It’s no secret that becoming a parent, the mom kind in my case, completely changes one’s relationships, priorities, body, home, work–everything. Anthropologists have even coined the term matrescence (contraction of maternity and adolescence) to describe the radical transformation that takes place, even at a cellular level, in a woman’s life when she becomes a mother. But for some reason (media representations? the social disconnect between parents and non-parents? willful disbelief? biological blindness?), in the months leading up to becoming a first-time mom, I had no idea what to do to prepare my career for what was about to happen. This is a vital issue, particularly for freelancers, particularly for mothers (still in 2023, for all kinds of reasons), which I will definitely address more directly in a future blog post. Suffice it to say that getting back to full-time work as an independent translator has been hard fought. But in addition to the challenges of mothering a small child while also trying to rebuild, sustain, and grow an independent business, there have been some surprising benefits. As I reflect on my matrescence applied to the world of work, I can honestly say that since giving birth to my son, I have become better at my job in at least 4 important ways. And I am genuinely curious to hear about other people’s experiences. Do you think having children has had a positive impact on your professional self? And in what ways?
- PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE
As a linguist, I rely on all kinds of life experiences to get the language just right for a given text. Prior to becoming a mother, I worked on accounts for children’s brands. In the pre-child years, I had to spend extra time researching vocabulary and concepts specific to the world of early parenthood. Today, understanding the difference between a sleep sack and footed pajamas has gone beyond intellectual knowledge, it has become a part of my own story. I now know, on a deep level, what these kinds of objects mean to parents of babies, and I believe that shows through in my work. As my son grows, his interests begin to fan out beyond my own tastes and preferences. He’s becoming his own person, and as he does, he introduces me to new worlds and new experiences, all of which enrich my life and work.
For me, I think it took becoming a parent to truly realize that I was a professional. It’s not that I didn’t take my job seriously before. It’s just that now I understand how important it is to set limits, stand up for my work and the work of others in my field, and take stock of what I do. This has translated into establishing realistic deadlines that ensure I can deliver high quality work; negotiating budgets that value the time, experience, and expertise I bring to a job; taking part in more professional growth activities (continuing education, association membership); and spending time reflecting on practice (this blog is part of that!).
Reading with a child is one of life’s deeply pleasurable experiences. There’s nothing that can beat those moments cuddled up together, his tiny face engrossed in the pictures on the page. And from a linguistic perspective, children’s literature is rich with images, sounds, and plays on words. The attention to the mouth feel of words is particularly salient in this genre, much more so than in most contemporary adult literature. It’s such a wonderful daily reminder of how words sound and feel, which is important in the creation of a translation as well. Many words can say the same thing, but only some will truly pop in a given context.
Another way in which reading with my child flexes my translator muscles is the instant translation I now do of all non-English books that come into our home. This is a choice we’ve made in our bilingual family: Dad speaks with the kiddo in French and I speak with him in English. I take this decision particularly to heart since we live in a Francophone environment, so every day I work and rework (since kids love repetition) my Anglophone versions of Tchoupi, the p’tits docs series, Babar, and all the other Gallic children’s books on our bookshelves.
4. THE HUMAN TOUCH
Being a parent has become an integral part of who I am, a facet of myself that comes into dialogue with everything I do. As a professional, it has made me more empathetic, better attuned to my clients and their needs, more aware of my own strengths and limitations, and simply more human. In our society’s drive toward ever more technology, increasing isolation and social distancing, I have become more and more convinced of the importance of highlighting the human in what we do. I enjoy taking the time to discover who my clients are as people and professionals, understanding their audiences, and creating language that best reflects them.
By the way, this podcast, La Matrescence, by the French sports journalist Clementine Sarlat has been an incredible resource and inspiration for me on all things early parenthood: https://clementinesarlat.com/podcasts/la-matrescence/