Originally published at www.linkedin.com
When I was expecting my daughter, we were overjoyed. As expectant parents, we were busy like beavers very weekend, looking for the perfect crib and the perfect first clothes, the perfect toys and carefully studied diaper options along with a million other things. We religiously went to the birthing classes too, so we could practice the whole experience as well as holding and caring for a new born (on a doll, of course). I thought I was well prepared.
I was equally determined not to let my pregnancy get in the way of my work. I have always derived pride in what I do and for some reason, it was incredibly important to continue what I had always done. Upon reflection, I think it was my way of telling myself that life would not change if I didn’t want it to and I would always be in control. That wasn’t true, of course.
The biggest gift my profession as a leadership consultant has given me, is the gift of self-awareness. Observing human behavior for a living, makes it almost impossible, not to observe yourself as well. In hindsight, I realize that the important thing I took for granted was me- my head and my heart. I was away from work for six months before going back to the job that I loved. There were a thousand moments each day when I looked forward to it and another thousand when I hated the thought of it. Below is a list of 5 things, I wish I had recognized as being very important back then.
Motherhood is a job. Yes, you might absolutely love it and maybe would not exchange it for anything else. But, like every other job, it needs time, effort, patience and there is an expectation that you will be a high performer. I fundamentally disagree with the term “going back to work” because honestly, caring for a new born is hard work- beautiful, but hard-work.
When I went back, I wanted to be on top of my game on day 1. But I realized that some days, just being able to get through day to day work, managing all the other things like doctor appointments, erupting teeth, accidents, feeding and the magnetic attraction of her smile was an achievement itself.
2. You are not a super woman. You don’t need to be one. They don’t exist except in fantasy.
There is so much pressure for new mums to manage. Everyone has an opinion on whether you should work or not, give formula instead of breast milk or not, leave your child with your help or not, are you doing your job like any other colleague, are you putting your hand up for new opportunities, are you “showing high potential” or not. Even on TV and in movies, mums are often incredibly “wonderful”-great cooks, always smiling, in control or incredibly “awful”- too busy to look at their child, focused entirely on themselves, handing packaged food to their kids etc. It is tiring. I wish, I knew back then that I could be an average mum some days, an awesome one on few others and an awful one on some too.
Even when people are kind and tell you to do what makes you happy, I felt a huge pang of guilt- was I putting my happiness, my needs ahead of my baby’s? I wish I knew then, that I had embarked on an all-consuming journey to try and turn into some sort of a super human being. I wanted to be that woman who could live on four hours sleep and manage work and home the way it always was managed and go for long walks in the park with a sleeping or playful baby. That was not how it worked. This was even though, I have an incredibly hands on and kind spouse who I knew I could reach out to immediately. Instead of trying to control everything, I wish I knew then that I could pause and enjoy that sense of adventure.
3. Guilt is another name for being a mum
This came up when I was speaking to my mother one day, recently. I was telling her how guilty I felt for so many things- leaving her for work, wanting to leave her for work, enjoying time away from her. It was an endless list. My mum gave me a piece of advice which was my biggest learning at that time. “You will always feel guilty”, she said. “No matter what you do, you will always feel like you didn’t do it right or didn’t do enough”. As a working mother herself, she told me that she felt it then and even now, she said, “I feel guilty that I am not spending enough time with you and S”(my daughter). I wish I had realized earlier that it was ok to feel this way. That came much later.
I also realized then, that this was why, I felt so defensive when someone suggested something for S. Instead of thanking them for their advice regarding S, I would snap (mentally at least) and feel the need to justify my actions. Comparisons are the worst kind of things to do. They are like tabloid news, going for the juiciest stuff- without bothering about the whole story. You don’t know others’ life story and situation and they don’t know yours. I think, comparison gives a half-baked and often incorrect picture that leads to judgement and guilt.
4. Life is not a sport.
Often, tremendous changes are explained as if they were a game of sport. We have all heard the comparison between careers and sprints or marathons. While I agree that we can learn a lot from sports, I disagree with comparing life to sports. If life was a sport, you would have rules on how it could or could not progress. There would be a referee making sure you played within the rules. Most sports, involve one group of activities. Most games get over in far shorter time frames and are fully focused on peak performance of the body and the mind. Life has no rules around what it will send our way. It is way too long to seek ‘peak performance’ all the time. That would be very tiring. It is okay to have some down time. After all, there is only one way to ‘retire’ from life!
I know the term has had a lot of criticism these days, but the good old wish to have a work life balance is in fact a wish to tend towards average. And average is not always bad. I see it as a balance when both sides of you are taken care of and feel content but no one side is more ecstatic than the other.
5. A part of me is new and I can ask for help
I figured this out as part of my coaching certification. In the process, I realized the deep need I felt to connect with who I was now- for I had changed. I also saw that the phrase of â€˜designing your lifeâ€™ is a mirage, because life is always not by design. The key thing is to focus as much as possible on what your priorities are and what you are willing to let go to get them.Â It is perfectly okay for priorities to change or remain the same.
Considering that most of us must have gone through organization transformations, I like to use that as an example. Just like when organizations go through transformation, everything feels similar yet different and new habits take time to form, being a parent is a personal transformation. New habits take time and effort. Accepting that, helps create an acceptance that things will feel similar but different and familiar but unfamiliar. Just as most organization transformations are well supported by a team to manage the project, advice etc. you too can make time for yourself, seek support and advice.
I was blessed to have a supportive team and organization behind me. My manager and colleagues were always there for me. But even then, it was hard to ask, for what would I ask for? Looking back, I now understand that what I wanted most of the time, was to just vent without or maybe just sit quietly and do nothing without feeling the guilt. I wanted to come up with my own action plans. I wanted to feel in control.
I believe we need support in these times of personal change and while most of us are aware of our surface needs (like sleep!) I think, we underestimate the impact of the magnitude of that change on our minds. These 5 things are some of my learnings from this journey as a working mum.