In the past few years so much has been achieved for parents and especially mothers in the workplace. However, we still look at mums who work and travel and pat them on the back.
We regularly hear “wow they do so much, balancing a job and two kids” or “hasn’t X done so well? She’s successful AND has kids – isn’t she a great role model?” This may be true but there is a clear implication that, in order to be a good mum or be good at your job, you have to focus on only one. I feel strongly about telling this story because, we don’t usually talk about how busy mums – who love what they do – can be an even stronger role model. Isn’t it time we start talking about how great it can be for your child if your mum also enjoys her work?
I don’t have loads of memories of my mum when growing up. They are largely of my Dad. While I came from a very loving home, my mum was not one of those parents who was around for everything. While mum went to battle on the business field I thought… why can’t she be like other mums?
My mum worked a really demanding job and travelled constantly. She left the house at 7am and was unlikely to be home before 7pm. When she came home, she was understandably exhausted from travel, meetings, managing a team of 40+ people not to mention the commute and relentless networking.
My mum comes from the baby boomer generation, she faced a number of challenges growing up. She moved to London, put herself through university and battled the biased banking sector. After 8 years her first husband died of cancer; she married my father and had me, aged 37. She continued to rise up the career ladder in the banking sector because she loved her job and was really good at it.
While my mum was out making money to support our family, my Dad stepped up in every way possible (my dad also worked part time for a family business). He took and collected me from school, helped me with my homework, cared for me when sick, did the dentist visits and came to my sports games (regularly embarrassing me deliberately actually).
While other mums were making packed lunches, my mum was in Singapore or Papua New Guinea – meeting high level executives and making business deals. After every trip my mum would bring me a postcard and I would carefully place into a portfolio which documented all the places she’d travelled. She was definitely not boring.
Thank goodness my mum didn’t give up on her adventurous career. If she had become a daytime coffee drinking, netball watching, part time swimming coach we wouldn’t have the same relationship we have today and I wouldn’t be as ambitious or as adventurous as I am.
Mum and I have travelled a lot together – aged 13 she took me on the 4 day trek to Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city in Peru. We’ve been cycling in Iceland, hiked the Grand Canyon together, explored the silk route from China to Uzbekistan, drunk in the delights of Rome and kayaked the Zambezi. I’m incredibly fortunate to have had those adventures. I believe those experiences have fundamentally shaped who I am and – I hope – made me a more empathetic person. This is a driving reason I’ve joined the humanitarian sector and take pride in being able to relate to new people, different cultural norms and thrive under challenging situations from refugee camps to management meetings. Her leading the way, has shown me I can also have big ambitions.
It’s only in recent months have I learnt that the story of indomitable mums and resilient dads is all but untold. While I could never prove it, my suspicious is that untraditional mums and dads have just as much, if not more, of a positive impact on their children’s ambitions and are more likely to drive their kids to be systematically compassionate towards to their fellow humans.
Its not about “good vs. bad mothers” or criticising mums who don’t want to continue working, we all get energy and inspiration from different places and sources. However, having watched my mum and other friends struggle with the guilt of being busy with work I hope more mums talk about how liking their work or travel has positively impacted their kids. More Dads should talk about the challenges they face when they get to the school gates. (It can’t have been easy for my Dad being the only man everyday bringing his daughter to school).
Ultimately, we need more positive narrative around how inspiring it can be for a child if your mum works, travels and is passionate about what they do. Only by telling these stories can we address deep feelings of guilt that many mums feel in leaving their kids. They really shouldn’t, it will be beneficial in the long run.