Ambition: does being a parent help or hinder?

If ambition is striving to better one’s situation (or self), and happiness is satisfaction with where your life is now, where does parenting sit on the spectrum?  A blog post about the trade-off between ambition and happiness got me thinking about this question.

Quite frankly, parenting often feels like it ticks neither box – as a friend put it, it’s more a case of survival.  And never more than after a full-on week of half-term, even if the kids were mostly lovely.  But if I had to choose, I’d say it makes me happy more than it fulfils my ambition.

For me, ambition has always been about whether I am reaching my full potential (a bit of a stretch goal, let’s be honest).  Being a ‘good’ parent, although incredibly important to me, doesn’t feel like it sits in the same box.  I think that’s because striving for good parenting is a given, not a choice – the choice was made when we leapt into parenthood in the first place.

More often being a parent has felt like a brake on ambition.  I know few mothers who haven’t had to readjust their ambitions as they realise parenting is too important to squeeze too hard, and squeezing everything else can be almost as tough. I’m sure many fathers feel the same way, but, for whatever reasons, it seems more often the women who choose to / have to take the career hit.  I certainly felt that way before I stepped off the hamster wheel to find a better way.

And that goal, to find a better way, is where ambition and parenting get interesting.  The handcuff of something you simply cannot ‘not do’ forces an increasing number of women to get creative, look at different avenues, really think about what they could and want to do.  It becomes a driver of ambition, not a brake – almost liberating if it wasn’t so bloomin’ stressful.

How many women do you know who have agonised over how they can continue their career after kids, only to explore completely different and ultimately fulfilling directions to find that elusive fit of fulfilling work and family life?  I know quite a few.  And I find their journeys really uplifting.

Yes, nearly all of those I know have been through a tough transition period, many returning to their pre-children career through one or two kids, others SAHM, but all ultimately coming up with an idea they believe in. They cope with the huge stress and knocks that come with taking a risk and trying something new.  But their successes give me hope.

When I read that blog post, I felt a penny dropped.  All my life I’ve been trying to balance striving to reach my potential and satisfaction with the here and now.  I don’t have the answer, but I know I have it in me to do something different.   Parenting was a brake, but now it is a driver of my ambition – to find a fulfilling job that fits as well as possible with family and (the biggest challenge) pays what we need it to pay.

I am inspired by the amazing women I am watching take risks and push themselves to do brilliant things.  My fave five are linked below.  Help me and my other readers feel inspired: tell me, who are your fave five?


4 thoughts on “Ambition: does being a parent help or hinder?

  1. Pingback: Bad habits die hard | In This Life Mrs H

  2. Hi, interesting thoughts. I’ve been thinking about this a little as I had to knock back a job because I chose not to move interstate. All your observations are sound and your conclusion valid. I don’t want to cast an opinion on what you’ve chosen (even though I have a very strong opinion on it), but I will say that ambition is usually characterized by an uncompromising drive and a goal that is out of reach of 99.99% of people.
    I don’t regret my choice, as I know I’d give up my life for my child, so it seems I’ve not given up my life in a biological sense, but in a professional sense.
    Now I have to find a new me without the old ambitions. If I do, it will be akin to a resurrection.

    • Thanks for commenting Tan. Sometimes those decisions feel really tough don’t they – the black and white clash of career against family. But in some ways I found the decision to stop pushing the career easier than I expected. My daughter started school and my belief in the importance of education meant I suddenly felt there was no decision to make: I had to be able to participate in her education. Deciding to move ‘towards’ that, and not away from the challenges of juggling career & family, was a lot easier.

      I don’t regret my choice either – being there for the kids is one of those things you can’t undo if you get it wrong, and on some level I feel like the responsibility for new beings’ start in life makes that a really big deal. And actually, last year was about surviving the shift in gear from mad juggling to stay at home mum-ing, but even one year on, I find myself launching into something exciting and new professionally, but doing so around the kids. Harder in many ways, certainly way less financial reward potential, but really cool to try something new and different (setting a business up has always been an ambition of mine) that still keeps me present with the family.

      Good luck finding the new you – I’m sure you will have your resurrection!

  3. Really enjoyed this post and something I can relate to more and more. Personally my ambition to create a successful business has been become stronger since having my little one, however juggling self employment and motherhood is much more difficult than expected. It’s great to connect with you ladies who are going through this transition as well 🙂

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