10 Mothers on What They Got Better at After Having Kids

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It’s no secret that having kids is hard work: There’s plenty of evidence of the ways that women’s lives become more challenging once they have kids, from shouldering the majority of domestic labor and child care responsibilities to facing judgement and discrimination in the workplace. But apart from platitudes about meaning and fulfillment, it’s far rarer to hear about the ways women’s lives might get easier when they become moms. In what ways have kids helped them improve?

The Cut asked 10 women what they think they’ve gotten better at since having children. Read their answers below.

“I got better at saying ‘no.’”
Before I had kids, my impulse was always to say yes to everything, whether it was a project, an invitation to get drinks, or a favor for a friend. It was hard for me to learn to say no when I needed to, and to speak directly about my own needs. After having kids I gradually realized that not only do I have less time, I don’t have the energy that I used to. I think I also got a little more used to being a voice of authority. As a freelancer, it can be hard to maintain boundaries with work, and I think it’s actually been beneficial to cut out projects where I would have previously said, “I’ll just hurry and do it.” For example, I used to do a lot of work with big cosmetic brands, which tends to be less interesting, but the money is decent, and it’s not hard to do. Last year I finally decided I was going to say no to these projects. I wanted to open my schedule up for more of the work that I really wanted to do, and I was going to be more assertive about going after those things. That ended up being more creatively fulfilling, and has led to some better professional opportunities. I don’t think I realized how much energy and time the work that I was used to taking automatically was taking away from the things that were actually better for my career. — Linsey Laidlaw, Art Director/Graphic Designer

“It’s helped me see the long view.”
I’ve never been a patient person. I’m pretty fiery, and I tend to move at warp speed. The repetitive nature of what goes on with kids can be really trying, and it teaches you to slow down and focus. You have to try things over and over again, like, “You’ve got to eat these peas, you’ve got to eat these peas.”

In the day-to-day work that I do, there is very little immediate reward and gratification. The successes that I do see are very small. When you’re working on a terrible global crisis in Iraq or Syria or Somalia, they’re not going to be fixed overnight, so the little bit that you do now is an investment for later. In a twisted sense, it’s sort of the same thing with your kids — what you’re putting in now is meaningful and important in its own right, but it will also pay dividends down the road. It’s helped me see the long view. — Sarah Margon, Director at Human Rights Watch

“I stopped second-guessing myself all the time.”
Once you have kids, you have to be more efficient with the time that you have — which means I no longer have the luxury to sit back and overthink things. If you’re in a creative field, you no longer have time to second-guess your decisions or your output. You just have to make what you make in the time that you have, and trust yourself. Now, when I get a job, I do it as quickly as possible, because there’s always something else in the pipeline. I find that with the kind of work that I do — watercolor illustration — working quickly actually produces a more fluid, interesting result. There’s more spontaneity, so it winds up being a little better than if I’m second-guessing myself the whole time. — Samantha Hahn, Illustrator

 “I’m more comfortable being alone.”
I’ve gotten more comfortable being alone. I used to be incredibly social. I would always be out and going places. Now, I’m a single parent, so I’m home, and basically after 8:30, I’m living by myself. That sounds sad, but now I relish my time alone. I used to have a total fear of missing out — I would feel sad if I wasn’t invited to a dinner, or didn’t go to an opening. Now I’m much more Zen about it. — Wendy Dembo, Marketing and Temp Consultant  

“I became more aware of other points of view.”
My sense of humor is very dry, which to me is a lot of fun. A lot of my friends are British and the same way — we are all sarcastic and affectionate and kind. After I had my son, I realized that my sense of humor doesn’t always translate to the level of a 4- or 5-year-old. There were certain things he just didn’t understand. I realized that I needed to be less flip, since a lot of times he couldn’t tell whether I was being serious. I haven’t changed my humor, but it has made me more aware of who I’m speaking to and how I’m delivering it — like, who can take it, and who can’t. When you have a kid, you become more aware of other people’s points of view, because kids will tell you very strongly that their point of view is not always your point of view. If you practice that awareness on a daily basis, it affects how you deal with everything. It’s not something I’m consciously aware of every day, but I think it seeps into you. — Rymn Massand , Art Director/Graphic Designer

“I got better at letting go of petty things.”
In my late 20s, before I got pregnant, I was working at an office that was going through an intense period of interoffice turmoil. I spent hours huddled with co-workers stewing over every last shred of gossip. I was quick to take issue if I felt I had been wronged in some way. Now, I just could care less about office politics, who got the best office, who is on the ins and outs with the boss, some perceived slight or petty grievance. It's easy to interpret that as a sign I'm less emotionally invested in my work, but actually I think not caring about that stuff has improved my overall work happiness and in turn made me a better employee. The same goes for my life outside of work. I just don't have the bandwidth to stew over little slights anymore. — Genevieve Smith , Senior Editor, New York Magazine

“I’m more serious about my finances.”
Having kids has made me a lot more careful with my finances. I used to be like, “I love these shoes so much, I’ll buy them and then figure out what to do for the rest of the month.” I can’t do that anymore. I have to be more proactive. I didn’t used to keep a budget, but now I plan out the amount of money I have for month, and what I’ll need for rent, and after-school classes, and babysitting, and saving for summer camp. It’s definitely helped me keep my priorities in order — I spend less money on clothes and parties, and things like that. It’s made things a lot easier. My life is just more organized.  — Samantha Garrett, Vice-President at Karla Otto

“I learned to laugh more.”
I got better at a lot of multitasking and logistical things after becoming a mother, like I always change the toilet paper now when it's out, and I am great at making sandwiches while also delegating work tasks and applying sunscreen. But perhaps the best thing to come out of it was that I learned to love comedy more. I was way too serious before I had kids and suddenly I wanted a relief from that. I wanted to read and watch funny things all the time. I wanted funny women and men around me at work. This has improved my life. And while I could have gotten into funny stuff at any point in my life, the fact is it took kids to make me relax and laugh more.  — Stella Bugbee, Editorial Director, the Cut

“I’m more relaxed.”
I’m a person who loves to plan every single minute of the day, but when you have children, it’s just not possible. Inevitably, things aren’t going to happen the way you’ve planned, and you just have to roll with the punches. I was wound up pretty tight prior to having kids, and I think I’ve learned to be more flexible and open. I don’t sweat the details as much, and it’s made me more relaxed. I think it’s also made me more personable in my work — I connect with people more now because I’m just more open. — Joy Davis Fair, Communications Manager

“I’m better at waking up early.”
The idea of waking up at 6 a.m. used to be completely horrifying to me. It’s probably why I chose to become a writer. If it had to do it, it fucked up my whole day. Now, I’m one of those perky morning people who is like, “Oh, I have read Where the Wild Things Are eight times and gotten dressed and baked banana bread and it’s only 8 a.m.!” I feel like it’s also made me better about setting boundaries and overscheduling and getting work done within a normal time parameter. Now, instead of procrastinating and staying up all night in the office like a total weirdo, I do things during business hours like a normal person. — Jessica Pressler, Contributing Editor, New York Magazine