How Parenthood Can Improve Career Performance

TendLab is an incubator and an instigator, convening the people who want to create better futures for working parents. They recognize the power and potential of parents at work, and they are galvanizing the leaders of the movement to build an emerging future that works for everyone.

Amy Henderson, one of the founders of TendLab, began a journey to educate companies about the critical value of building parent-friendly work cultures! With research and data-backed programs they worked to appeal to employees at all levels using neuroscience and behavioral psychology to show how parenting makes us stronger at work.

Amy has developed a nuanced and deeply informed perspective on the challenges and opportunities parenthood brings into the workplace, and why we should embrace a future that supports working families.

The information below was provided by TendLab.

The Five Skills Parenthood Unlocks

  1. Growth Mindset
  2. Emotional Intelligence
  3. Courage
  4. Capacity to Collaborate
  5. Purposeful Action

Growth Mindset

The greatest potential for plasticity in the adult human brain is during the postpartum period, starting from pregnancy for women and up to the first year of a child’s life in mothers and in engaged fathers.”
–Dr. Ruth Feldman, a Neuroscientist at Yale School of Medicine& Center for Developmental, Social, and Relationship Neuroscience at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel

Neuroscientist Ruth Feldman encourages the parents in her lab to take their full parental leave, because she says: “The relationship an engaged parent develops with their baby will enhance their ability to think out of the box and to contribute to our
work. Many of today’s workplaces require a brain that can take the skill that it has and adapt it to new contexts, new conditions, new windows of opportunity: The best employees don’t necessarily have knowledge or specific information, but plasticity and malleability in acquiring new knowledge, adapting knowledge to new contexts, and integrating new perspectives.”

Emotional Intelligence

According to Yale School of Medicine Neuroscientist Ruth Feldman, engaged parents are likely to develop an enhanced capacity to:
a. anchor feelings in the present moment
b. resonate with others’ pain and emotions
c. simulate others’ goals and actions in one’s own brain
d. and collaborate well with others

“You can’t fire your kids, so you must grow and evolve as a person to adapt to their needs and wants. As a result, parenthood has increased my capacity to nurture the best in others, a skill I strive to integrate into our company.”
– Amy Pressman, the president of Medallia, a1,000-employee company she co-founded with her husband while raising three small children.


Since becoming a mom, I no longer tolerate when a coder does a half-ass job and then fights when I tell him that I’m not going to merge his code into the system. Before, I would hesitate and worry about it escalating into a team conflict. Now, I’m not afraid to take a stand and say no.” When asked if it was just experience that allowed her to be more assertive with her colleagues, she replied: “No. Because my daughter is a higher priority to me than my work, I now glean more of my value from my role as a mom, and whether I’m doing right by her. And this has actually made me much better at my job..”
– A senior level computer programmer who has hired and managed the teams at several successful tech start-ups

Oxytocin is one of the main hormones involved in parenting. It’s often called the “love hormone” because it’s released during childbirth and breastfeeding and plays a role in bonding a mom and her baby. Recent research shows that dads (even non-biological) who play a primary role in care-taking can produce as much oxytocin as breastfeeding birth mothers. In 2014, University of Bonn psychologist Monika Eckstein found that oxytocin is linked with reduced activity in the fear center of the brain in response to frightening stimuli. In other words, the love parents feel for their children may make them less susceptible to fear.

Capacity to Collaborate

According to research conducted by Shelley E. Taylor at UCLA, when oxytocin is present people are more likely to respond to stress with the impulse to “tend and befriend,” rather than to fight or flight.“ When it is operating during times of low stress, oxytocin physiologically rewards those who maintain good social bonds with feelings of well-being. But, Taylor’s research indicates, when it comes on board during times of high social stress or pain, it is likely to lead mothers, and engaged fathers, to seek out more and better social contacts.

“When you become a parent, it’s not doable to have everything fall on you. I quickly discovered that I couldn’t do it all myself, and I didn’t need to. Others couldn’t do it by themselves either, and I could help them. I built a network of people in my child’s life and in my work life who help me ebb and flow and be resilient.”
– Julie Miller-Phipps, the regional president for Southern California Kaiser

Purposeful Action

Liz Weisman, who had her four children while working as an executive at Oracle, said: “Holding life in your arms gives you the perspective to sort out what matters and what doesn’t. It gave me a filter to get through all of the fluff and the chaos so that I could be laser focused on what really  mattered.”

Neuroscientist Crag Kinsley of the University of Richmond found that female rats who have at least one litter exhibit less fear, have higher performances on maze tests due to better memory recall, and are up to give times more efficient in catching prey. These changes were true even for mice who didn’t actually carry and birth the litter, but who took responsibility for caring for the babies. Kinsley believes that the biological impulse to provide for one’s babies requires the brain to increase its efficiency. And these changes lasted a lifetime. “The findings almost certainly apply to humans,” Kinsley told CNN in 2003. “People share most of their genes with rats and such basic behaviors are very likely to be similar among mammals.”

A 2017 study conducted by Accenture found that women with children are just as likely as women without children to aspire to senior leadership positions and they are more likely to change jobs for a promotion or higher pay.


Vittoria Allen

Vittoria is a writer based in San Diego. A lover of good food, slow living, and a good novel, she shares her life with her husband and two daughters trying to squeeze out the beauty in every moment.