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.
Once, 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.
Why is it important, for us women, not to give up our childhood dreams when becoming mothers?
It all started with a dream…Your 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.
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.
‘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?
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.
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.
We 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?
Look at this picture and imagine that one day, long time ago, that baby was ‘You’ and that woman was yourown ‘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!
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’.
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.
Can you really be a ‘Bad mother’ or is it just about being a ‘bad leader’?
I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine who is seriously considering not having kids because she is afraid of being a bad mother. I find it difficult to even write the words ‘bad mother’.
It feels counter-intuitive. I know most of you would say: ‘There is no such a thing as a bad mother’. Who hasn’t, at least once in their life, given her child that extra ice cream that she should have said ‘no’ too? You knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but you did it anyway . After that, you felt weak because you gave your leadership power to the child. Still, calling yourself a bad mom is a pretty heavy accusation.
There is no school for becoming a parent. You have the best intention and you do the best you can under certain circumstances, that is all. A mother, as any leader in this world, needs to be confident. No one wants to follow an insecure leader, so why would kids listen to insecure parents.
I remember being six months pregnant and terrified with the thought that I am not built for the motherhood job. I asked for mentoring and advice from one of the female managers in our team who had two small kids . She reassured me that it will be ok – ‘the kids will have priority’. For her the balance worked because she decided she wouldn’t be a home-goddess.
What I would now tell to my friend is that, although I am writing a blog for mothers, I don’t have all the answers. I am just doing my best to be the best version of myself I can be, because my kids deserve the best mother. Does that mean that I do everything perfect , no actually not. I don’t bake, I am pretty impatient with art work and I am not the mum who joins all the school trips.
There was only once when I thought I am a bad mother… .a few months back I brought my daughter to school in the morning and somehow she had imagined she would make a special entry with her new dress. Unfortunately the ‘ WoW’ factor didn’t happen, which meant she broke down in tears and ran down to the toilet. She was in such a state that I thought that I would have to call the school psychiatrist. I was myself a mess. From all the crisis, the pulling, running down the school corridors I ended up loosing my car keys. So, here I was 10 min to 9.00, about to get to my car for a work teleconference with Singapore at 9.30 and not having my car keys nor the state of mind to facilitate a sort of difficult leadership hand-over between two disgruntled people.
I was about to start crying, thinking that I should have handled my daughter differently so that she doesn’t end up in tears and so and so on, but when my emotions reached a certain peak, I suddenly saw this coffee corner at the end of the parking lot and I thought – there is nothing that a good cup of coffee can’t solve. So, appreciating the fact that I least had my wallet with me – I sat down had my coffee and started to make calls to cancel all my morning meetings. When I called my boss, to tell him I had a situation at school I needed to deal with, surprisingly he said – no problem, take care of it. Then, as a side joke, he said he was surprised it had only happened once in the last two years. Eventually, I went back to school, found my keys and I even got to have my difficult Singapore discussion, but the heavy feeling ‘I am a bad mother’ stayed with me. I confessed about it to my mother-in-law and she said only that – ‘you should never, never doubt that what you are doing to educate your child is wrong and doubt yourself like that! You can not let those thoughts in your head.You will go crazy by the time they are eighteen’
My advice for anyone worrying about being a bad mother: You can be confident of one thing – parenthood is something everyone learned by doing. “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” (Aristotle)
When a woman becomes a mother a wonderful transformation happens in her life. She will soon realize that the cost she has to pay for having and raising children will be higher than for most men becoming fathers.
For millennia, culture and science have colluded to explain why women aren’t as competitive and ambitious as men. Even Charles Darwin wrote in the ‘Evolution of Species’ that successful males evolved to win the mating race, while women raised and nurtured the young. Two American Economists and Sociologist, Ury Gneezy and John Smith did a fascinating study on competitive drive by looking at ordinary men and women in their natural habitat doing things people tend to do every day. The question they searched an answer for: ‘Is it Nature or Nurture what determines women’s competitive drive?’
First they looked at the impact of the ‘Nature factor’. To test whether young boys and girls would have different competitive tendencies they asked ten-year-old kids to run forty meters on a track, one at a time. After that the student who ran at similar speed they raced against each other. There were no incentives and they didn’t even told the kids it was a competition. The boys reacted stronger to the competitive environment and they ran faster. The girls ran about as fast as they ran when they ran alone.
To look at the impact of Nurture and the cultural influence on competitiveness in men and women they went to visit the most patriarchal and the most matrilineal cultures of the world, the Masai tribe in Tanzania and the Khasi tribe in India.The data showed them that men and women in Kenya Masai tribes were a lot like the men and women from developed nations. What is surprising in this experiment is that for the same experiment, the differences between Masai and US were relatively small(69% vs 50% of the Masai men and 31% versus 26% for the Masai women).
On the other side in the Khasi tribe they found a reversed sexism. It is one of the few left matriarchal tribes left in the world, in which inheritance flaws through mothers to their youngest daughter. When a woman marries, she doesn’t move into her husband home, rather he moves into hers. The mother’s house is the center of the family and the grandmother is the head of the household. Khasi women don’t do any farming, but as the owners of the land, they wield a great authority over men.
In identical throwing experiments as the ones conducted for the Masai tribes, they looked at how competitiveness shows up for the Khasi women and men. The Khasi women behaved more like the Masai and the US men. The Khasi experiment, shed some light into the nature versus nurture questions. Given the right culture, women are as competitively inclined as men, and even more so in some situations. Competitiveness is not only set by evolutionary forces, as Charles Darwin suggested.
The average woman would compete more than the average man if the right cultural incentives are in place.