In 2012 when I found out I was pregnant with Sienna, I knew I was going to be an awesome Mum. I’m one of the lucky few who escaped childhood with little more than a few physical scars and some very fun stories to match. I grew up in Hobart, surrounded by a retired orchard, rambling fields, sheep and more trees to climb than I had time to climb them. My parents are rad and I actually consider my siblings friends. So the whole parenting thing seemed like a wondrous adventure rather than something I was going to make a mess of.
The bit that I could never have anticipated was the whole integrating parenting into my existing life conundrum. I have always loved work, or at least found ways to love work and enjoyed a successful career pre kids. I took 14 months off work when Sienna was born and threw myself into motherhood head on. Ever the high achiever, I made sure I was showered, had eaten and ticked through a list of brain building activities every day to ensure Sienna would thrive. Sean and I got married when Sienna was 8 months old, went to Bali when she was 11 months old and took her to Italy and Paris for 5 weeks when she was 14 months old (I went back to work for a week and then took the annual leave I had accrued for honeymoon, a fun trick to keep up your sleeve).
Returning to work was hard, but not for the traditional reasons you hear of. I actually found the dynamic hardest because I realised something rather confronting: I was a better performer at work than I was at home. I was a better employee than mother, a better worker than wife, I produced higher quality outcomes in the work place than at home. I realised this in the space of a day and decided that the best thing for me to do would be to resign from work and become a better mother/wife/home lady. Thankfully my manager did not accept my resignation and suggested we experiment to find a way to make it all work for everyone. Little did she know, the real insecurity that I was facing was that it was tempting to work full-time and hide my child away in full time care as I believed that she would be taken care of better in care than at home with me. Oh hello insecurity, what are you and why are you here? You see, having my first child at 30 meant that I had lived, I had life experience, work experience, I had mastery in several skill sets and was focussing on mastery in several others… parenting, I was a novice, marriage was new to me too. The knee jerk reaction was to “stick to what I do best”, work, work and outsource the parenting bit.
Thanks to the kick up the bum to experiment with flexibility, I have been playing and creating harmony and flow since. Sienna is now nearly 4 and Stella is 1 this Sunday. I overheard someone in a cafe the other day speaking about a lady that would be returning from maternity leave “She wants all this flexibility, it’s so demanding, that may work for her but it doesn’t work for me” – being the curious provocateur I am, I simply asked “May I ask why it doesn’t work for you?”, she replied “Yes, I just need someone there, the role works better face to face”. I won’t bore you with the detail, but we have all heard these sorts of excuses and fear mindsets and the reason I share this is to pose the following question: How can we raise our children well and produce wondrous outcomes at work?
The reason I ask this particular question in this particular way is loaded with a certain level of frustration for parents in the current climate trying their best to navigate the cost of housing, childcare, increasing workloads, higher quality orientations, process overload and of course social media fuelling many people’s life performance anxiety.
Let me pose a few more questions:
What would happen if you looked at the outcome of the role rather than the location, the hours, the way you want it to be done?
What would happen if instead of being fixed with our ideas on flexibility, we were open to experimenting with mutual benefit in mind?
What would happen if organisations introduced a more holistic performance review that also looked at life performance?
There are plenty more questions I could ask, but I wanted to share something that I introduced 3 years ago that is working for me… MY Life Performance Review:
I like winning. I like receiving perfect performance appraisals and kicking goals, my personality type is probably one of the reasons performance metrics were introduced at work. I thrive on this sort of rating system. So moving from working girl to Mumma, I created a system that would allow me to motivate myself and keep myself on track. I wanted to make sure I had harmony as the goal and that I could create balance and flexibility that served my family and my ultimate life purpose. So I use this system in my head to navigate, prioritize and give myself a little pat on the back every now and then. I feel like life is more important than just my work performance you see, it is about how I behave as a human and perform as a parent and wife that counts too.
OK, so why is work on there? Well, I love work, it fuels me and it helps me express my life purpose, so does having a family and seeing them thrive. Without work, I can still express my authentic purpose, but not to the same extent. If work takes over family, then this takes me out of harmony too. I worked out that my world is in harmony when I am looking holistically, prioritising and making sure that I take the whole picture into account. This sometimes means cancelling a meeting last-minute because one of my kids is sick or just needs me. Or working at night because I need to get something done. It may mean leaving my family overnight because I have a workshop to deliver interstate or eating frozen meals for a few days while I’m delivering a project. The juggle is real and I have had to master the art of imperfection (which for a creative perfectionist is pretty tricky) – but near enough is still near and something is often better than nothing. Many people think “if its worth doing, it is worth doing well” and I agree, but I am probably more comfortable with giving things a go than most and imperfection is simply an opportunity to continuously improve and learn and grow.
The point of all of this? That day, when I nearly opted out of giving flexibility a go, because it all seemed too hard, because full-time child care would be easier (and in my irrational state ‘better for her’ than spending time with me), that day could have seen me miss out on the bigger picture, the harmony, the flow, the ultimate life purpose stuff. Contrast provides us with amazing opportunities to learn and flourish. Kids are only small for such a short time so I want to encourage parents to aim for flexibility, embrace the new you, zoom out and see that there is a bigger ecosystem to manage now and look at it through a life performance lens. Someone excelling at work at the cost of home isn’t really winning now are they? Oh and master the art of imperfection, everyone is doing it.