Many parents make sacrifices when they become pregnant. Our priorities change and we get scared to take risks in case our irresponsible behaviors take something away from our child’s future.
It is universally common to see parents put their dreams on hold. Not surprising given that it is in our natural instinct to protect our babies. But sometimes what is in our best interest may also be in their best interest as well.
I can speak from the perspective of a daughter whose mother was always busy with her career and that of a mum who almost gave up her entire career for her daughters.
What I learned from my mother
My mother was an overachiever. She led a department within a private company that provided the government education consulting improving the public school system. She would also travel to do lectures at various universities. My dad worked for a semiconductor firm which made him travel to Europe and North America almost once a month.
Growing up with parents who consciously decided not to deprioritize their careers (they had discussed this when they got married) meant that they had to rely on teachers and nannies to watch over me most days. When I was younger, I would throw tantrums such as refusing to eat lunch unless my mom or dad came home to eat with me.
Not understanding why they weren’t around, I can’t say the younger me didn’t feel any resentment and jealousy when I saw my friends’ parents picking them up from school every day. But it also gave me motivation and drive to find my passion and be successful to follow in their footsteps. It just took me time to realize that it came from watching them.
What I learned from being a mother
Once I became pregnant with my first daughter Lisa, all that ambition temporarily went out the window. I did not want to spend one second away from her and thought hard about being a stay-at-home mum even though I was working so hard on building my own business.
My partner and I had a long conversation about it. He was supportive of my decision but asked me to consider carefully, not based on capricious emotions (and boy they were capricious indeed!) I was feeling immediately after the birth of my first child.
It was unexpected but my initial protective instinct told me I should be watching her 24/7. I also didn’t want to feel any more Sunday blues about work now that I had someone so much more important than myself.
In reality though, the Sunday blues and work-related anxieties I often felt was not because working was bad for me as a parent; it was because I wasn’t following the career of my own choice because of fear.
What I learned from my mother about being a mum
Soon after my parents found out about my decision, they were surprised but wanted to reassure me that they weren’t disappointed or opposed. And my mum wanted to better understand why I thought this extreme decision to give up my whole career was necessary.
During the unusually deep conversation, I posed the question to her, “Why did you never consider this as an option?” She paused for a long while, then said, “Because our decision to prioritizing excelling in our careers was just as much for you as it was for us. And I don’t mean because of money.”
As much as I don’t blame her for the path she’s chosen, I couldn’t grasp how that was a conscious parenting strategy. How was her working on her paper on a Sunday night for me? I was puzzled.
She went on to explain that she didn’t want to be a role model for me in a one dimensional sense. She didn’t want me to only know her as a mum. She wanted me to see all the different sides of her and hopefully learn from each to push myself harder to continuously improve. And this in turn also motivated her to become a better version of herself each day. My dad and mum still work because they weren’t waiting until retirement or their kids becoming independent to live their lives. They made sure that my brother and I grew up watching them test their abilities in the real world and live their lives to the fullest, which to them meant following their professional goals. This was not an easy commitment to maintain. Every time I was in trouble or was acting out, my mom said that she questioned her own choices and doubted herself.
“There is no right or wrong decision here. Just don’t want you to think it has to be your goals vs. family. It’s not a zero-sum game,” advised my mum before leaving me alone to ponder.
Then I really started reflecting back on my childhood and teenage years. I remember seeing my mum and dad reading books until 2 a.m. every night because they wanted to keep learning. I remember feeling proud of my mum when I watch her passionate speech at some event about why certain educational practices need to transform. And it became clear that I have the confidence to dare try owning my own business or trying to make a difference because I watched my parents doing the same.
This doesn’t mean that being a stay-home-parent inhibits one from inspiring their kids the same way. But seeing your parents, your role models, fighting for something they believe in and doing something that gives them a clear sense of their place in the world uplifts their kids in the long run, even if that means they can’t tuck in their kids every night.
I try to share with my two daughters what I’m working on and why - they’re only 7 and 5 so they don’t fully understand it yet but Lisa is asking me more questions and showing more interest.
So don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, because it’ll give strength to your children to do the same.