Too many times I have been out socially with women and have heard "I am only a stay at home mom" in response to the question "What do you do?" I am baffled at the frequency of the response and often ask, "What do you mean by only?" The responses have included, "Well, I don't work", "I don't do anything exciting," "I don't have a career." But I still do not know what "only" means. More importantly, I hear an underlying tone that depicts a sense that their work, their contribution in the world, is not meaningful or important.
I was excited to see the acronym SAHM (stay at home mom) in recent parenting blogs. SAHM has a trendy, hip connotation that is playful and depicts an image that is definitely not unimportant. For purposes of this blog, I am focusing on the SAHM -- excuse me men because I want to acknowledge that you too are parents.
Women have been socialized to believe that child rearing is not powerful. I beg to differ. Maybe we have to step back and think about the definition of power. What is power? There are definitive gender differences in how people define power, own their power and exercise it (as will be showcased in my book about women and power). When women speak about power they generally pause and are reticent to acknowledge how much power they really have -- maybe because they do not recognize themselves as powerful or fear the backlash of being powerful. However, if we were to dissect the aspects of power, what pieces lay before us? Power consists of creating impact, shaping and influencing others, making tough decisions even if unpopular, getting things done no matter what the obstacles, managing adversity, and having people defer to you for guidance and expertise.
Looking at this definition, how can anyone argue that parenting is not powerful? Unless the parent themselves is not ready to view themselves as having power. In speaking about power, I do not mean the ability to control your children -- that is an entirely different blog. Controlling someone is not powerful at all -- or not sustainable power-power will eventually decrease. All one has to do is look at our current economy and the leaders who have gotten us to this point and enough is said.
Powerful parenting involves the influence and shaping of others. The development of our children, at the very core, is in our hands. Yes, it is shaped by teachers, peers and society, but, powerful parents navigate their children through the labyrinth of life. Actively, we facilitate development through teaching, exposure to a spectrum of experiences, caring for them and instilling values and morals. Inadvertently, we are role models that showcase the behaviors and beliefs that we are imprinting on our children. We are constantly under the magnifying glass. If we think we are not, we are highly mistaken. Our children watch us like a hawk. They see first hand how we solve problems, treat other people, and deal with fear, sadness and every other emotion in our repertoire. They watch to see how we take accountability for our actions, how we pick ourselves up after we have fallen and how we accept or don't accept our imperfections. A huge lesson for all is that nobody is perfect. Just ask Hannah Montana, she even sings about it. (Yes I have an 8 year old daughter).
The impact parents have in our society is huge. Parents, recognize that you are raising and cultivating future generations. Do not underestimate the power that you have in our world, especially right now. Ask yourselves what would you like this future generation to be equipped with as they shape and reinvent our society. What tools will they need to be successful-and by successful I do not mean financially. What legacy do you want to leave as a parent? I have recently started asking myself these questions. Interesting enough, the more I thought about it, the more I became aware of it unfolding before my very eyes. When my 11 year old boy tells me that he feels like he is the driver of his car (meaning his life) and I am the navigating system, I stop and say, "That's the legacy I want to leave behind." When he refers to other parents as the "front seat driver" and their children, his friends, "sitting there in the back seat," I ask when did he become so insightful and prophetic. Did I facilitate that? I hope so!
Mothers, take a good look at what you accomplish daily. The creative solutions you come up with in a moment, how you extinguish small and large crises a few times a day, the impact you have on your child's well being, your ability to multi task, the flexibility you have to move from one unrelated activity to the next, the amount of time you spend setting clear limits-even though you are deemed the "mean mommy" and the numerous decisions you make without a blink of an eye. Observe your children and how they have developed, what they have learned and the questions they pose. Now that you have read my definition of power create your own. Then ask yourself, "How powerful am I?" I look forward to hearing your responses.
As a working mom who develops powerful leaders, I believe that women who are stay at home mothers have the ability to be just as powerful as a CEO of any organization. We are moving into an era where meaning and purpose will be critical facets of life. Our society had forgotten that for a decade and look where we have landed. As money becomes less valuable in this recession, it is time to build a new type of portfolio. As I encourage leaders of organizations to innovate and challenge the status quo, I will propose to you, the SAHMs, to evaluate your leadership style, values, vision and identity. Think about how this affects your team-your children-and the crucial element that underlies any form of leadership-the relationship.
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