What a difference a year makes!
Any mom can attest to how much your life changes over the course of 12 months when you have children. And for me, I experienced the most dramatic change when my oldest son Conor entered Kindergarten. For the first time in my life it became clear to me that my most important priority was being a mom.
Prior to that, my identity was shaped by my career. I saw myself as an executive first, and mom second (or third). This is not surprising when you think about the 20+ years of my life which were dedicated to my career. After completing my BA in psychology, I immediately got my MA and PhD in organization psychology and established my brand as a leadership and organization development executive in global fortune 100 companies. Before the age of 30 I had traveled extensively around the world, lived in France, coached numerous senior executives and built a start-up eCommerce business as the head of OD and HR during the dot-com boom. The first epiphany in my journey to “having it all” occurred the year I was turning 30. I sat in my big office, with my big title, alone, wondering if I would be 40 in the same situation with just slightly different scenery. This was a turning point in my life because what I wanted most was to be in a successful relationship, with a family. So, rather than move back to France, which was my plan at the time, I decided to stay in Southern California. And, within 2 months, I met Jim, the man I married the following year. I truly believe that things happen for a reason and that life is preparing you for that moment.
Soon thereafter when I had children, very little changed in terms of my career. I was still working very long hours, focused on delivering results, and driven to achieve. And, in some ways, even more driven than when I didn’t have children because it was by far the easiest part of my day! When I went to work, I knew exactly what I had to do to be successful and I was positively recognized for my results. In contrast, as a mother, I felt helpless, alone, and incompetent, most of the time. At the same time I realized that in order for me to be a great mom, I needed to work and focus on my career because that is what kept me fulfilled as a person (thanks to my great friend and mentor Steve). Because the needs of infants and toddlers can be met by having a loving caregiver who provides a safe and nurturing environment, even if it isn’t you, this equation worked for many years.
“Real change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing”, is a quote that everyone has heard before. The pain I experienced the year Conor entered kindergarten stemmed from feeling like a failure, in both my career and as a mom. The needs of a young school-age child are significantly different from that of a toddler. It was no longer about how much he ate or slept and whether or not he had his “poopy”. Kindergarten is a major milestone, as any mom who has been through it knows. My son Conor was now entering the world and finding his place in it and I felt like I had to “work him into my schedule” and therefore, I felt trapped. I wanted and needed to be the one by his side to guide him as he learned to read, work through interpersonal challenges and understand the world around him – not a nanny, a teacher or any other caregiver. The difficulty was that this takes time, which was the one thing I did not have nor did I feel I had any control over. After about 6 months of “trying to make it work” (and a lot of pain and suffering), I realized that I needed to make real change. And what was required was a mindset change – I had to redefine success. Rather than see myself as failing, I redefined my needs, which then became the foundation for how I defined success. I also realized that the decisions you make today are not forever, especially for working moms, you will need to adjust at every phase of your children’s development. There are trade-offs and compromises to make and because you make them does not mean you are failing or “less than”. The TRUTH is, I have made more decisions, adjustments, trade-offs, and compromises and each one has been the right decision at that time.