Take your kids to work every day
Motherhood was not part of my career plan.
I was a idealistic, badass, career-focused gal. I worked my way through undergrad, took jobs to learn about sales and marketing, worked my way into Business School and exited into a brand management career with a capital “B”. A colleague of my husband’s once said “Wow, your wife has gotten into a career path well beyond her pedigree (meaning my university choices, not familial lineage).” Yeah, I was in it to win it. I was leaning in before it was a thing.
But I had married a charismatic, interested and interesting man and while we were partners in our careers, we were also leaning in to crafting a life together. We sided ourselves out of extended family holidays, deciding that we would make a life for our family of two. We vowed to and did spend quality time outside of the food-drunk holiday fests with our parents and siblings. Then we moved away from everyone to California, a place that was my first love before meeting my husband, and continued to grow together, separate from where we grew up.
After a couple of years of waking up whenever we wanted on Saturday, taking impromptu bike rides over the Golden Gate bridge and drinking er, sampling copious amounts of wine, we decided to embark on parenthood. While all the sex during the pregnancy-getting part was fun (keep in mind, this was BEFORE children), I was a confused, emotional wreck. I wanted this experience yet I was torn about what was to come for me as a person and most of all, my career.
As with most stories of uncertainy and doubt, most people experience a struggle and once over the obstacle in their way, the protagonist is changed for good. That was me and motherhood, sort of. Once the kids were born and I had eventually found a way to work and to be home, I occasionally found myself saying “I get to (insert whatever role I played)” instead of “I have to…”
I still struggled. Who was I if I wasn’t a career bad-ass? Why did I suck at breastfeeding? What if I didn’t agree with child-directed project work at preschool? Where was the neat roadmap of school, graduate, get hired, make career success, repeat? Most important, I had a daughter, who I wanted to show an example of what roles could be possible for her in her own journey into adulthood.
But I failed to find my own example. I let myself fall into what I like to call the “label maker”. Was I a mom-in-transition? A stay-at-home mom? A working-from-home mom? An on-ramp mom? In my search to define this person I had become only through the lens of work, I lost me. I felt what I contributed to the family; parenting, homemaking, support in activities and sports, hiring and managing caregivers, salary that funded vacations, was all in some way just details. When my children asked me occasionally, “Mom, what did you do today?” I would feel sort of ashamed to say I had run errands, worked out, signed up class volunteers, raised funds for a charity, walked with a friend — as if my daily life wasn’t worth showing as an example of work that I am proud.
After my husband’s career promotion resulted in a cross country move, I found myself in a new town, where I knew very few people. No one could label me as any particular type of mother or working person. I had a chance for reinvention. After some particularly lonely days, flubs in getting to know others who don’t get my sense of humor, speaking regularly to supportive girlfriends, I came to some realizations. I can choose to take my kids to the work of my every day, for me to show them lessons in how to be adults who can create fulfilling lives for themselves, by their own rules, supported by their family.
The work I do now is multi-faceted. Some I am paid for, as I recently started a direct-selling business and took on a branding project. Most of my work I am not compensated monetarily for, but I know my family could not be successful together if I didn’t do it. And, I am rewarded personally and deeply by doing all kinds of work. Who cares what label I or anyone else can put on it?
The trick for me is owning it and looking at the world as the office in which I teach my kids, grow my community and nurture my marriage. My husband can’t do this from his office 30 miles away. I get the unique option of teaching my kids by involving them in the aspects of my life that I’ve woven into a richness of learning, work and play. What is embarassing about that?
Since I am getting older and my ability to retain any self-help book information has waned, I try to focus on three things to help me wayfind through this web of labels.
First, be your worth. What I mean is, be true to who you are and know what’s important to you. I relish building relationships with people and learning new things. Sharing how I am making friends, struggling with learning the ropes of our new community, and achieving success has been eye-opening for my kids, who struggle within their new schools and new friendships. It has given us a stronger sense of togetherness while we are all at different stages of life. They are learning how to value the talents and contributions of others.
Second, empathize. I know, I know — this sounds like I’m saying “be nice” to everyone. It doesn’t. Try to be the person to ask the question that needs asking. I am especially challenged at this skill at home when the kids are arguing about something and have resorted to the Machiavellian tactics of sibling blame and half truths when someone has finally been pinched or elbowed in the stomach. Instead of giving them consequences, or writing off their whining as performance pieces, I try to ask “What is wrong, I notice you’re super upset, how can I help?” These are types of behaviors that can embody the skills of management and inclusivity. My hope is by modeling this for them, they behave this way in their own relationships. I can’t wait for them to be awesome bosses of others.
Third, be okay with imperfection. I oftentimes get stymied by not having all the answers right now. I feel as if I have to have a well-thought out plan for the next 10 years of my life or I can’t begin to entertain the next step to getting dinner on the table. Women seem particularly sabotaged by this type of behavior. Why do we have to be perfect? Can’t we just be good enough to take a step closer to a goal? Lately, I try to tell myself that imperfect action is better than perfect inaction. I’m diving in and showing my kids how to move forward toward a goal and be tenacious and brave enough to figure it out as they go.
I don’t have all the answers, and I am still learning. If I take my kids to work with me everyday, be where I live, share my life’s challenges and try to invent new ways to define what it’s about — then I’m doing what I set out to do. I am raising them to be adults who possess the skills to roll with the punches of life and set new standards and expectations for themselves — just like Mom did.