Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Children Versus Career

So I had breakfast with Mark Bouris last month. No biggie. He’s only the thinking the woman’s poster boy with a presence that heats up a room the moment he walks in. Articulate, charming, incredibly handsome, humble, powerful and success in spades. And he’s funny. He may well be my soul mate and having breakfast with him was certainly a highlight of my year so far.

I laughed and listened and learned and flirted outrageously. Tilting my head to the side when he looked at me and flicking my hair as I nodded to let him know that I ‘got’ him. There were moments that I felt we connected on a subliminal level… if only I could be sure that he was actually looking at me and not one of the other 350 women in the room

But of course he was.

And it was when he was looking only at me that I took in the message that he was trying to make me understand. Greed is good. No, wait… that wasn’t him. The message, I think, was that if you want to be a full-blown, screaming success that there is no easy way to do it. It involves LOTS of hours of work. If you want the top job then you need to be prepared to work the hours that the position dictates. This is very important [because he said it multiple times].  He said, he doesn’t choose the hours he needs to work. His position, or the job, does. His position at the head of a global empire dictates that he works approximately 16 hours per day. He said if you want to only work 8 hours a day, you need to find a job that allows for that. And I nodded. Emphatically. Because it makes so much sense. Everything he said made sense. His observation that there are three virtues required to succeed 1) Empathy, 2) Work Ethic – broken into 3 parts – endurance, fortitude, courage and 3) Accountability. Yes, yes and yes!! So much sense. And then his further observation that women have all these in spades, largely due to our inherent ability of being mindful. I was practically fist pumping the air as I bought into it all. I’m a hard worker. I’m empathetic. I’m courageous and strong and can endure. I own my failures as earnestly as I do my successes. My mind wandered as I imagined running my own global empire. Or at least a local empire. And then the penny dropped.

I’m a mother.

So how the fuck does this apply to me? In my 24 hour day, where can I find 16 hours to work in my, albeit imaginary, high-powered role? I have 6 hours a day without the kids while they’re at school. For me to work 16 hours, someone else would need to look after my kids. And cook for them. And attend their school meetings and performances... and so on.

How can I lean in when they’re leaning on me?

I’m not complaining. I chose to have children and I chose to forfeit my career to raise them. I am happy with the choice I made. I’m just pissed off at the constant implication that women can have it all and I’m pissed off at what ‘having it all’ is supposed to be.

For me, I think ‘having it all’ means having choices. And it means knowing what will fill your cup.

When I was younger and kicking around with my best friend we used to laugh at how different we were, though exactly the same. As is usually the case with your bestie. We loved all the same stuff and admired all the same great leaders. It’s just that I would fantasise about marrying them and she would fantasise about being them. Before we even understood what that meant, our hearts were hinting at what they desired. And my heart’s desire is to be a mum. That’s the job that has filled my cup for the past 9 years. And the hours that job dictates cannot be contained in a 40 hour work week. Or even an 80 hour work week.

So I guess I won’t be applying for the next season of The Apprentice… or running a global empire any time soon.

Though I’d give it a go just for the opportunity to be fired…

Friday, 18 April 2014

Letting Go

Just before they walked out the back door, I reminded them of the rules.

  • Stay on the footpath.
  • Do not cross the road.
  • DO NOT separate under any circumstances.
  • If you see a stranger you may say hello and be polite but you are not to go anywhere with them. Not to their car. Not to see their dog. Not to their house. Not around the corner. Nowhere. If they ask you more than once – run back home. Screaming.
  • If one of you gets hurt the other must drag you back home. Screaming. DO NOT separate.
  • Do not go into anyone’s house. Not even their front yard. Not even if another child invites you in. Not even if they look friendly. Especially not if they try to convince you that your mum won’t mind. I will mind and you can tell them that. Then run back home. Screaming.
  • Have each other’s back.
  • Be sensible.
  • Enjoy yourself.

“Yes Mum” they chimed, earnestly. And then, once they understood that the lesson was over, they bolted for the front gate and disappeared down the road. At the ages of 6 and nearly 9, it was the first time they were allowed to walk to the end of the street unsupervised. I gave them a bit of a head start and then surreptitiously peeked my head around the corner to watch them, briefly, saunter down the road. Even from my rear vantage point I could see a new attitude in their gait. A confidence almost busting out of them as they chatted to each other, walking along. I resisted the urge to watch them the whole way, as I understood that this first unaccompanied trip was as much a practice run for me as it was for them.

There was no reason that today marked the first day. The weather was fine and the boys were restless. Having spent the day amusing themselves while I worked, I just had the urge to loosen the apron strings a little. On the weekend, we spent the day at a city park and the playground that they wanted to play in was largely out of sight from where we were sitting. So naturally my first instinct was to only allow them to go if I could see them at all times. And naturally that lasted about 2.5 minutes. I didn’t want to couldn’t stay there to supervise them so we had, what was probably, our first real stranger danger talk. In hindsight, that’s probably what prompted today’s radical shift in parenting. The realisation that I’ve never really felt the need to warn my kids of external dangers because they’ve never really been exposed to them. And whilst I feel very happy and comfortable with my decisions to protect them during their young, vulnerable and formative years, I know they will never become the resilient young men that I’m planning for if they don’t start learning the important stuff really soon. They will never develop their own instincts for potential threat if they are always protected. They will never learn to navigate their own way through the world if they are not permitted to explore it for themselves.

And so the next step towards independence was taken.

With every new step, there’s a real sense of competence that I see in my boys which makes me proud. Their hunger for independence and achievement of more grown-up tasks scares me but it fascinates me too. Watching them grow physically, emotionally and mentally is exciting. Exhilarating. Exhausting.

For fuck’s sake woman, get a grip on yourself. They only walked to the end of the street!

But it is exhausting. The ‘on’ switch is always, well… on when your kids are taking the risks they need to take for them to learn and grow. Keeping them safe from all harm is certainly a lot less taxing on the heart. Giving them room to get hurt or sense danger or assess threat, in even in the mildest circumstances, puts me on high alert.

Which is why we’re starting off slow. Walking to the end of the street and back is step one. Step two will be around the block. Step three will be to the local playground. 

And by then they’ll be 18 so they can take a six pack of beers with them.