Children Are Not Career-Enders.

Let’s stop calling it a career gap. And don’t ever call my children career-enders! Taking time to raise a healthy family should be one of the proudest accomplishments of anyone’s life. It is for me. Not only should parents — and employers! — be proud that people make the decision to prioritize family, they should revel in all they’ve learned and accomplished in the time spent raising the next generation of curious minds.

Instead of a gap, I see the last five years of my life at home as giving myself and my family the gift of a better career map. Never before am I more aware of what I want out of a career: meaningful work. (It has to compete with the most rewarding job of all — motherhood.) And never before have I been as deeply committed to being an efficient and productive worker — because it’s competing with time with my family! That’s exactly why I’ve chosen a career with an easier on-off button: a freelance journalist.

Instead of a gap, I see the last five years of my life at home as giving myself and my family the gift of a better career map.

Truthfully, I’ve learned and accomplished more in the last five years since I pressed “pause” on my career than the 12 years I worked as a television producer at the world news leader, CNN. Believe it or not, raising four kids not to be terrors has taught me more about myself and the world than writing CNN’s lead story on the capture of one of the world’s worst terrorist, Osama bin Laden. And thanks to chasing those four children and meal-planning for the first time in my life, I’ve never been healthier–by 15 pounds. To explain, I have to share an unsettling story of my short-sighted career perspective before having children.

I distinctly remember being in a packed conference room full of career-minded women introducing themselves. We were a select group chosen by high-level executives as top performers on the rise, so each introduction had an air of self-importance — except for one, who broke the mold. In a room of mostly childless women, one woman introduced herself by boldly declaring she’d earned her “Mommy MBA” as a point of pride. She was beaming. A few fellow colleagues, on the other side of the room, were snickering. Just as guilty, I sat silently during the mom-bashing since I didn’t know any better at the time. Looking back, I realize now what I didn’t know then: She was the future me.

cnn-pregnant
Pregnant outside CNN with my oldest son, Kirkham. One of my last days on the job.

This hard-working mom was not only passionate about her career, she was passionate about her family. Why was this Mommy-MBA concept so ridiculous sounding to the rest of the room? Because they didn’t have one — yet!

Well, guess what? I’m earning my Mommy MBA now, too. It’s so incredibly demanding and fulfilling that I don’t expect to graduate for a few more years. I wouldn’t dare compare my paperless degree to Harvard, Wharton or Kellogg. But I’d bet more than Monopoly money that this Mommy MBA gives me much tougher skin and real-life lessons than any three-letter degree. And I’d even wager those Harvard hedge-fund grads would agree.

This is when the “rest of the room” starts snickering. Well, snicker on! I’ve got tough skin. We, moms, are judged every time we take our kids out in public and one child does the unthinkable. And from it, moms learn a lot more in anger management than anyone could ever learn at a required corporate class for frustrated employees. My pre-child self can snicker here, too, when I say show me a poopy bottom, and I’ll gladly wipe it for the next two years. Nothing is beneath me. And I mean, nothing.

Still not enough to sound degree-worthy? Well, guess what I learned by going to the grocery store for a family of six? You can easily spend double if you don’t have a budget and an organized list. Mommy MBA students manage budgets and checklists as often as a dog wags its tail. It’s just part of the everyday gig. You snickered, didn’t you? Ten years ago, I would have, too. Well, 29-year-old self, when was that last time you checked your company’s P&L statement before you asked for a promotion? Never? Sounds like you missed an opportunity to show your boss a way to eliminate the red and prove you deserve a C-suite!

This is where the “rest of the room” starts snickering. Well, snicker on! I’ve got tough skin.

For those who have yet to birth a baby (like the 32-year-old me) or those who have little or no desire to procreate (like the 22-year-old me), it’s okay if you once snickered or if this article makes you snicker. Thanks to your snickers, the collective skin of moms is that much thicker!

I’m writing this not to taunt but as a cautionary tale. Because in a room full of snickers, there’s often a young woman who falls silent, who’s questioning whether she has what it takes to be a working mom. She’s beginning to wonder if she wants the heartache of splitting her time between a career and a family. And she’s looking for mentors. I found a mentor in the Mommy MBA graduate. And I’m so glad I did because I now know what only a Mommy MBA graduate knows: While it’s empowering and wonderful for women to be career-minded, it’s easy for women to fall into the trap of being career-blinded.

I confess to having been one of those women. I didn’t see a life beyond work. I lived to work. I ate almost every meal at work. I sometimes even slept at work. I barely knew my neighbors and made little time for family or friends because all I did was work, work, work. Don’t get me wrong, I did this because I loved my work, which can be and is a beautiful thing. It’s passion. But now as a mom, the blinders are off. I’ve allowed myself the time and space to nurture the multiplicity of my passions. And I’m better because of it — not in spite of it!

While it’s empowering and wonderful for women to be career-minded, it’s easy for women to fall into the trap of being career-blinded.

So when — or if —  you’re considering whether to “get back in the game” after a leave of absence (or you’re feeling regret for leaving the game altogether), please don’t look at those months or years as a career lapse or gap. Be grateful and proud of your Mommy MBA. It’s given you a better roadmap and a clearer destiny.

And any employer or hiring manager who questions the value of a Mommy MBA, then maybe that’s not an employer you want to work for anyway. You’re always welcome to join me in the happy ranks of the self-employed.