Work, Motherhood and Identity

crystal 1I am a new mother with a daughter who is only four months old. Luckily, I am still on my maternity leave from my corporate job. Being a mother, and a working mother, in China is not easy.

My boss, who is Canadian, thinks being a mother in China is much easier than in Western countries, because it is socially common to get a lot of help from your parents or hiring a nanny. That is true, but sometimes a mother can be destroyed by having too many “helpers” wanting a piece of her life.

In our generation in China, especially in Shanghai, there is often only one grandchild for a set of two grandparents, because of the one-kid policy. This policy just changed after 2013, and now some of the couples are allowed to have two kids; but usually two sets of grandparents only have one grandchild. So, between grandparents, parents, and a nanny, usually six to seven people will surround one kid to take care of him or her.

Is this kind of intense attention really necessary or helpful for a mother? My answer is NO. I have seen so many friends who are so devastated that they need solve all kinds of arguments with their parents regarding how to raise the baby. This dilemma is a unique challenge of being a working mother in China.

Despite the difficulty of navigating my new life as a mother, I want to make very good use of my six-month maternity leave. So, I decided to start my own jewelry studio. Collecting jewelry and gemstones has always been a hobby of mine, and I now want to commercialize my interest with a small business project. I used the first one to two months to understand and access the upstream of the value chain – gemstone suppliers. Leveraging my existing relationships and connections in the area, I started the business quite quickly. Now, I enjoy working at home for my small jewelry business and at the same time spending time with my sweet baby girl.

Learning to navigate what success means for me in motherhood and while on maternity leave, I have defined two rules for myself:

crystal 21. Don’t follow the other people. Don’t do what the other people do.

My husband and I decided to do something different. We hired a nanny and that’s all we need. Grandparents are a welcomed for visit once every week. Luckily, our method turned out to be a right decision. My daughter is not spoiled, she is a very happy and disciplined baby. She has slept all through the night, from 9:00 pm to 7:00 am, since she turned two months old. And surprisingly, I have a lot of spare time during my maternity leave.

2. Never give up on yourself.

I have seen some of my friends starting to put 100% of their attention and time on the baby. The only consequence I can imagine is that that will give the kids too much pressure to be successful. Also, the mother will be a failure, because the mother will have given up on all her own dreams and focused only on a dream of their kids’ success. Having a kid is to complete my life, but not to occupy my whole life.

“I have learned to define success for myself. I urge you to do the same for yourselves, whatever your positions in life.”

From a normal girl, to an assistant in a giant corporate in the world, to an Associate Director in the largest professional firm in the world, and now also a part-time owner of a small jewelry studio and a mom, I have learned to define success for myself. I urge you to do the same for yourselves, whatever your positions in life.

Crystal is one of the hundreds of successful women around the world featured in Rania’s book UNDETERRED: The Six Success Habits of Women in Emerging Economies. Read more about her career path on The Way Women Work: Getting to the Top: Career Advice from a Chinese Businesswoman.