This November will mark my second annual performance review. Despite the fact that I plan to shower the boss with gifts and cake—inevitably the outcome will involve some combination of screaming, general unpleasantries, and loving bouts of affection. Thus is the life when you enter your career as a Mother.
Motherhood is not a job, it is a career. Jobs can be fleeting, but a career is something for which you have spent your life preparing. It becomes an integral part of your person. In your career, you are constantly seeking improvement and advancement.
I am privileged to have a career I love outside of the home. But I am blessed to have a career I love inside of the home. Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” is a guide for Mothers seeking to advance in the corporate world. However, it has inspired me to “lean in” to my career as a Mother. Because as a Mother, I strive to "sit at the table…seek challenges, take risks, and pursue goals with gusto.”
Maybe I sound like an idealist. Or a would-be-over-achiever. But since my venture into the world of parenting, I have come across two types of women climbing the corporate ladder in the Motherland: The Survivalist and The Revisionist.
Some Mothers consider themselves to be survivalists. They breathe a sigh of relief with each passing day and developmental stage. The blog Intentional Parents explains,
Parenting by survival happens when parents have a vague idea that, as parents, they are to somehow make their child behave properly, but they haven’t invested the thought or effort to discover the best way to accomplish that feat. They expect their children to be terrible two-year-olds and rebellious teens, and they believe that there is nothing they can do about it
The Survivalist believes that her fate has been determined for her. The baby wasn't born to be a good sleeper. The toddler is just a fussy eater. She has likely tried to make change and failed--at which point she decides that change is not possible. She makes it her duty to soldier through each day and put out fires as they arise. Sandberg explains, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
The Revisionist believes she has the power to make positive change. She applies critical thinking and strategy to "revise" solutions to daily parenting struggles. She identifies challenges and faces them bravely—but also knows when to step back and pick her battles. That 3-year-old that bolts across the parking lot when his feet hit the ground? She doesn't put him on a leash. Instead, she figures out how to teach him to stay safe. The Revisionist, like Sandberg, agrees that “knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better”.
The Revisionist relies on valuable resources to guide her in improving and advancing in her career as a Mother. Just like a woman working in a Fortune 500 company, she relies on resources such as mentors, education, goal-setting, and evaluations. Sandberg's words can guide Mothers in re-visioning their careers:
Talking can transform minds, which can transform behaviors, which can transform institutions.
When the Revisionist faces obstacles, she talks them through. She talks with her spouse, fellow Mom-friends, and her own mother. She looks for solutions rather than the validation that "raising kids is just hard". Because she already knows that.
When a friend takes to Facebook for help with a baby who won't sleep through the night, she pools her resources to offer tried-and-true tips. She helps her friend to compare and contrast the conflicting viewpoints of letting the baby "cry it out" and rocking her to sleep. She realizes that it takes a village.
In that village, there is value in finding a wise elder--or as Sandberg suggests, a mentor. The Revisionist relies on mentors who have gone before her. These mentors have struggled, fought through challenges, and experienced personal growth as a result. They have been in the trenches.
Hear the words and ideas of fellow Moms. Putting your own challenges into words can bring great transformation.
The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.
The Revisionist never stops learning and seeking answers. She reads, takes notes, and strives to improve her problem-solving skills. With the internet at our fingertips, we are never without information. When it's time for potty training she may be well-versed in the value of the 1-Day Method, The Weekend Method, The Montessori Method, and the ideal formatting for a sticker chart.
You don't need to know it all, but knowledge is power. Seek knowledge and solutions.
The cost of stability is often diminished opportunities for growth.
The Revisionist recognizes that her children and career as a Mother are constantly changing and evolving. She never has an opportunity to get comfortable before life brings new challenges. As she moves up the corporate ladder, or jungle gym--as Sandberg calls it, she realizes it is not unidirectional. Many days she gets ahead and moves up. Then back down. Or even side-to-side. Lots of days she is completely hanging upside down. Like when that successfully potty-trained child starts to have accidents everyday. But she keeps climbing--and growing.
When you are stuck in hole, it is easier to tell yourself there is no way out. The truth is the only way out is to keep climbing.
We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.
The Revisionist is constantly evaluating her performance. If she is going through the motions day-to-day, it can be difficult to notice opportunities for improvement. But she reflects on her days. She realizes that she spends more time scrolling her Instagram feed than she does reading books to her babies. She seeks out these weak spots so she can set goals to do better and break through the glass ceiling.
The Survivalist hits the glass ceiling. Often, she hits it repeatedly. She may believe that the headache from constantly bumping her head into the glass ceiling is a normal part of life. That messy bedroom? It is just always going to be messy and part of the chronic headache. She cannot break through and make change. She seeks solace in the comfort from friends that "this parenting stuff is rough" and this stage doesn't last forever.
It is true--no single stage will last forever. They won't be little forever. So I want to be a positive role model starting today. Ten years from now, I don't want my capable son to come home from school with a report card full of straight "D's" and tell me, "Ma, I am just surviving, this school stuff is rough." As a mother, I am his first teacher. I want to teach him to do more than just survive. I want to teach him to "lean in" to life.
This is why I choose to lean into Motherhood. I want my children to sit at the table. I want my children to overcome challenges, manage risks, and reach goals with gusto. And it starts with me.
This post originally appeared on the Dallas Moms Blog.