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Motherhood: Making Choices About Working

So how do you come up with your essential purposes and priorities? Just as one sort of job might suit you but not another person, some ways of clarifying life purposes will speak to you while others will not. Therefore, here's a sampler of different methods (please see the resources below for additional ideas):
  • Imagine that you're nearing the end of your life. What do you want to make sure you are glad about, in terms of the choices you have made? What do you want to make sure you don't regret?
  • Consider what you love doing: What are my passions? What situations or activities make me very happy?
  • Reflect on your moral commitments: What do I care about deeply? What larger cause(s) do I want to serve? How do I want to make a difference?
  • Consider how improving your functioning in some regard, such as remedying physical depletion, or cultivating psychological growth and wisdom, could be the catalyst or foundation for many positive things. Perhaps that form of personal healing or development should be a priority for the next few years.
  • Think about the people you admire, your role models, and your heroes and heroines. What are the characteristics or actions that inspire you? What might you like to emulate, in your own way, in one or more of these people?
  • If this is meaningful to you, ask God for guidance as to what you're meant to do with your life in general, or with regard to work at this time.
  • Make a collage from pictures and words cut or torn from magazines. You can do this on poster board or on individual sheets of paper in a notebook. The theme could be very broad, such as your purpose in life, or quite specific, such as how you want your transition back to working half-time to go.
  • Ask your mate what he thinks your priorities should be at this time. He may have a fresh angle, but don't be overly swayed; the heart of the matter is what's in your heart.
  • In one sentence (present tense), try to state your overall purpose in life.* It's not set in stone, and you can have a different purpose later on. Some examples: My family is healthy and happy, and so am I. I live a life of health, happiness, and contribution. My life is an expression of Radiant Being. I am love, communication, and aliveness. I leave the world a better place. I live with integrity, humor, love, and grace. Also, try to state your purpose as a mother.
  • Consider how the priorities of family and career may not be in conflict, but could serve each other. For example, being successful at your job could be an important model for your children. Similarly, creating a solid, loving foundation at home could help you feel secure in venturing forward in your career.

Resources for Life Purpose and Priorities
A Year to Live by Stephen Levine
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow by Marsha Sinetar
Creative Visualization by Shaku Gawain
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Once you've clarified your purposes, it's worth taking some time to acknowledge the losses that are inherent in any choices you've made or will make. You can't have more of one thing without less of another, and we've never known a perfect arrangement of home and work for any mother.

Next, we suggest you step back and take a long, honest look at your life. Start by asking yourself where you are living true to your purposes. Let yourself feel really good about that. Then - big breath - ask yourself where you are not. When you reflect on any gaps between your ideals and your actions, consider first whether it is possible, in fact, to close them. Maybe it just isn't right now: perhaps your family simply can't manage without your paycheck, or no matter how much you want to get back to your career, a chronically ill child needs you at home. If you can't pursue some important purpose at this time, the best you can do is to be compassionate with yourself about that, reach out for support, and keep trying to figure out how to fulfill your dreams.

On the other hand, maybe you could actually accomplish your purposes. Then it's really important for your well-being to try. If the problem is external, like no transportation to get to work, you could look into ride sharing or other jobs that are closer to bus lines. Usually there's some action, internal or external, that will give you a jump start and get the snowball rolling. For instance, a shy person could invite her former colleagues out for a casual lunch, and then, once the ice is broken, she could steer the conversation to her going back to work and see if they have any ideas.

Above all, seek the balance of family and work that will be truest to your nature, rather than conforming to what other people think. Perhaps you've run into one-size-fits-all thinking in the form of social pressure to work, or to stay at home. Advocates for either side can talk as if there's just one natural way to be, and selectively use scientific studies to make their case. But in truth, there is wide variation among women in their natural interest in mothering and working. One of Rick's clients had to muster up her courage to tell him: I feel really bad about saying it, but a lot of the time, taking care of my daughters is really tiresome and irritating, and I just want to get away. There's no doubt I love them. But when I hear other moms go on about the bliss of motherhood, that's just not me. I have to work, or I'd go crazy - and that wouldn't be good for them, either.

On the other hand, a different mom (who used to be a stockbroker) was laughing gently at herself one day in his office: About a month before I was due with my first child, I sent out a letter to my clients saying I'd be back full-time after six weeks - not to worry. But I just fell in love with the little guy and something completely changed inside me. What had I been thinking?! There was no way I could be away from him all day and leave him with people who could never love him the way I did. Forget it! So we cut back, I stayed home, and I can hardly believe it, but now several years later, I've become fulfilled by being a mother in a way I never imagined was possible. I can see a time ahead, maybe when he's in grade school, when I'll want to work again, but that's a ways off, and when it comes, it'll be natural. The shape of your nature - as individual in its contours as a baby's footprint - may not fit neatly into the hole defined by one cultural model or another, and trying to jam it in or act like there's no friction puts needless stress on you and your family.

*A variation on this method is found in Stephen Covey's discussion of a personal mission statement in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

More on: Work


From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit amazon.


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