"Becoming a parent changes everything!"
This oft-cited phrase used to make me scoff. At worst, it used to sound like a righteous cry to discount the priorities of unknowing non-parents. Or at best, a promise of redemption or comfort measure to prepare them for a state of maturity they have yet to enjoy. Now that I have become a mother, twice, I am looking at it again.
What is the truth in this statement? A major truth in the reality of post-baby life is that we somehow have to find new work-life balance to meet the demands on our time -- but also to fulfill our basic instincts to nurture.
When a child is born, we forget that in a scenario optimal for the survival of our species, a cocktail of hormones is released by everyone involved. Mostly the new mother, but also from the baby and partner. One of the primary functions of these hormones is to bond baby to mother, mother to baby and (although less focus is placed on this one), father to baby and mother.
Starting from this point, our instincts are driving us to stick around and nurture these relationships. Especially between parent and child.
This is one level of primal connection.
But we are human, so we also have other levels of intellectual and spiritual bonding. We understand social capital. Wanting our child to succeed socially is a demonstration of this. And even when a challenging childbirth experience interrupts these flows of hormones, we are still complex enough to generate love to nurture a fierce connection to our child over time.
Our instincts make keeping our children alive a priority. For me, this means most of my time is dedicated to helping them thrive, biologically and socially. It means cultivating their health, their imaginations, their ability to communicate (in two languages, in our case). It means exposing them to what I deem the right things and steering them away from the wrong things. Scanning my daily practice looks like this: Conversing. Teaching. Storytelling. Working. Planning. Meetings. Career Morphing. Feeding. Driving (Cycling, that is). Nurturing injuries and fevers. Negotiating. Comparing. Second guessing. Relinquishing seriousness. Creating routine. Being exhausted. Cuddling. Contemplating. Releasing expectations. Recording. And repeating.
Survival for humans definitely includes nurturing your children into a social order that you as a parent deem suitable for creating future independence and access. This nurturing instinct (however different it looks from parent to parent), mean availability to time changes drastically.
We need time for nurturing, we need time for earning money, we need time to (ideally) cultivate ourselves as our own interpretation of a model figure for our children. This last one is also about what Germans call Selbstverwirklichung, or self-actualization. We need this for ourselves, but it doubly serves as something we see as a benefit to our children. A social legacy from which they can launch.
One aspect of survival is making money for feeding and providing social access. This sometimes discounts another critical aspect of survival, the need to immediately spend enough time with our children to nurture, storytell, and guide. In practical terms, to keep these work-life values in balance requires a greater understanding of resources available to make this constellation of priorities a reality.
For me, this required education. I don't mean going back to school, per se. I mean teaching myself to be resourceful in the age of the Internet. This meant exposing myself to new economic frameworks and markets that best allow new parents to fulfill our values and our instincts to provide, while developing work that is guided by our own compass. Working with ethics and personal purpose. It also means finding solutions to be more engaged in the lives of our children.
Because this time flies by.
There is a lot to consider when growing a new family. What are your values (versus your partner's), who are you surrounded by, who will be your support system, what kind of environment will allow you to thrive, how do you define family (and relationships), and how is your career vision going to fit into these definitions? Before you can figure any of these out, you have to start with knowing yourself.
Big questions emerge after children: Do I need to rethink my career? Do I need to re-evaluate the core values in my partnership? Are we in an environment that is ideal for our desired lifestyle?
Knowing that these priorities do change, I know we all need tools to restructure how we approach things as parents.
5 Keys to Making Life and Career After Baby Feel Like a More Perfect Union:
1. Know your reasons why
After having a baby, the momentum picks up so fast that it can be years before you really have time to reflect on the old and new meaning this event plays in your life. It may be something that really shifts your old priorities and values. That shift might not happen overnight, but with an accumulation of events and micro-decision making, suddenly, your old set of ethics or values have escaped you. Take some time and contemplate what your priorities are before and after becoming a parent. Why have you started a family in the first place?
Write it down. Or because I happen to be a lover of visual imagery, my favorite is to use Pinterest (#birthtobirth) to create a visual imprint of my priorities, and in the description use your words, or a stream of consciousness to elaborate.
2. Be your own boss
Recently, I suggested to a friend with adult children that I would be looking to her for advice on raising teenagers when the time came. Her response was, "You will create your own manual, like you have with everything else." This is true. However, we have to make the decision to lead our own experiences. If we believe we have to wait for permission, then we will be more often second-guessing our decision-making process. As it is in our professional lives, when we need someone else's approval to move forward, everything is in a stalemate until we have others verify our progress. It is critical to know that you are the main decision maker. If you share responsibility with someone else, then this requires a pact with that person in order to move your life project forward. Decide who is going to be the decision maker. Who is going to determine the values you live (and work) by?
3. See the bigger picture
Days can easily turn into years of hustle and routine. Before you know it, your newborn is entering school and spending fewer and fewer hours in your company. Have a broad and detailed perspective of where you want to be, what you want to experience, what your values are, who you want to be around, what emotions you want to fuel you. These are all critical to devoting your time adequately to your grander purpose. We constantly encounter a huge spectrum of parenting, work, and life models. Not having a connection to our own wider perspective makes it more likely that we will be pulled by the currents of everything we come into contact with on this journey. This leads perfectly into the next consideration.
4. Be in the right company
Even before children, we are surrounded by influences that pull us in a specific direction. Of course, this gives our life texture. Any experience is going to offer our character some interesting contours. However, if we want to live out the experience of our own vision, being specific and intentional about who we surround ourselves with can create a lot more ease, harmony and propel us forward on our path. Fulfilling that unique vision of our lives, the people we are most intimate with fuel us with compliments. And even if they are not illustrating verbally your gorgeous or genius attributes, they may be complementing your ambitions by setting their sights on their own passions. Growing alongside you with complementary values. They understand and respect where you place value. Personally, I imagine the wheel of complementary colors. It is not necessary for those in your company to do, think, and be exactly the same as you are. Their perspectives and character may be different, however they offer the perfect input to inspire you forward -- and not counteract your desires.
5. Establish practical systems
One of the treasures of my family is operating between two languages. Approaching these things through my background in Anthropology, I have always valued meeting people where they are. In their cultures. The flip side of this is that as a family, we are always far away from someone dear to us. This introduces another value: to have access to live between continents. This can be really difficult to achieve financially, so every plan around family and career has to consider that in the wider perspective we want to be able to make this happen. This is a very structural necessity. How do you put systems in place to make sure you are able to fulfill your personal and family values? For me, this means that I have to design my professional life to prioritize location independence. My work has to be universal. It also has to inspire me. Be ethical. Have a meaningful purpose. One of my main values is to provide an example of an inspired mother whose life and work are intertwined.
In old cultures, where we get the protestant work ethic, self-sacrifice was holy. In this view, we would have to quell our instinct to find leisure moments to savor time with our children, in favor of our overarching duty to work. In the Internet age, these considerations can be re-evaluated. We have at our disposal legitimate means to do meaningful work, while also fulfilling our biological and intellectual need for connection to our children and families.
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