You want a career? No problem, go get one! Who's stopping you?
Sound familiar? These are the answers you get when sharing your frustrations as a mother looking for her way back to a productive, fulfilling, and confident life.
Everything is open to us: education, equal work opportunities, no discriminating evaluation systems. Sounds good. Now it is just up to us to make our dreams come true. It all works like clockwork… until you become a mother. I remember myself with my first child, flying across the Atlantic, so sure of my ability to retain a successful career; nothing, especially not a child, standing in my way. By the time child number three was born, I realized that, somewhere along the way, I had lost that killer instinct and motivation so crucial for success— or was I just too tired to be cognizant of their existence somewhere within me.
Going after a new endeavor, as a freelancer, a consultant, an artist or becoming a women entrepreneur, requires attention, determination, resilience and many more ingredients that have been discussed in other posts. But it also requires time: the time to conceive of a vision, to plan, to find collaborators and to act. But at the same time, it is as if there is a voice in your head saying: "Hey, but remember, there are no concessions! No concessions from all your other obligations," as a mother, a wife, or even a friend.
Let's start with the easy one: friends. It is rare to find a friendship that endures without conscious engagement and effort. So, if you are looking to take a few months or years to redirect your attention, you must be willing to pay the price. Your social connections will have to suffer. Relationships are, of course, based on give-and-take and the result of "not being there" for a friend, whether conscious or subconscious, means you sacrifice your friendship. In I love Journeys I discussed the circles of friendships and connections we develop. In my experience, once we appreciate our time limitations, especially as mothers (as discussed in Coping with a Daily Mother Routine), the process of distilling time requires us to differentiate between those genuinely valuable friendships and those which can be put on hold or even discarded.
The harder one is your partner. If you are lucky, you'll have a supportive husband. If you're less fortunate, you have an opponent. It is safe to assume these days that most men understand women's ability to contribute to the running of a household by earning a living. The need for self-expression and self-fulfillment is, however, less of a given. In All or Nothing Marriage I present a study that explains the changes in people’s expectations of a good marriage. It isn't easy to get the support of a partner who, as a consequence of your need to fulfill yourself, has to pay the price either by helping out more at home, assuming equal responsibility for the home, or working harder as the sole provider.
And now the toughest one: the children. How are we supposed to have the energy left to do anything when we are thinking not only for ourselves but for each of our kids as well? What will they wear, eat and practice? Who will they meet, what will they do, and what will they become? Homework, private lessons, hobbies, after-school activities, meeting up with friends. Not to mention the moral support and bonding which is crucial for a child’s development: discussing, advising, consulting, educating, caring, loving, and dreaming. This part of us women is something we cannot simply put on hold, take a break and then pick up from where we left off. It is very hard to grasp that all periods of childhood—the early years, pre-teens and teens—are highly critical for our children’s development, in order to build their strength and self-assurance. These are times and opportunities that will never repeat themselves; lost time will never come back. And I am sure our children will have their own say on our absences or limited attention when the day comes and they speak their minds.
Should there be any energy left? Aren't we expecting the impossible? No concessions, no exemptions, no free meals. It all boils down to hard, hard work.
For me, finding that extra time became my ultimate task. Being conscious of the scarcity of time was the first step; a no-brainer when you are single, unemployed, or free of parenting obligations. Becoming as efficient as possible turned out to be even more demanding. But efficiency wasn’t enough. I had to give up some of my daily habits: less sleep, no entertaining, reduced coffee breaks and phone chats with friends.
I wish I could say this is my story alone. But I see it all around. This struggle represents the lives of most modern women. Each tries to "manage" it her own way; some by giving up, just to wake up one day feeling miserable. Others find themselves developing a successful and demanding career while their partner elects to be the one who stays home. And there are those couples who both maintain a career and manage their parenting from a distance.
None of this is what I wish for myself. I admit that I kind of want it all: I want to be an involved parent, I want to have an impact on my daughters’ daily lives, values and childhood. I have no desire to miss out on this opportunity and blessed privilege. Having to make a choice is problematic for both men and women; each should be happy with the balance they find but understand the need to do their best, not only in shaping their children’s development but also in helping their partner to achieve their goals. A frustrated parent—be it mother or father—is, without doubt, a bad parent.
So, I guess there is no magic solution. Major progress will be when we, and our male partners, understand that our right to self-fulfillment—and not necessarily just through motherhood—is equal to men’s.
Like with other challenges, success lies in the ability to get into the right mind-set, with self-discipline playing a major role. Without a very firm inner set of rules, the whole challenge will be no more than a house of cards. And getting as much help as possible is key. For me the winning formula was working part-time, earning just enough to cover the costs of help with the housework and with the girls. I found it difficult to give up my day job entirely and concentrate solely on starting my own business. If you happen to be unemployed and ready for your own thing then that shouldn’t be your problem, but for me, it was easier to juggle between responsibilities and tasks than focus on entrepreneurial activities which require time, patience and resilience in the face of insecurity, challenges and defeat. So, working part-time has allowed a smoother transition period between a familiar environment to one that is new and full of uncertainties.
At times, it becomes difficult to hold back and convince yourself to calm down, be patient, and not just chase after your dream. I am the last person to persuade someone to be cautious and careful when it is strong beliefs that drives the momentum, but change requires time and innovation entails patience, especially if you are a juggling mother. And with all that said, there will come a time when That Inner Urge is so ready To Be Seen that there will be no other choice but to jump on The Road to Freedom, and Hope for the best.