A mother’s guilt

baby pic

I heard the expression ‘mother’s guilt’ before, but I never thought that it applies to me. A part of me even started to worry that I don’t have it.  And then, I got it – If I worry of not having ‘mother’s guilt’, I probably have it.

Yesterday I have been through one of those ‘guilt’ moments. It was my son’s first day in the Pre-school Nursery group and it was painful. Thomas is two and a half now and he knows how to express his feelings especially when he needs attention. Although he likes the new kids and teachers, he just didn’t wanted to let go of me. He didn’t cry, but he looked at me with his big warm eyes saying: ‘Mummy…’

I was paralyzed and I couldn’t let go of him. When, eventually, the new teacher convinced him to stay on her lap with a book, instead of thinking that it is a good outcome since I had to leave for work, I felt was pain, quid and jealousy for the woman who took my baby.

I got back in the car and I start feeling guilty for leaving my son with strangers so that I can go and do exciting or less exciting stuff at work.  The questions going through my head: ‘Is it all worthwhile, what I am doing there? Do I really do what I think has a positive impact and gives me energy?’.

My day in the office yesterday has been different because of that painful start. I spoke my mind more, I brought some new edgy ideas for a conference and I had a very honest and open career mentoring conversation with a senior female leader in our company. I also dared to reach out and asked help from a senior stakeholder on a issues  I dreaded to touch few days earlier.

Looking back on it again, what I would say to young working mothers who might experience this mother guilt every morning, is that:

  1. We need to accept the ‘Mother guilt’ as something that is part of the ‘package’.
  2. Turn it from a ‘Problem’ that holds you back from pursuing your own dreams into a ‘Driver’ that pushes you forward.
  3. Put all that emotional pain in something really worthwhile for you and your family.

Johaan Cruijff once said: ‘Elk nadeel heeft zijn vordeel’ – every downside has its upside’

‘Letting go to letting come’. Xmas wishes

Thomas first day at schoolLast week, it was my son’s first week at school. I waved goodbye hoping he will cry asking me to stay longer, but he didn’t. He was ready for it and actually looking forward to it  with excitement. 

I, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to let go. I was afraid because  my little baby boy entered into the big world of schedules and societal expectations.

For the past 4 years, every time I was awake at night because of him I would comfort myself with the thought  that he will grow up eventually. What I forgot was that when he grows up, he will also move on from the baby cuddles to the ‘I am a big boy now, mummy’ phase.

‘Steliana, letting go is  letting come’ someone in my coaching class told me earlier this year. I read about Otto Sharmer’s theory U and  ‘Presencing’ but I guess I didn’t really understand it until this last week.   As adults we find it difficult to let go of the old self and that stops us to see the new opportunities around the corner. This time the scary thing  was the idea of me suddenly becoming a mother of two school-age kids instead of a mother of toddlers. Some other times it is about letting go the old ways of doing things at my job or letting go a certain status. This week I learned an important lesson from my four-year old son who just moved on to the next phase of his life without complaints and drama.

Christmas  is around the corner  and I am recounting the memories of a year with a lot of ups and downs. Perhaps some of you had the same because that’s what life is: unpredictable and surprising.  Let’s take the opportunity of this Xmas  to be grateful for what life has offered us and to letting go so that we can let the new adventures come to us. Merry Christmas.

Life is what happens to you, while you are busy making other plans. (J.Lennon)

Presencing Institute

Is it OK for a mother to be a bit selfish and take charge of her life?

Chrissy

I was really looking forward to our week in south France but I was suspicious of the word ‘glamping’. I changed my perception when I arrived at ‘La Douce France’.I loved the huge luxury tents and even more the delicious dinners in the ‘table d’hôte’ setting.

The place came with the story, that of a mother who a year ago decided to leave the comfortable life style in The Netherlands to follow a life dream. I was intrigued by her story as mother and entrepreneur and I suggested an interview. We had a lovely chat while she was baking macarons and cakes for her daughter’s birthday.
Following the interview, I wrote for this article a snapshot of Chrissy’s life story and her advice for mothers.
Chrissy:
I grew up in the country side in The Netherlands. My dad was a business man and my mum was a former teacher who decided to be at home with us. My younger sister had a serious heart condition and although we played together a lot she couldn’t do a lot of sports. I spent my childhood doing sports, being active outside.
My dearest early memory was from when I was about eight years old and the four of us went to Florida to visit Disney land. I absolutely loved it because it was just our small family and it was so special because back then it wasn’t common to travel far for a family holiday.
The teenage period and early adulthood was equally happy. I could follow any study I wished for and I could get any job wanted. Studying and my professional career took some energy, but it all came easy for me.
In my late twenties I met my husband Ruben, we bought a nice house, got married and we had our two children. We had what you would call a perfect life, but then, suddenly, within two years we both lost our parents.

Their sudden death made me realize that life is short and if we don’t do anything about it we would continue with the same jobs and life until we become 50. We had a dream of living in a nice warm country, cooking for our guests and living much more outdoors. We couldn’t postpone it any longer.

Within six months we both resigned from our high paid jobs, sold our house and bought this domain in South of France. Our kids were 7 and 5 when we moved and we had to put them in a French school without them speaking the language. A year later I am surprised how easily they adapted. Of course, it wasn’t easy for us. We struggled and we worked hard to make the glamping site ready for our first guests.
Here is my advice for all mothers:
In your adulthood you may be a bit selfish. You are in the peak of your life and you need to make decisions on how you want to spend it and what kind of life you want to offer your family. It is your time to make that decision. The children will grow and later in their life they will also make their own decisions on how to spend their life.
You can check out Chrissy’s dream at: Domain la Douce France.

Sometimes senior women tend to distance themselves from the junior ones

mothers christmasI love how in this HBR article, Anne Welsh McNulty  addresses the hard truth that we, women and mothers, find difficult to face in the:

https://hbr.org/2018/09/dont-underestimate-the-power-of-women-supporting-each-other-at-work

Quotes from Anne Welsh McNulty, HBR article:

 

‘sometimes senior women tend to distance themselves from junior women, often to be more accepted by their male peers’.

‘It’s easy to believe that there’s limited space for people who look like you at the top when you can see it with your own eyes.’

However, there are still many senior women who take their ‘mother-hen’ role seriously and know that the antidote to being penalized for sponsoring women is to do it more.

Enjoy reading this article, Steliana

Lessons from my grandmother …at her funeral

grandmother

People will forget what you did, they will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel’ (M. Angelou)

You never know how you will be impacted by the death of one of your family members until it happens. My last grandparent, my maternal grandmother, passed away last Saturday.

Considering she reached the age of ninety, the funeral was a calm event,  an opportunity for the grandchildren to celebrate her life and recall childhood memories.

There was one moment in church that really touched me. Her younger brother, now seventy plus years old himself, burst into tears when he kissed her cold hand as farewell. From the thirty-odd people in church, he was the only one who really knew her as a young girl and not as a mother, grandma or aunt. He was saying good bye to the older sister who fed him and protected him when the other kids bullied him.

My grandmother was born in a large family of nine siblings. Her mother died when she was five years old and she grew up with a stepmother and many younger step brothers and sisters. She married at the age of 19 and she spent the next 60 years of her life looking after her husband and their children. My grandfather died 13 years and since than she has been an old widow searching her place in the family. In her last few days of suffering, before she died, she uttered several times, in her sleep, the world ‘mama, mama’. Her mother died when she was 5 so she wouldn’t have remembered her face, but I guess she carried the mum’s image in  her soul for the rest of her life.

She was more of a facilitator than the main character in our family. We struggled to share significant events that spoke about her personality. Although a soft spoken and gentle woman, the real gift that my grandmother had, was to make you feel special whenever you talked to her. We always felt like VIPs whenever we visited during summer holidays. We could ask for pancakes at 10 pm and it was immediately possible. Later in life, we came back with stories about our jobs, kids and travels and she listened with deep curiosity and admiration.

Although sad to see her go… I know that death brought an end to her suffering. Her death brought some deep emotions and questions for me:

You come to this world alone and feeling cold and you leave …alone and cold.

You carry your own mother in your soul for as long as you live.

Children build their own world once they fly out of the nest.

And …

What is the point of a life of sacrifice?

 

How to make your dreams real!

matsumoto castleOnce, almost thirty years ago,  I had a dream that one day visit I would visit Japan.  I was fascinated by stories with samurais and geishas, but when growing up in communist Romania you know that such dreams are as bold as nowadays travelling to the moon.

I almost forgot about my childhood dream until one day last year. I  stopped and realized that life can just pass by if you don’t make a conscious effort to follow up on your childhood dreams. My good friend Anouk helped me see how easy it sometimes is to ‘JUST DO IT!’. And I did it – I bought the flight tickets (Thanks Anouk!) Two weeks ago, together with my husband and my two small children we travelled from Tokyo, Kyoto and to the Japanese Alps and back. My beautiful Japanese dream didn’t stop at admiring the beautiful mountain river filled with colourful fishes, on the last day I got the opportunity to speak at the closing plenary of the  WIN Conference in Tokyo about realizing dreams and the upcoming Mothers as Leaders’ book.

Tokio WIN

Why is it important, for us women, not to give up our childhood dreams when becoming mothers?

It all started with a dreamYour mother gave birth to a perfect baby: You! 

  • Her dream was that you will be happy and that you will do something meaningful with your life and hopefully you will not repeat her mistakes. Honour her by making a difference in the world and by leaving your own legacy.

‘When everyone takes care of their own children than all children will be taken care of’

While I don’t fundamentally disagree with this statement I  do think that it’s not enough.  I have a boy of three-year-old and a daughter of six. I want the best for both of them, but I also believe that we need a society in which boys and girls have equal chances of reaching their dreams after becoming parents.

So, How can you make our dreams real and therefore become an agent of possibility and  ‘ become a force for good in the world”.

KNOW YOURSELF – become aware of your strengths, biases and vulnerabilities

BLOSSOM – allow your enthusiasm and commitment to grow

HELP – give and receive support in your  journey

EXPLORE  – be curious and stay connected to others, yourselves and your intuition.

And most importantly, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

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About the Author:

Steliana van de Rijt-Economu is a mother of two and a leadership consultant and coachShe believes that the world would be a better place when more women and mothers  ‘lean in’ to take formal leadership positions in society. 

How good is your balance?

'It is hard to be a woman, you must think like a man, act like a lady, look like a young girl and work like a horse.'

 

‘It is hard to be a woman, you must think like a man, act like a lady, look like a young girl and work like a horse.’

THE PERFECT WOMAN – I am sure you all heard the famous jokes made, mostly by men, about the perfect woman. There is a self-inflicted pain we women experience when aiming to become the ideal woman.

Personality traits such as perfectionism and the inner drive to please others tend to negatively impact our work-life balance. I am not a perfectionist but I don’t like to say ‘No’ and I like helping others, which means my day fills up pretty quickly. Learning to say ‘No’ and making personal choices for the activities I know I can personally have a real impact on results was the first lessons I had to learn in my career.

PERSONAL CHOICES – I sometimes think that work-life balance is a myth or a catchy title the Human Resources professionals use to lure new hires. There is no silver bullet for it. You either have a quiet job that eventually will become too quiet and not giving you the adrenaline you need or a chaotic, high pace job that leaves you exhausted at the end of the day. It is all about making the right choice for YOU at the right time.

I sometime think we should just let go and accept our imperfections, it’s what makes us human and it is what makes us truly beautiful.  

 

What do you think?

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About the Author:

Steliana van de Rijt-Economu is a mother of two and a leadership consultant and coach. She believes that the world would be a better place when more women and mothers  ‘lean in’ to take formal leadership positions in society. 

Mothers and Christmas

Christmas is a family event, we all know that. If you happen to be born into a Christian family you will probably spend Christmas visiting your mother’s house or she might be visiting you. If circumstances don’t allow you to travel, you will be probably connected with her somehow through facetime, a traditional call or simply wearing the ugly Christmas sweater she sent you as a present.

As a child I loved Christmas. I remember being seven years old and waiting for the biggest event of the year. I grew up in a small farmhouse surrounded by a large family of ten with my grandparents and a ninety-two-year-old great-grandma still living with us. Nobody seemed to enjoy the Christmas preparations as much as us, the kids. I would spend the whole afternoon together with my grandfather choosing the best Christmas tree we could find and then the evening with my grandmother rehearsing my repertoire of Christmas carols.

I felt happy and proud, but I do remember thinking:‘Why do grown-ups have to look so angry days before Christmas and then, on the day itself, put up a big smile?’

My mother was the biggest actress of all. We couldn’t touch any of the cookies and treats the days before Christmas. It was as if my mother and grandmother turned from these sweet normal women into some sort of masters of ceremony who would order us around and all we needed to do was to obey. But then, on the day itself, all of a sudden everything was possible.

So, what is the link between Christmas and mothers?
Well technically speaking, it all started with a mother – Maria –  giving birth to baby Jesus. A poor pregnant woman travelling on a donkey and trying to find a warm house to settle in and give birth to her baby. Nobody would host them in their house, so she ended up sleeping in the between the sheep and that’s where her baby was born.

It is a story about hope and the importance of generosity and love between human beings. It is a pity that 2017 years later, at only 225 Km away from Bethlehem, in Damascus and nearby cities there are still poor mothers walking through the cold trying to find warmth and food for their children. Meanwhile, 3300 km away from Bethlehem, in NW Europe, mothers such as myself worry about which presents they should pack for their children’s teachers.

Christmas is not about the office dinner parties with people you half like, it is not about the presents for the people who already have way too much and it is not about searching the best Amazon deals for the latest toy trends. My plea for mothers this Christmas is to stop for a minute and think about where it all started – a mother giving birth to a baby that brought hope into the world.

Let’s use Christmas as an opportunity to give time to our children – time to play and time to teach them about the importance of giving and of being kind towards people in need. Maybe like that, our children will remember us smiling on more days then only on Christmas-day itself.

Do you have leadership DNA?

MotherhuggingEarthWe live in a world where famous politicians, entrepreneurs, or film stars will tend to grab the news headlines. Little attention however seems to be paid to those who will truly shape the next generation: parents.  There is no leadership more important than parenthood for both women and men. Our entire society could benefit from having more patience and cooperation, rather than speed and competition.

True leaders, like mothers, must give more than they receive.

If I think about my own family when I was growing up, my mother always ate last and I don’t really remember her ever sitting for long at the table. Compare this with the world of business, filled as it is with dominant egos and cut-throat politics, where genuinely giving for the sake of helping others and with no personal motive is rare. Never mind eating last, most of us are pushing ourselves in front of the dinner queue with the excuse of seeing others fill their plates as high as they can!

Being a leader requires stamina, tenacity, patience and compassion for others.  Yet, as a mother, you have these skills embedded in your DNA.

I am someone who can easily turn into a workaholic when I get set on to new idea, but my children give me a purpose – a reason – to get home and enjoy the good things in life outside of work. My children also motivate me to show the best version of me – I can’t be a just ‘resource’ to them I need to be able to inspire them and to offer them a good environment for growth.

You grow as a leader when you turn motherhood into a springboard.

When I became pregnant with my first child I suddenly panicked thinking that there would be no way I would be able to both have children and achieve all my career ambitions. My own mother’s story – she had to give up on her own ambition for a university education – was resonating in my head. I had to re frame my own beliefs about motherhood and when I did it I had a big ‘aha’ moment – instead of seeing my busy day as a problem to be resolved I started to see it as a developmental springboard to become more assertive and decisive with my time.

Caring for my children helped me to become a more patient person, and someone better able to step back and see the big picture. I am now officially okay with chaos, uncertainty and volatility and this is exactly the context of the world we are living in these days, so to that extent having kids helps us to keep up with the pace of it all.

My invitation for you is to take a minute and reflect on the following:

Which leadership skills have you developed since you became a parent?

 

Who was your mother before being ‘Mum’?

motherandbabyLook at this picture and imagine that one day, long time ago, that baby was ‘You’ and that woman was your own ‘Mother’. It is hard to picture what was the life of your own mother before you got to know her as ‘Mum’.
In your mind, the ‘ Mum’ image is so strong that the brain finds it difficult to process the image of a young woman who once wandered through the world without worrying or caring about your existence.  Maybe your imagination is better than mine, but I was up for a big surprise when I interviewed my own mother for my book (look for it in 2018!). I interviewed many mothers  in the past year and I didn’t expect  it would be so emotional to hear my own mum’s life story and mainly the ups and downs she had before I was there. We spend one and a half hours together, with a little voice recorder on the table, my mum telling vivid stories of her childhood, her teenager time and how she almost died while giving birth to a ‘stillborn’ baby after a second pregnancy and me really listening , listening with my heart.  

She told me about the difficulties of young women in the Romania of  the ’70s who were forbidden to end any pregnancy. The doctors  were facing criminal prosecution if there was a suspicion that they were helping women with abortions. The autocratic Ceausescu’s introduced Decree 770/1966 to stimulate Romania’s population growth and the young women were tasked to deliver it. If you were hospitalized in the last trimester but hadn’t reached the 7 months cut off date, you were put in a special ward with ten other women in pain and left to deliver that baby alive or stillborn all by yourself . No doctor or nurse wanted to take the responsibility of what could have been seen by the regime as a provoked and unsuccessful abortion. If you were lucky enough to come for delivery after seven months, you got all the attention and support of a free, state sponsored medical system. It was a tough time for women like my mum, who had no choice but to stay in full employment while encouraged to put their babies in creches after six months.

I walked away from the evening with a new image of my mum and I understood how much life changed her from that ambitious young girl who wanted to go to University because she knew she had the brains for it, to that committed Mother who decided to give up on studying after giving birth to three kids she had to care for. What I learned in that evening is that:

I never actually knew who my mother really is, until that very moment.

My mother is an incredibly powerful woman who willingly gave her power away to my father and, in some cases, to her parents-in-law in exchange for the happiness and fulfillment of her children.

Do you really know who your mother was before being your mum?

Take some time to get to know her before is too late and if you want to know what questions I used in my ‘interview’ drop me a line and I am happy to help.

I was inspired to write this article after reading a piece of daily news about Harvey hurricane in Houston and the sad story of a mother and a child who had to leave their car for safety and unfortunately they were washed away by the water just before rescue forces got there. They only managed to save the child.

Thank you ‘Mama’ for everything you have done for me!

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About the Author:

Steliana van de Rijt-Economu is a mother of two young children Kara and Thomas, the wife of Sjors and in the past fifteen years she has been a HR Organizational and leadership consultant and coach.  She grew up in communist Romania, spent some of her youth in London and now lives with her family in The Netherlands. She believes that the world would be a better place when more women and mothers  ‘lean in’ to take that leadership position they are afraid of.

Her mission in life is  ‘to give people all over the world the opportunity to discover their uniqueness, their strength and the power to follow their dreams’.

Can mothers save the world? And, what is stopping us?

poor children

I belong to the privileged group of mothers that has the luxury to think about the rest of the world because her own family is safe and has enough to eat. I hope that you do as well.

I just returned from a two-week summer holiday in Cyprus and we had a wonderful time.  Still, the last picture I have left in my head  from our holiday is what I saw when I returned to the apartment after the check out. I saw two cars parked in front – one from the resort and a second one, behind it, that was old and branded with the name of some cleaning company. The second car driver  was  a  lady in her late thirties speaking Russian on the phone. Behind her, walked hurriedly three women. For an European eye they looked Asian, they could have been Filipino, but I wouldn’t bet my money on it. One of the women was younger, highly pregnant and  breathing heavily while holding her bump. The other two women who took the back seat looked looked older, skinnier, burned by the sun and with a miserable look on their face. None of them was wearing the resort’s uniforms and they squeezed in the car quickly as they were hiding from something. I knew that they returned from cleaning our apartment and I felt really bad that a poor unfed and pregnant woman had to bend to clean our floor in temperatures of 35 plus Celsius while we, the mothers at the swimming pool would complain that we don’t get 15 min to lay down on the sunbed without getting disturbed. I felt ashamed that I am also one of those mothers.

We keep a blind eye to the poverty around the world so that we can focus on our own family. In today’s world 2% of the people hold 80% of the wealth. This is the world we live in and we we accept every day. As mothers we have a crucial role to bring forth the next generation, but as we focus on our own kids we keep a blind eye to the injustice in the world. The sad thing is that the poverty and injustice impacts mainly the women and children.

So, how can mothers help saving the world? It can happen through solidarity with women which are in need and by speaking up, ‘Leaning in’ and sitting at the table when decisions are made. We all can do something, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant in the eye of the cynical.

What is stopping us?

Love is a ‘double-edge sword’. We love our kids too much and in our attempt to create a safe environment for them we end up creating a fake safe environment if we forget about what is outside our house.  We can give them a nice family house, but that house is in as society which is becoming increasing mistrustful and on a planet which is getting increasingly more polluted.

The quote that comes to my mind now is from the Manic street Preachers song: ‘And if you tolerate this then your children will be next’ . A friend of mine showed me the video of this song just before I left on vacation and the irony was that I got reminded of it by the sad reality. Thank you Lucy!