This afternoon, I ran across an interesting question: “If you were giving a commencement speech, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to young women who want to include motherhood in their futures?”

women at college commencement ceremony

These young women are motivated. They’re graduating college, and if they’re anything like my friends and I were, they have big dreams. Those dreams include career success, healthy relationships, and some of them want families. Part of me wants to wax cynical and say, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

But today, I’m doing exactly that. It’s taken me 15 years, but I’m enjoying career success while raising a family and working hard at keeping a healthy marriage.

This is what I would tell these young women.

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No matter what your career aspirations, motherhood changes your priorities. It adds a world of new considerations to every decision you make, from when to take a shower to how to invest your money. Every “yes” to one thing is “no” to an infinite number of other things, and nothing makes you more painfully aware of this than motherhood.

Saying yes to a business trip means saying no to your child when they beg you to stay. Saying yes to volunteering in your child’s class means saying no to taking that new project. Saying yes to motherhood means saying no to racing to the top of the corporate ladder. You can still get there, but not at the same pace and probably not by the same route.

But. Motherhood teaches the mother more than it teaches the child. You will learn creative problem solving. You will develop more empathy for bosses, colleagues, and direct reports who are also juggling work and family. You will experience the joy of watching (and helping) a baby develop into a thinking, creating, amazing human being.

This responsibility for another human being, one who is utterly dependent on you, changes all of us. Children slow us down, but they also help us see the world again for the first time. Children take us down rabbit trails we would never notice on our own, let alone explore. They stretch us, exasperate us, thrill us, and exhaust us. They sicken us with their flatulence and confront us with our impotence (you have never felt so useless as when you try to get a child to eat their vegetables, pee in a toilet, do their homework, or mow the lawn). They make us laugh with their impeccable recitations of movie one-liners.

My advice is to recognize this up front. Motherhood will take you on a career detour, but it can be an enriching detour if you let it. You may end up where you dreamed you would; you may end up in a completely different place altogether. But, as much as this goal-oriented woman hates to say it, the things you learn and experience along the way are more important and significant and valuable than reaching any specific milestone.

What would you say?