What Does it Mean to Mother?
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
It's the month reserved for mothers and as the day approaches I am reflecting on how differently I feel about it today, than I did on my first Mother's Day 10 years ago.
Then, I felt a mix of pride and delight that I'd made it through my first six months as a mother. I was also secretly glad that I had an excuse to ask for a day off -- I was looking forward to a few hours by myself to read a book, get a massage, go shopping. To be honest, I just wanted to be alone. Those early months of motherhood imprint so firmly on your brain and on your heart that your life will never be yours alone again and you will always be so vulnerable. For an independent, career woman like me, that thought was more than a little terrifying.
Ten years later I'm still terrified, for now I have three people who, as the writer Carson McCullers so eloquently said, are the "We of Me." When I allow myself to imagine the dangers of the world descending on my children, hot tears spring to my eyes and the hollow where my heart floats in my chest is filled with icy cold fear.
When you are on the brink of motherhood, no one tells you about this feeling of vulnerability, because it is so deep and so sharp and so raw; who would want to verbalize it? So, you find out on your own when you are holding your baby and marveling at her perfection and you realize you are helpless because you cannot protect her from everything. For a mother, that is the definition of vulnerability.
While the feeling is always with me, time and experience have made it manageable so that this year I do not have the need to take a break from my responsibility. Now, I also know better than to wait for a once-a-year holiday to take a time out when I need it. This year, I am using the holiday that honors my primary job to reflect on what I do and how I do it. What does mothering mean to me? Is it more than just the role I have with my children? What has mothering brought to my role as a manager and mentor?
I think the parallels between the skills I use at work and those I employ at home are staggering. In both places, I learn so much that I can bring to the other job. Over the past two years, my office has experienced a baby boom, with more than a dozen babies born (including my third child) to our staff. While there are a few fathers in the bunch, the majority of new parents are mothers, learning to balance the need for work with their primal urge to literally be attached at the hip with their babies. I understand their desire because I've been there. I listen when they tell me of their excitement about returning to work and the ache that won't leave when they realize they can't bring their baby with them. I try to be understanding of their needs during the early days back in the office. I was that fragile once and the compassion I was afforded by my supervisors, who didn't even have kids, left a lasting impression.
My experience having a son with a unique perspective on the world brought an unexpected benefit to my business life. During the months I spent researching children with special needs, I learned that many adults exhibit the "grown-up" versions of behaviors these kids experience, especially if these adults were never diagnosed or treated as children. This knowledge has allowed me to have a little more patience when working with challenging personalities in the workplace.
What I bring to work from home is an unparalleled ability to multitask. There is no one better at multi-tasking than a mother. Who else holds titles as diverse as short-order cook, team mom, homework tutor, event planner, domestic, nurse and nurturer, sometimes all in the same day?
Compared to home, managing multiple personalities and projects at work is a walk in the park. No one will ask you to cut the crusts off of their sandwiches, peel their grapes and pull all of the nuts out of a banana nut muffin. You don't have to hold sticky hands, nor tolerate tamper tantrums (or at least not extended ones).
While each job provides experiences that influence the other, there are some basic tenets of mothering and managing that transcend whether you're working at home or at the office: respect, compassion, leadership and adaptability.
Successfully employing these can mean the difference between being seen as a boss or a mentor by your staff. For children, they are even more important. When you lead with compassion, adapt to their needs and respect their individuality, you are modeling the behavior you want to see in them. As a mother, I know there is no better person than me for this role. This Mother's Day, I will assess my ability to guide my children so as they move beyond my daily care, they take with them the ability to lead others with reverence. I know I can't protect them from all that is negative; this vulnerability is part of being a mother. But, I can prepare them to be a positive example for others to follow.
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