Working mom holding coffee cup

Navigating the Transition to Motherhood and How To Excel in Dual Roles

The transition into motherhood marks a profound change in a woman’s life. It brings joy, of course, but also challenges—not least of which is often a struggle with personal identity.

This experience can be especially intense for high-performing women who’ve established careers in high-stakes roles… Executives or athletes, for example, who may be used to demanding schedules, public-facing responsibilities, and consistent accolades might have a difficult time with the transition to motherhood, which often feels unpredictable, isolating, and thankless.

For these new moms in particular, the pressure isn’t simply about adapting to their new role as “mom”; it’s also about reconciling this new, primary identity with the one they’ve spent years carefully and intentionally cultivating.

Is it possible to fully embrace the transition to motherhood without diminishing the value of our professional lives?

What does it mean to be a working mom and a high performer, anyway? 


Understand the Unique Challenge of High-Performing Working Moms

Alongside very real physical changes, the transition to motherhood poses emotional and psychological challenges that may feel unique or especially isolating for women who are used to being high performers.

These might look like:

  • An identity shift. Transitioning into motherhood can feel like suddenly adopting a brand new identity that supersedes our existing and well-established persona—one we’ve worked hard to cultivate over the years. While we can certainly be working moms who maintain professional identities, it can feel like a sudden and overwhelming shift.
  • Loss of control. High achievers are used to achieving their outcomes through effort and skill. Parenting, on the other hand, is wildly unpredictable—it comes with irregular schedules and last-minute needs. It can feel like a stark contrast to our professional environments.
  • External pressure. There’s a cultural expectation for working moms to quickly return to their pre-pregnancy state, physically and with regard to former responsibilities. For athletes, executives, and other high performers, these expectations may be amplified within high-stakes roles.
  • Social isolation. New moms often experience a lack of social support, but for women in high-performing professional roles, it might seem like a starker contrast; while our identities seem to hang in the balance, we’re watching our coworkers and friends continue to perform at lightning speed. This can result in feelings of loneliness.

These challenges can feel insurmountable, leading to anxiety or depression. If we can recognize them sooner, we can better seek the support and structure we need to thrive.


Social Narratives and the Internal Struggle

We know there’s no such thing as “having it all”—not in the traditional sense, anyway. But we can find harmony amidst our competing roles and achieve happiness and success both personally and professionally.

The world doesn’t typically give us the road map, however, and so working moms often experience an internal struggle. For high-performers who have poured quite a bit into their professional identities, that struggle is magnified—it becomes a significant tug-of-war between professional aspirations and parental ones.

In the transition to motherhood, working moms may worry they aren’t providing enough for their child’s emotional and development needs. Most Americans have access to minimal parental leave time, leaving them wondering if their children are suffering because of their lack of physical or emotional presence. There’s often anxiety over not being an “ideal” parent, omnipresent and creating daily experiences for their kids that could rival any aesthetic Instagram mom content.

Professionally, working moms are faced with the fear of the very real “motherhood wage penalty1 and wondering if they’re falling behind their peers in terms of success and momentum. Are they unable to deliver fully in their roles or take advantage of opportunities for advancement?

These doubts become a stressful balancing act wherein working moms feel they must constantly choose between furthering their careers or being present for their children and families.

But there’s good news—research shows that not only do children have better long-term outcomes themselves when they’re raised by working moms2, but studies have also shown that it’s completely possible for women in the workforce to remain productive after the transition to motherhood.3

After all, working moms have had to learn to hone their management skills pretty effectively by balancing dual roles. They’re typically highly efficient and experienced problem solvers. And they’re passing those skills along to their kids!


Managing the Transition to Motherhood as a High-Performing Professional

Societal narratives don’t always reflect reality, and it can be difficult to remember what the studies say in the face of critical social media posts, for instance, and the very struggles of harmonizing work and home life.

So navigating the dual demands of a high-performance career alongside motherhood will require effective strategies that keep you showing up in the spaces you truly value. Here are some hands-on ways to find balance:


Set Realistic Goals

It’s perfectly okay—some might say necessary—to adjust what “success” means for you in different seasons of life. If you’ve chosen working motherhood, then maybe a successful week looks like simply completing a project “well enough” and making sure your child has enough snacks for their lunchbox, rather than topping your previous performance metrics and answering every single email within an hour.

Consider implementing flexible working hours or adjusting deadlines to better fit your new routines. And be careful to protect your time—say no to projects that are outside your scope or meetings that offer little value. These will help you set and meet goals that are realistic within your current season.


Build Your Support Network

Don’t try to do it all by yourself! Lean on friends and family, take advantage of any benefits your employer might offer, and bring in professionals where useful. Join groups of other working moms who’ve experienced the transition to motherhood and understand what you’re going through.

If it gets overwhelming, don’t hesitate to consult with a clinical psychologist experienced in maternal mental health for high performers. They can help you manage this transition and guide you through the process of adjusting to your new reality.


Maintain Your Personal Identity

The transition to motherhood will undoubtedly involve a shift in your identity—this is unavoidable. But it’s important to keep in touch with the things that make you you! Schedule in self-care and social dates the same way you’d commit to important work meetings; carve out time weekly for activities that can help keep you grounded, whether that’s physical exercise, creative pursuits, or coffee dates with friends.


Ask For What You Need

Communicate openly with your partner, family, and friends. Do the same with your boss and coworkers. If you’re stretched too thin, say so—and bring suggestions for redistributing responsibilities to keep the trains running (and your mental health thriving!).

We often fear that being open about our limitations is a sign of weakness. In reality, it shows strength, foresight, and a commitment to success. A team approach is most effective both in the workplace and at home.


Balance and Harmony are Possible

The transition to motherhood is an enormous adjustment for anyone, but high-performing working moms face unique challenges. Finding balance and harmony amongst these dual roles is not only possible but accessible!


If you’re struggling, a clinical psychologist can help you find a path that works—a way forward that brings the fulfillment and success you’re looking for for both you and your family. Get in touch with AWP’s team today!



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