My husband and I have combined the raising of our children whilst both holding down near full-time jobs. I say ‘near’ because we don’t work full time in the traditional sense, sitting at our desks for a full 35 or 40 hours (or more) week, rather, our work and home life is an elegant blend of all that needs to get done to keep food on the table and the children occupied. Often that does result in 40+ hours of ‘work’, but other times it is more about the achievement of a goal or a project, irrespective of whether it can be done in 2 hours or 20. Time is not the factor but results. And they must work harmoniously with all other aspects of our lives too, including, and especially, the raising of our children, that most important job of all.
It is often easy to make the assumption that looking after children and working is an inherent trade off. And this is certainly something that our binary world likes to assume. But I have often found that the blending of work and family life creates an interplay between the two aspects of our lives that elegantly support each other also.
Most notably for me is the creative ‘pauses’, or breathing spaces, that a break from work can engender. I have often felt torn from my creative endeavours when the children wake up in the morning (and I haven’t yet got my full 2 hours of writing in before they do). Or distracted by the messages coming in to my phone as soon as the workday starts and it is my turn to be with the children. But my desire to be fully present for my children when I am not working often results in ‘breathing spaces’ when thoughts and ideas come bidden that serve my work too.
It is well-documented that creative ideas often come when occupied doing something entirely different than the problem at hand. In my single years, I would rise from my desk when faced with a problem, and perhaps go for a walk, or make a cup of tea. Later still in the day, when washing up, or taking a shower, the solution would come, crystal clear, unbidden, yet shining as the light of day. It seemed the problem needed me to ‘let go’ in order to gain clarity and take shape, and my focus on something else allowed the solution to emerge.
So, too, I have found that the way my day is broken up into bouts of work and childrearing creates those ‘pauses’ that enable me to stay open to solutions, whilst focusing entirely on the needs of the children. The time spent with them never needs to harm the work and often enriches it.
This is not to say either that childrearing is merely a useful ‘break’ from the business of work. Rather it is to say that ‘all things work together for good’ to ensure that everything that has to get done in the business of daily life are not in conflict with each other and can blend in a harmonious whole.
There has been much discussion of the impact that the lockdown is having on women’s professional lives, torn as they often are between the demands of domestic life and the professional sphere. There is a separate discussion here on the importance for men to take their equal share (something I write about in many of my other blogs and which is a core principle in my own partnership and, I believe, the solution to that particular problem). But I think the separation of work and all other aspects of life is yet another argument for the separation of self that we are so encouraged to embody in today’s world. The idea that our different spheres might support each other is scarcely encouraged but I have found it to be true. My professional life needs breaks to allow creative ideas to flow and the ‘nowness’ and the being in the moment that is so important for children allows those ‘thoughts unbidden’ to flow in a way I had never imagined. And remind me of the paramount importance of being present in our relationships in whatever sphere.
That is to say, also, that employers might find a way to be more open to the needs of the time as we are in now, and to recognise that time spent in a different way can be just as beneficial – dare I so, even more so – than sitting at our desk ‘producing’ all the time. It is too narrow to assume ‘work’ as a function of output, rather than the creation of ideas and strategies and focus on solutions. That ‘results’ can be achieved in many ways and that it rarely has much to do with the number of hours put in.
Just as it is important for our children to see and respect our work for their own development and maturity, so too, is work benefitted by those times with our children.
And those unstructured times parallel the learning our own children gain when life is freer, more open to discovery and with a focus on the moment, those times that you want to give to your children when not working. So much of the discussion has been about the ‘failure’ for children to follow their school ‘lessons’ during lockdown, rather than taking advantage of the richness of life learning that the Great Pause has given us. The chance to play more, to connect with siblings, to be forced to confront ‘togetherness’ without any opportunity for escape and to get heads out of books and into the real-life business of learning that school so often stifles has the potential to be a great gift to our children, and to ourselves and our relationship with them.
Those unstructured moments when we are not working or checking our phones, allow for the creative breathing spaces that allow fresh ideas to emerge. We owe it to ourselves, and our children too, to honour those times when life is lived now and in the moment, and to take the guidance that comes, the ideas that emerge, and the learning that is lived, into both our present and our futures for all of us.
My husband and I made the decision to keep our children at home with with us in their early years, instead of putting them in full-time childcare or getting a nanny. But neither of us wished to give up work and it certainly wasn’t the default that I, as the woman, would be the one to make the sacrifice. Instead, we have found a model that enables us to still put in at least a 35 – 40 hour week, whilst still being very present for our children and being together as a family as much as possible.
Our typical day usually looks like this:
5am Get up and prepare for the day mentally and spiritually. This is important for us to take care of ourselves, feel grounded and ready to be able to have the mental energy for small children :-)
6 – 8am This is when I do my writing and the more creative side of my work. As an entrepreneur, writer and thought-leader, I relish the time to be free of email and team leadership to really get creative and set up my day with what I'm most passionate about.
7.30/7.45 Team meeting with my husband and I to discuss the day's activities and any life admin stuff
8am Breakfast all together as a family
8.30am Shower and get ready for the day
9am My husband starts his day: he works all morning whilst I am with our girls. The baby usually naps between 10am and midday, leaving me to spend time with our pre-schooler, reading, playing puzzles, cooking or being in the garden (as well as processing the enormous piles of washing that is the reality of having 5 children between us!)
1pm Lunch all together as a family
2pm Both toddler and pre-schooler take their afternoon nap; this is when I go to my office and typically deal with team meetings, emails, project work, fundraising and business development, my husband also works during this time
4.30pm Baby and toddler wake up and my husband takes over whilst I continue to work. He usually does the cleaning in this time
6.30pm Dinner prepared by my husband.
7pm Bath, story and bed for our baby, toddler in bed by 8pm
8pm Spend time with my husband (we make sure to have twice-weekly 'date nights' even if we have to stay home - watching a movie or working on a shared project together); or reading time. I consider my reading time to still be ‘work’ as it informs my writing and helps me keep up with what I need to know as a thought-leader in the area of global leadership
My work day is thus divided up into particular bursts: two hours of creative work and content creation in the morning; an afternoon of meetings and emails (4 and a half hours); 1 – 2 hours of reading and learning in the evening. The breaking up of the work day enables me to also have some discipline in what is truly important in ‘work’, forcing me to compartmentalise and not spend the entire day on emails and the ‘busyness’ of work but, equally importantly the creative and thought-leadership side. There is some variation within this – I work Wednesday mornings instead of afternoons to enable me to speak to my team in China (the time difference makes it impossible to do this in the afternoon) as well as take my daughters into Paris on a Wednesday afternoon for English-language programmes in the city. I also work Saturday afternoons whilst my husband is with his older children and to compensate for slightly less time than my husband during the week. Over the course of the week, my husband and I are therefore able to put in about 35 – 40 hours per week, often more as we regularly get up even earlier than 5am!
Our daughters have been very good sleepers which certainly makes things abit easier. I sometimes joke that our girls know their parents are entrepreneurs and have wised up to the fact that sleeping longer enables them to be able to stay at home with us instead of going into childcare. But, it’s important to us that, even as they grow up, they are able to be comfortable playing on their own and taking quiet time as it is well-documented how important it is to raise children at ease with themselves, able to spend time reading and developing their imagination without constant stimulation from other people.
If the girls do wake up early, they are encouraged to play quietly until we have finished. We talk often to them about what our work is, how work is an expression of contribution to the world, and how important it is to love what they do. We believe that work can and should be an integral part of life, not separated from the other demands of everyday living, and that we bring our children up to understand their responsibilities to the wider world too.
We’ve found this schedule really works well for us but it might not work for everyone. And I’d love to learn from others too! What do you do to make it work in your own work-family life balance? Please do post your comments below!
Yesterday, we made the painful decision to cancel our trip to Australia. After nearly 3 years in the planning, and in the grip of fear of the spread of the coronavirus, the Australian government declared the necessity of quarantining new arrivals for 14 days which would make our trip completely impractical. Even if we were to sit the quarantine out, the writing is on the wall of complete lockdown for all other events in the ensuing weeks.
I had been looking forward to one of our first trips since giving birth last year and to really testing out 'baby in a backpack' with a pre-schooler and soon-to-be-toddler. I had definitely been having anxious thoughts about entertaining the said little ones for such a long journey but we were generally excited and raring to go. But the inevitability of the situation meant that we felt it necessary to cancel.
But I’m grateful that this enforced lockdown period is helping us all to evaluate what’s important in life. My husband and I were already making steps towards limiting our carbon footprint and thinking through what it would mean to be ‘global, yet local’ and this new situation is indeed calling into question the values and life choices that we make on a daily basis. Having been born and brought up in Hong Kong, and having had the privilege to have travelled to over 50 countries, it is important to me that my own children benefit from a global perspective and develop a confidence and comfort in being in new places and learning from others. And with the rise in nationalism and increasing xenophobia in the world, I am determined to keep opening my mind, heart and thought to others. But with the rapid onset of climate change, I had been wondering what we need to do to express the spirit of adventure in a way that respects our climate. Coronavirus notwithstanding, here are some steps we had already been thinking through:
There is already much evidence and conversation circulating the internet about the impact that the enforced lockdown is having on our climate, with clear skies in China, and a return to the appreciation of nature and the great outdoors as people look for alternatives to cooped-up city living whilst still 'physical distancing'. And it is heartening to consider how this period of battening down the hatches and staying in the moment with more simple life pleasures could help us transform our ideas about what is truly necessary in life.
So, I for one, will welcome the opportunity to do some armchair travel in the coming months, reading books, exploring the garden and surrounding woods with my little ones, and opening my thought to what ‘adventures’ there are to be had in my mind. Baby in a backpack has always been metaphorical, not just literal, and, whilst I hope we won’t be packing away the suitcases for ever, I look forward to a reframing of what true adventure means!
One of the things that struck me the most when I became pregnant with my first child was the extent to which the preparation we are given revolves mostly around the purely material needs of the child. Aside from the inevitable tests, scans, doctors appointments in pregnancy, we are then inducted into the whys, hows and wherefores of managing baby sleep, breastfeeding, safety and the very best purchases to make for your baby.
All of this is good stuff and has a purpose in preparing for the new arrival. But it saddens me to see that there is so very little discussion around the importance of setting a long-term vision for the raising of your child.
We need to remember that, in taking on the very important responsibility of raising a child, to keep in mind the end result. I hesitate to use this analogy but, like the CEO of a company, we need to set a long-term vision for where we are heading, in order to lead our team effectively. As an entrepreneur myself, I see parallels in being custodian of a company with purpose and the responsibility I have with my own children to help guide them into our world. Indeed, it is especially important that those of us who have a desire to make a contribution of the world should exercise that same vision in the raising of our children.
But what does this mean?
It means having a long-term vision of the health, happiness and contribution of your child and setting that up right from the beginning. It is well-documented that children have some of their most profound learning experiences in the period 0 – 3 years old. So many opportunities for learning! To my mind, and this is borne of experience, we gravely underestimate what even young toddlers are capable of learning and absorbing. Even a two year old can understand the value and importance of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, of helping others, how to care for our environment, tidy up after they use their toys, of being respectful and, even, how to eat out in a restaurant.
This is not a denial of the realities of raising children (especially toddlers and babies) who, even at the best of times, have minds of their own! But it is to raise them with an expectation of GOOD, that we all have within us the power to be loving, kind, respectful human beings. And our parenting should reflect that expectation, never limiting them and always holding onto that vision of the adult you hope they become, not just the (usually) adorable child they are now. It’s about holding onto the now with one eye on the future too.
Why is this important?
All around us we see evidence of bad parenting. It’s not just the usual suspects, children brought up in homes where poverty, alcohol abuse, domestic violence are the norm and where raising children well is so stacked against you. Bad parenting is surprisingly common in even very affluent and educated families. When a child pushes another child in the playground and the parent says nothing; when we allow our own children to demand something of us without learning the norms of social behaviour; when we limit our children in terms of what we think they are capable of; when parents of sons stand by as they hit their sisters – these all sow the seeds for the adult bad behaviour that we see around ourselves constantly.
Too often, we don’t set our standards of love high enough. We confuse love with pleasing others, doing whatever we can do to give them what they want. Which is not always what they need. True love, to me, has a bigger vision for the potential of another person. It is to have a longer-term vision for what they are capable of and help them to rise to that. It is helping our children to be the people they are capable of being, and not keeping them small with limited expectations. It is the difference between allowing a child to demand what they want right now, rather than helping them to ask graciously and kindly for what they would like, thereby setting them up for a life where they can get what they need with love.
This is not to cast judgement on parents, nor is it to say children should grow up too soon. Rather it is to be aware of our responsibilities. Our children today are growing up in a world that is falling apart in terms of standards by which we treat other people and the natural world. It’s now acceptable for a president of a country to make derogatory comments about women and get away with it; for our politicians and heads of state to lie and say inflammatory things about people who are ‘not like us’; to engage in rampant consumerism, with little thought for the future of the planet; and for teenagers and adults alike to bully others online. We want our children to grow up in a world that is warm, safe, welcoming, so we must ensure that when we raise them we are both modelling behaviour that elevates ourselves and others and articulating to them how to navigate the world with decency, dignity and respect for everyone.
Only then will we be truly prepared to raise a child in this world.
We've just come back from a trip to the US, as my husband and I had fundraising and work meetings on the East Coast. We had a wonderful and productive time, both personally and professionally and lots of fun too boot!
Here are a few highlights of our trip:
Pumpkin spotting during Halloween
The Americans go all out at Halloween to decorate their houses with ghosts, witches and pumpkins and we had so much fun spotting pumpkins as we travelled
We also got to do our first hay ride whilst apple picking in a New England orchard with our friend Lari
Boston Children's Museum was also a massive hit! A giant 'spider web' tower to climb, 4 floors of water play, construction sites, model towns, bubbles, musical instruments and dinosaurs and more, we spent 5 hours here and wanted to stay longer (despite missing our nap)! Highly recommended for anyone visiting with little ones.
Providence, Rhode Island, was also a pleasant surprise having never visited. Very walkable and with an attractive waterfront area. We were recommended to try out the beautiful Atheneum Library and arrived just in time for storytelling
Encouraging our little ones to enjoy food and eating out is an important part of family life for us and the girls did us proud wherever we went. They both seemed to love it and we received lots of compliments from fellow diners about how well-behaved they were :-) At one point, my toddler nearly had a melt down at a restaurant we went to and I explained how much we enjoyed having her with us when we go to a restaurant and how much we need to be respectful of other diners and not make too much noise. We encouraged her that she could be part of all sorts of adult things if she could be 'like a big girl' when we go to restaurants. We feel it's important that our children can be part of adult life where appropriate and that they learn what that means. She totally got it and we had a lovely evening!
Next step, the White House, and a Halloween gift from the Secret Services :-)
New York as ever was fabulous and was so proud of my Broadway babies discovering the city with Papa whilst Mummy went to her meetings.
Is it crazy?
To wake up in the early hours
The rest of the family
Still deep in slumber
And steal a look at you,
So serene and peaceful
In the early morning sunlight
Streaming through the window
I drink in your loveliness
The dark tufts of hair
The gentle up and down of your chest
My finger gently caressing your cheek
As you breathe peacefully in your sleep
The scent of baby skin
Milky and sweaty
Your tiny hands curled upwards in sweet surrender
This time we have together is fleeting
A version of you that will be gone too soon
The surge of love that threatens
To break through my wall
Cascading through my heart
With pure tears of joy
Through the misty haze of tiredness
I long to freeze this moment in time
To hold onto the beauty of your smallness
Delicate, soft, tender yet tenacious life
Joy at was is
And grief of what will be gone forever
The ‘riot in my heart’
That is love
Lecco, August 2019
It’s been a long journey but I think we are getting there. My stepchildren have valiantly taken on the challenge of being subjected to my cooking these past two weeks and have reluctantly conceded that there may, in fact, be more to life than the staples of French cuisine……
Let me backtrack somewhat.
I come from a long-line of family cooks, my mother and grandmother being legendary in their hosting and cooking skills, and I too love to cook. Whilst baking is probably still one of my favourite things to do, I also adore cooking in all it’s forms and especially love cooking food that embraces the colour and vibrancy of the places where I have travelled. In the different homes I have had across the world, I have offered up lunches and dinners, parties and afternoon teas, picnics and soirees in different forms and I love, love, love opening my home and dining table to all who cross the threshold of our experience.
I adore food that is flavoursome and diverse, evidence of a world full of colour and delight, diversity and expression of the myriad gifts that different cultures can bring. This past few weeks, I’ve been delving into the recipes of ‘Persiana’, cooking influenced by the Middle East, as well as incorporating other dishes inspired by my travels – and what’s available in our herb garden too!
However, my stepchildren, have, in the past, revolted against my desire to introduce them to new foods. On one momentous occasion, even the humble Victoria sponge cake was rejected on the basis that ‘jam doesn’t belong in cake’. Now, I realise I am living in the country supposed to be the cradle of the world’s most sophisticated cuisine but I have come to learn that, much as I love a good boeuf bourgignon or a yummy tarte aux fraises, French cuisine has, unfortunately, ossified into a state of complacency and is failing to keep up with the times . And that famed French arrogance could do with taking down a peg or two. Indeed, it has become a great sadness to me to find this resistance to change is holding France back so much in so many areas of life and I see the small battles I face at my dining table symptomatic of so much that needs to change.
So, it has been a small victory to observe three or four teenagers gobbling up the fare I have offered these past few weeks of the summer holiday:
On the menu has been chicken with saffron and rosemary with ‘mojardara’ rice, lentils and friend onion; feta, courgette and mint muffins; sun-dried tomato, mozzarella, spinach and basil filo parcels; roasting tray vegetables with chick-peas; Camargue red rice with grilled vegetables and an orange and honey dressing; garden-grown rhubarb and marzipan crumble (offered with English custard – yay!); and the decadent rose, cardamom, vanilla, pistachio and honey rice pudding. I’ve had a particular fondness for rose-flavoured food this summer, starting off with my English-rose cake at our pudding party. Rose is a frequent flavour in Middle East cooking and Persiana provides a lot of it. Yum!
To me, food is about love. It’s about providing abundance and bounty for everyone, creating a table for everyone to congregate at the end of each day, sharing news and swapping stories, laughing and interrupting, occasionally fighting and debating but always embracing the diversity of the people around the table and the food on their plates. And conspiring to change the world to boot. To love that diversity is to welcome and embrace everyone at your table. And that diversity is a spiritual quality that I take deeply and dearly into my home and family.
As an Englishwoman who has lived abroad most of her life, there is one thing that I have brought with me on my travels – a love of afternoon tea and cake!
When I lived in Beijing I used to host regular ‘pudding parties’, where I would invite my friends for 9pm in the evening to feast on an array of English puddings and desserts until the small hours of the morning. The evenings were convivial, fun occasions that provided the opportunity to bring together diverse friends and encourage creative connections.
Fast forward many years and, as a mother to young children, all night gatherings are a thing of the past and we now host an annual afternoon tea summer garden party for friends and neighbours alike. Our garden is converted into a mini play park of sorts as we bring out the trampoline, paddling pool, swings and slides, sandpits and even convert a tent into a haven of arts and crafts activity.
The adults come for the cake of which there is a lot! Our most recent event starred a fabulous English Rose cake, layered with whipped cream and raspberries with pink frosting and accompanied some of my old regulars: pistachio and cardamom with white chocolate ganache, coffee praline, almond and marzipan, carrot cake with orange frosting, chocolate button layer cake, rhubarb crumble cake, sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce, lavender shortbread, scones with clotted cream and jam….the list goes on.
One of my favourite things is to host people at home. Growing up abroad, friends were the new family to me, far away as I was from my genetic family. A sense of inclusion and welcome is something I hold dear to my sense of home and I have strived to find ways to open my physical house to others as I have travelled the world.
Cake, of course, is a wonderful way to bring people together. Cake, with its sweetness, colour and creativity is something nearly everyone can get behind and food in general is such a marvellous way to encourage exchanges of ideas and conversation. And, for me, with a life that blends my work and family in equal measure, it can be an opportunity to forge new connections and introduce others to each other also. I love food that warms the heart, that has nothing but pleasure as its goal and makes people feel equally loved.
Baking too, is also therapeutic for me and in my efforts to blend harmoniously the different strands of my life I find often that a break in my working or parenting day to cook can act as a way to incubate ideas, mull over or consider a difficult decision or even to play with my children and introduce to them the love of good food and the joy that making and giving things to others can bring. Also, in a world so driven by technology, the simple art of making something by hand can be a very grounding activity.
And if sitting around the table sharing stories and good food could be an avenue for world peace…..ah, let me dream!
A few pics from last week’s gathering…..
Oh the dreamy summer days....the sound of my teenage step-daughter swinging in the hammock with her toddler sister, the baby perched on her bouncy chair, surveying her half-brother and his friend playing football, my husband hanging out the washing whilst I get dinner, and the sound of music drifting on the breeze whilst my eldest step-daughter reads....
When I was a child, I used to dream of both having and being in a big family. I had only one sister and longed to have more siblings and, growing up, came to believe that big families were innately happier than smaller ones. I had a vision of family that included my own and 'adoption' of other children, in whatever form, of big age ranges and an enormous house in the country to contain the happy chaos of multiple children.
Now my weekends and holidays are full with a minimum of 5 children at any one time when my husband’s teenage children come and stay – often accompanied by an assortment of friends and cousins along for the ride. It has been such a joy to see the way in which they have embraced their two younger siblings and I joke that I hardly see anything of my toddler all weekend, such are the opportunities for her to play with the older kids. Screeches of laughter accompany the sound of jumping on the sofa or the trampoline, little feet wobbling around in older teenager’s high heels and the sweet voice of my daughter asking her computer-obsessed brother if he will go and play Playdoh with her.
I have a theory that more children is actually easier than fewer. In a big family, everyone mucks in and keeps everyone entertained. My middle stepdaughter is a wonderful babysitter to my toddler and I have no qualms about entrusting her care to her older sibling. She’s wise and sensible and fun to be with and my toddler adores her and her other half-siblings. And the fact that she is centre of attention when they come to stay creates ample space for me and my husband to relax and do what I enjoy over the weekend too!
I believe also in the importance of multi-generational living, or at least spending quality time, together. My parents and my husband’s parents are regular and frequent attendees in our children’s lives and, as outlined in other blog posts, are crucial to enabling my husband and I to continue our work and parenting journey. Whilst it’s a cliché to admit that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, diverse perspectives and ages, along with colours and cultures, are important for me to expose my children to.
My eldest daughter walked at a relatively early age (10 months) and I’m sure that had much to do with having older siblings. Additionally she is being exposed to music that neither my husband nor I know much about so that, in complement to the inevitable nursery rhymes and children’s songs she is learning, she frequently requests Mika and Adele to dance to, as well as waking up to Vivaldi streaming through the house. It is a childhood rich in multiple and diverse influences.
As family structures shift to include later marriage, blended families and opportunities for inter-generational living, it's a joy to see the possibilities this can open up in helping to raise warm, inclusive and open families.
In my mid-thirties, I met my soulmate, and inherited three stepchildren to boot! A year or so into our marriage we talked about what it would mean to have children together. I had long wanted to redefine what marriage and family could look like. Having come from a family of divorce, I was really looking for a model that could inspire me of a happier version of family life, of partnership between men and women in the raising of children and building a home, and, of course, I didn’t want to have to compromise between this vision and the continuation of my professional life which was important to me.
Indeed, my career had been founded on the kinds of values which were and still are important to me in my marriage and parenting journey too. My work uses participation in theatre and other creative techniques to empower the potential of migrant and refugee women and children and the same ideas of love, inclusion, empowerment, feminine leadership, equality and integrity were something that I would want to see blossom in my role as a wife and mother too.
I’ve never really bought into the career vs motherhood debate. I think it’s a false dichotomy that we are sold by the media and requires deeper thought to see a more nuanced version of life. It should never be a zero sum game. The reality is that women have always worked throughout history, combining raising a family with paid employment or a career that satisfies them intellectually. But, critically, what we need to see more of is the full and total engagement of men in the parenting journey too.
My husband had actually been a stay-at-home Dad in his previous marriage so there was ample proof that he knew what to do! Moreover, our marriage was founded on a deep love and mutual respect for our ‘callings’ of careers of service, his in the public practice of Christian Science and my work as a serial social entrepreneur. So there was never even a discussion on either of us giving up work to parent.
Rather, for us, it has come to mean a beautiful unfoldment of blending our respective careers with the hugely important task of raising children that requires both parents to give of their time and energy. Practically, this means a complete and utter fair division of the ‘work’ – and the joy – of raising our children.
I have written a blog about how we make this work on a day-to-day basis in a practical way but it’s really more about the mutual respect we have for each other and our work, coupled with a deep love for each other and desire to work as a team. And my husband and I BOTH believing at a deep level that parenting is as much his responsibility as it is mine.
This is not just a feminist ideal. Men and women bring different qualities to parenting. I have seen it up close, the huge importance that father’s play in the upbringing of children. I say this, not to state the obvious, because I think there is still too little discussion on why this is important. My husband and I each bring very different, but complementary qualities to being parents. These are not so much gender specific but rather the reflection of different personalities that our daughters are benefitting from on a daily basis. My husband is more physical than I am, more encouraging of the rough and tumble play and outdoors than I am; more practical with his hands in teaching our daughters DIY or gardening, and remembers more diligently than I do to explain how and why things work the way they do. He is often better at getting our babies to sleep than I am and certainly brings a big healthy dose of calm to my sometimes more anxious tendencies, having already been in this parenting game much longer than I have.
Alternatively, I bring a greater sense of adventure and curiosity about the world at large, a strong commitment to being respectful and considerate of others with a concern to make sure our daughters make a contribution to society. My husband has lived in France for most of his life whereas I have lived all over the world and he is so excited to have his own mind opened with my firm desire to ensure our children travel and explore. My background in the arts and training as an actress bring a cultural sensibility and determination that our daughters should read, dance, sing and play music and express themselves creatively as much as possible.
In short, it is in the blending of our respective qualities, as well as the masculine and feminine elements of human potential (whether they are expressed by men or women) that, I believe, should be the bedrock of healthy parenting. It is so fundamentally wrong to believe the mother can and should be the primary caregiver and this over focus on the woman leads to so many challenges in the world at large as we know, but also within marriages and families at a more intimate level too.
Am I just lucky to have a husband who gets this? Yes and no. Of course, I am grateful. But I also know that I would never have settled for anything less. It took me a long time to find my soulmate and I think I knew at some deep level that anything less than true teamwork would define my marriage. I was and never have been attracted to alpha-male types who are too insecure in themselves to step out of the roles society expects them too – but, I also know that, as a woman, I can and must stand up for myself and my own needs and desires. Blaming men is only half the problem if we don’t claim our own rights too.
To me, it is not so much about ‘having it all’ as it is allowing the different threads of our lives to weave together in the most harmonious way. And, I need hardly spell it out that this shared responsibility has knock on effects to other parts of our marriage too :-)
Mum, stepmum and honorary foster mum. Passionate about fulfilling the potential of all the world's children - both big and little. Serial entrepreneur and life traveller now living in Paris. www.carolinewatson.org