Monday, December 2, 2013

Mom of Many Hats: Reflecting Upon and Re-Balancing My Roles as "Mogul", Mom & Maid

If only all moments of work and motherhood felt this victorious...

One day some weeks ago, I noticed a posting on a Boston Parent Bloggers Facebook page regarding a blog carnival to celebrate the publication of Mogul, Mom, & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman by Liz O'Donnell, publisher of the award-winning blog Hello Ladies.  Since the day I noticed the post was one on which I was feeling frazzled after dropping balls in every area of my life, I clicked over to the Mogul, Mom & Maid website to learn more.  

As I read the following words, my curiosity was piqued:

Mogul, Mom, & Maid takes an honest look at how women are balancing home life and career... Author Liz O’Donnell goes beyond statistics and tells the stories of women all across America who are juggling careers, motherhood, marriage, and households.  Mogul, Mom, & Maid looks at the choices women are making, the options they have, and the impact these decisions have on themselves, their families, and the businesses that employ them.

While hardly a Mogul, always a Mom (but not always a stellar one) and constantly a Homemaker who wishes she had a Maid (or at least had the will and skill to be a better one herself!), I decided I'd contact Liz about the carnival.

Obviously, being a far more efficient person than I am, Liz not only got back to me right away by sending me further details about the carnival, as well as a complimentary e-copy of her book to read before participating, but she also got in touch again last week to touch base on how I was coming along.

When she did, I was horrified.

The truth was, I was not coming along with the commitment at all.

In Mid-November, colds and flus hit my household.  So did symptoms which had me oft per-occupied about the possibility of cancer.  Plus, we found significant mold in our attic that required attention.

 All smiles at the Endangered Species fair, but not so much while facing laryngitis during its prep time in the days before.

These concerns, in addition to my regular commitments as a homeschooling wife, mom, independent contractor, blogger and wish-I-were-a-better Homemaker began a figurative "perfect storm" swell.  That swell grew as laryngitis swept my voice away just as I was helping my three young children prepare for their first Eco-Science fair and as the holiday season began.
So it was, when Liz emailed me to confirm that I was all set for the carnival, I gulped.  All set?  I was anything but...

However, I was honest.  I promptly wrote back to Liz to thank her for the reminder and to let her know that, I had "been completely distracted by health and home appointments and anything but on the ball", but that I was putting this back on my radar to attend to."

So, here I am, in the 11th hour, sitting down to write out my thoughts on my real life as a working mom and how I define success.

Let's Get Real (Or a History of My Hats)

Hats.  Some people have an affinity for them.  Me?  I just like swapping out the figurative ones.

Between my twenties and early thirties, I racked up quite an array of hats.  Among them were cruise ship employee, teacher, traveler, tutor, professional speaker, cultural affairs assistant, volunteer, sometimes office worker, writer, even marathon finisher.  But, in all honesty, the elusive hat I longed to don to more than any other was not a hat at all – it was a veil.

The beginning of my best and hardest (and, of course, most rewarding) job.

Yes, at the risk of alienating Mogul, Mom & Maid carnival readers and participants who are called to careers outside the home, I will come clean right now: In college in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I did not have the same dream as many of the women participating in the carnival might have had.  Sure, I wanted to be successful at my then current work (as a student and as an assistant teacher at a kindergarten) and in a future career that would involved acting, teaching or both, but more than that, I  hoped to graduate with an MRS in addition to the BFA in Acting that I was technically going to school for.  Yes, I wanted to be a missus!

Alas, my hopes did not come to fruition.  I graduated with no Mr. for me to become Mrs. to in sight.  

Not to be chagrined by my lack of a man to love and honor for the rest of my life, I decided to pursue some of the other opportunities that I loved, namely travel and teaching.  I figured that if I followed such dreams, others might follow.  Perhaps I would find “my fish” at sea, or overseas, while working on a cruise ship and, then, teaching, traveling and volunteering abroad.

Or, perhaps not...

On 25th birthday, I found myself living a enviable-to-others life as a teacher in Japan which, at times, felt anything but successful.  For although I had great colleagues, a wonderful salary and benefits, fantastic vacations and even national recognition for my work, I often felt sad and empty.

When it all came down to it, I had not met the man I would live out my life's call toward marriage and motherhood with, and living otherwise felt less than fulfilling at times.

It did not help that I happened to be living and working in a country where folks had a saying about women of my then-age being “Christmas cake”.  Basically, that saying alluded to the fact that once a gal was 25, she was old.  No one wants to eat Christmas cake after the 25th of December.  No one wants to marry a woman after she turns 25.  The traditional cultural norms of where I was living shouted to me that my “best married by” date had expired.

Ouch!  My Singleton state admittedly whittled away at my sense of success at work evne though the two things were hugely unrelated.   And, since I did not want to drown in my own self-pitying tears at being what seemed like the oldest Singleton in the world, I decided to stop coveting the wedding headpieces in the window and, instead, to focus on enjoying the view from under my wide-brimmed, traveling hat.  

In short, I decided to adjust my life goal:  If I could not immerse myself in the spheres of Wifedom and Motherhood, I would at least thoroughly enjoy the world at large.  My aim became to always have traveled to as many countries as I was years old.  Now that was something I could manage and manage well (even if it was not bringing me any closer to living my true call).

Reflecting Upon my Current Hats

Through various work, volunteer and family opportunities, I stayed true to my personal promise until my mid-thirties when, just as I was planning an extended world trip with a French friend of mine, I stumbled upon my M&M man back in my home state of all places.

M&M?  Yes!  My “meet and marry” man.

Mere months after meeting Mike, we were married. 

Here's my husband and I on our honeymoon in Iceland - my last trip abroad before beginning my current journey.

So it was that my globetrotting stopped.  I gladly exchanged the collection of hats that I had been wearing as a footloose and fancy-free, sometimes working full-time and other times on hiatus, Singleton for ones that I had longed dreamed of: Wife, Mother and aspiring Homemaker.

Since then, as is the case in most modern stories, “happily ever after” has had its hiccups.

As I look back at the past near-decade, I recognize that “real” often tempers “ideal.” Triumphs are counterbalanced by trials.  A house was purchased, yet a handful of homeowner woes we never saw coming keep popping up.  Employment for both Mike and I has come and gone and come again.  We were told early on that we may not be able to have children, then were blessed with three in relatively quick succession.  When we were blessed, we we also challenged.

Two of our children needed significant surgery within their first years of life.  One led us to a corollary journey as "special needs" parents.  Two are "graduates" of Early Intervention.  Two have been in Speech therapy, and, if I am to be honest, probably could use me focusing on more Speech therapy at home.  Yet, all are bright, beautiful, boisterous, engaging (and, of course, sometimes exhausting!), gifts that both my husband and I consider a top priority and major part of our greater call in life.

In an ideal world, we would be able to discover and develop paid work that centers on and grows from our marriage and children.  However, our vocation of being spouses and parents and our abilities toward employment and entrepreneurship don't mesh completely yet.  So, besides Spouse and Parent (and all the little hats that those two roles require), I have begun to wear a wide variety of other hats.  And not always well.  The equilibrium of life continually waivers...

As it does, my hats keep a-switching, sometimes multiple times a day.  Or, maybe I should say that I keep trying to wear one hat atop another atop another only to have some fall off my head at times or me become a ridiculous-looking gal dressed up as Mom, Wife,  Homemaker, Homeschooler, Drama Teacher, Tutor, Curriculum Mentor, Resume Writer, Typist, Blogger and more at others.
Reality is that I toss a host of hats on and off my responsibility rack with regularity.  Each figurative hat signifies roles in my life that I value for one reason or another – one that immerses me in community with family and friends, with folks in the local vicinity and those across cyberspace.  Each also demand my time, my energy, and more recently, my awareness of truth.

My Quest for Truth

For me, the truth is that while I am a working mom, I am a mom first.  And, before that, I am a wife.  I am a woman.  And I am a person of faith.  

Too often, I find myself dropping one of the figurative hats I wear onto the figurative floor of my life.  Still more often, I realize that the hats that get dropped most frequently are the very ones I say I want to prioritize, the ones I honestly feel called to succeed at:  Child of God, Wife, Mother, Homemaker.

My most recent birthday, celebrated with my most precious gifts and responsibilities.

As a homeschooling mom that works both inside and outside the home for anywhere from a few hours a week to twenty or more, I sometimes find it easier to immerse myself in paid work tasks than to honor my marriage, focus on my children and create a welcoming, clean and organized home.  Paid work tasks are measurable.  Many of them have a beginning, middle and an end.  Most of them bring monetary or emotional success in short order.  Marriage, parenting, homeschooling and homekeeping require far more endurance for me.  And, getting real, I have to admit that sometimes I  go for the "easy way" to the detriment of the "right for me" way.

Fessing Up about My Personal Call

If I am to be honest with myself and others, I have to admit that while some women's call may is be hugely successful at paid work, mine is not.  It is to be a faithful Wife, Mom and Homemaker.  Yet, too often I validate not doing what I could (and sometimes should!) as a a married mom of faith with over-focusing on "important" tasks for work as a self-employed individual.

Why is that?  Habit?  Years of being lauded for good grades and then resume-building success?  A lack of perseverance?  Something else?

I am not sure.

I am sure, however that the balance of life sometimes skews as I seek tangible, measurable success in the easy-for-me-route of wanna be "Mogul" instead of honoring the "unsung hero" type of work that being "Mom", "Maid" and Wife requires of me.

Much like perfect pictures rarely come to fruition, perfectly balanced life roles are elusive.  However, the order in which I am to prioritize "Mogul", "Mom", "Maid" and More within my life is coming into focus again.

So it is, that I have Liz and all the women who helped her with the book Mogul, Mom & Maid to thank.

It was in reading Mogul, Mom & Maid in the midst of a "perfect (if not that drastic) storm" of my current call that the Spirit began speaking to me.    

While I read the honest, sometimes humorous, occasionally blunt and peppered with language that I am not used to reading anymore, stories within the book, I realized a few things about who I was, who I am and who I am called to be.  

When it all comes down to it, even though I enjoy work and have a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit that can envision building bigger personal and family businesses down the road, the only kind of rich and powerful mogul I am truly called to be is one who is rich in love and powerful enough to admit when I have fallen off course.  My current work and future business possibilities are important.  However, for me, being a better wife, mom and homemaker (in that order!) is more important.

Much like we remove the pulp from our pumpkins in order to let them shine each year, this Advent I realize I need to remove (or at least re-prioritize) some of  the hats I've been wearing if I am to shine successfully at my call.

So it is that as I enter into this Advent season with an aim to prepare my own heart and our family home for what is to come, I realize that I need to re-balance things.  Paid work is not a bad thing.  In fact, for our family, my working is a blessing since it provides us with additional income that we need and with outlets that I enjoy.  However, attending to paid work tasks at the expense of fulfilling responsibilities as a wife, mom and homemaker is "bad" for me (and here I stress  "me", not anyone else, because I am well aware that some women have different calls than mine, and that different calls require different priorities.  As long as each of us is living the life the Spirit -- or whatever we believe in -- calls us to do, we are living well, I believe.  For each woman that means a different balance of hours and energy spent as mogul, mom and maid.)


At the end of Mogul, Mom & Maid, Liz writes:

We have to forgive each other our choices. The truths about working women are as diverse as the number of working women in the United States. There are women in corner offices and women who plan to enter the corner office. There are women who may not want the number-one spot but are still interested in a high-powered and fulfilling career, regardless of the obstacles they may encounter. And there are women who are happy with a middling career, or no career at all. When faced with gender-based biases at work; corporate cultures and missions that don’t connect with their own value systems and passions; the responsibilities of managing a household and a family; the joy, for many, of being a parent; and any other obligations life presents, many women have said, if something has got to give, I’m fine for it to be my career.
When I started this book, I didn’t want to report that women were happy to walk away from work— and, again, not all of them are. But a significant number of women I met had a take it or leave it, or maybe just a leave it, attitude, and that’s significant.
  • That’s significant for our economy, which depends on women to grow. 
  • That’s significant for companies that stand to lose out on an incredible talent pool.
  • That’s significant for women who may not see an alternative way forward, and could put themselves at financial risk by not earning a paycheck.
  • That’s significant for our children, who look to us as role models and will drive the future economy.
So, perhaps most importantly, we have to fight for each other.

For me, the fight begins at home.  A fight to honor what I know is my call, balancing the minor Mogul inside me with the Mom, the Maid and more.  It is also one of raising my own three children to hear their inner calls and to follow those wherever they may lead without getting waylaid by societal pushes for or against traditional or entrepreneurial paid work.

Nine years into marriage, I pray almost every single day that I will guide my children in their growth so that they will be able to hear their own calls and choose confidently what their own life-balance will be.

As I move forward in living my call, I think that I might myself occasionally page back through the "Lessons from the Ladies" boxes at the end of each section of Mogul, Mom and Maid for perspective.

These bulleted lists offer a variety of succinct and worthwhile take-aways for women, employers and even politicians when considering the state of "working women".  They helped me recall my life as a  pre-Mom, full-time working woman, to reflect upon my current life as a part-time working mom and to think about the perspective of friends and family whose call is different than my own (a perspective which I think that is good for me, as a homeschooling mom, to touch base with from time-to-time.)

So, that is my long-winded reflection on how I have been living the balance of Mogul, Mom and Maid and how I know I need to move forward.  My story, of course, is just my own.

What is your call?  What hats do you wear within it?  And, how do you prioritize those hats?  This Advent, like me, do you have any re-balancing to do?

Note:  In deference to my "tempered Mogul" hat, if you're thinking about purchasing Mogul, Mom & Maid, I'd love it if you'd do it through this post.  Purchasing by clicking through affiliate links to where you can buy a hardcover copy of the book (which is currently 27% off) or a Kindle one (which is 54% off) will not cost you any extra, but may provide me and mine with a chance to earn some meager income.  Thanks! 


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