
8. Motivating others: Encouragement works wonders to anyone, anywhere, more so in parenting. Not only does encouragement build a child’s self-esteem, it makes him try even harder the next time round. Moms master the art. A mother knows the power of praise and encouragement to motive a child to improve his performance, be it in academics, sports, or any other activity. Knowing how to successfully motivate your team is a key leadership skill.
9. Teaching and supervising: From infancy, a mother guides her child as he learns to sit up, walk, and later, say a few words. From teaching a toddler to button up his jacket to helping a teen master the art of baking, teaching and supervising comes naturally to a mother. Teaching a skill, mentoring and supervising are all activities of central importance at the workplace. Employees in a supervisory role have to learn how to handle co-workers, which is not very different from handling children.
10. Patience, reliability and dedication: Parenting and patience go together. Says Nancy Cruickshank CEO of Myshowcase.com, in an article written for The Telegraph: “I had no better training for enhancing my patience than in parenting. Potty training, teaching your child to dress herself, negotiating with your teen – all of these things require patience in abundance.”
As a parent, being reliable is vital. If you have told your child that you will be back from an errand in an hour to take him to the park, you need to keep your word. As for dedication – what task requires more dedication than taking care of a child day in and day out for at least 18 years?
11. Confidence and positive attitude: No parent is prepared for the enormity of the task of taking care of a child. Yet one blunders along with the help of elders or the insights of peer-parenting and emerges reasonably competent. The very process of parenting gives a person immense confidence. You think: “If I can raise a child, I can do anything.” This positivity would make a mom a welcome addition to the workforce.
12. A sense of humour: There are several occasions when humour can be used to diffuse a situation and reach a compromise. Humour is also an invaluable stressbuster that can keep you afloat both as a parent and in dealing with a sticky situation at work or a difficult boss.
EXPERT TAKETo understand the value parenting skills can bring to the workplace, we interact with Dr Manjari Singh, faculty at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, in the human resources management area. She is a mother of a teen. This is what she has to say:
Q1. What are the 3 main skills a woman picks up being a mom which are useful in the workplace?
A. I would mention three main skills from my personal perspective. First, the ability to multitask. I was not very good at this prior to becoming a mother. We have three main roles as academics – teaching, research and administrative work. Earlier, I would compartmentalise these. Now I am comfortable doing them in tandem. Multitasking requires a great deal of planning and prioritising
Second, the ability to understand things that are not articulated. This definitely improves while raising a child as children are sometimes not able to articulate their wishes or feelings very well. So, one learns to pick up the signals people give and develop more empathy towards others. In the same context, you learn to give clear instructions – as you are used to doing this with your child.
Third, is the ability to deal with uncertainty. Our job is very structured. But raising a child makes us realise that everything cannot be planned. Parenting equips us to respond quickly with ad hoc solutions. I must emphasise that I did not develop these skills overnight – it was a journey as at each stage of a child’s development.
Q2. How can moms who are returning to work after a gap of a few years make their resume/interview impressive by highlighting the ‘mom skills turned job skills’?
A. This depends on two factors – the organisation and the job. Some companies recognise the potential that returning moms have more than other companies do. They realise that supporting mechanisms for a young mother are much better today. The company could be facing a talent gap and be looking for good people or they could be consciously wanting to promote a second career. However, it is not a universal thing.
Whether mom skills can compensate for the skill gap returning moms face depends on the job. This is where the difference between a managerial job and a knowledge-based job comes into play. If the job is all about managing people, mom skills could be very useful. For instance, in a teacher’s job, mom skills and the maturity and patience women develop after becoming mothers are very valuable. This is also the case where managing clients or employees is the key role.
However, in a high-skilled, technology-related job this would not be so. In a knowledge-based job, a woman would have to not just get back in touch with earlier skills but also update skills to suit the present job market. If she is able to bridge the knowledge gap, then talking about the additional mom skills would definitely help.
I was applying for a research job in Australia. Among the selection criteria was one that stated that I should have demonstrated effective interpersonal negotiation, consultative and communication skills. I responded that my professional and personal role as a psychotherapist, lecturer, researcher, trainer, and a mother, had helped me develop these very skills. I explained how being a mother involved communicating clearly, bargaining, setting boundaries and emotional regulation. At the interview, they pointed out that they liked the fact that instead of hiding my role as a mother, I was highlighting it. And, I was saying that being a mom had strengthened my skills in certain areas which would be useful professionally. They did not question me about the gaps in my CV.
- Dr Meghna Singhal, working mother of two young children
Women have a large set of skills - some innate, some acquired during the course of parenting. Mom skills can go a long way in helping women in the workplace. In addition, moms are quick, hands-on learners – learning new things almost every day. This ability and willingness to learn is one of the greatest assets that employers are looking for.
In a nutshell
- Women who are returning to the workforce after a break taken to raise a child, need not feel inadequate
- While certain jobs may require them to upgrade their skills, they need to be aware of the new skills they have acquired while parenting
- Some of these mom skills are multitasking, dealing with uncertainty, planning and prioritizing, and communicating effectively
What you could do right away
- At the next job interview, refrain from being apologetic about having taken a break. Instead, highlight how being a mother has enhanced your skill set
- Take pride in your role as a mother – it is one of the most difficult jobs on the planet
About the author:
Written by Aruna Raghuram on 6 October 2019.
Raghuram is a journalist and has worked with various newspapers, writing and editing, for two decades. She has also worked for six years with a consumer rights NGO. At the time of writing this article, she was a consultant with ParentCircle.
About the expert:
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD on 7 November 2019.
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist and currently heads the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).
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