Why I Consider Motherhood A Stretch Assignment

A stretch assignment is defined as a project or task given to an employee which is beyond their current knowledge or skills level in order to “stretch” the employee developmentally. It challenges the employee by placing them out of their comfort zone in order to learn and grow. Whilst not proposed by an employer, i consider motherhood a stretch assignment. At least it has been for me.

The day our daughter was born six year ago, a mother was also born. I had never walked this road before so it was beyond my knowledge and skills level. Just when I thought I had mastered handling an infant, the terrible twos came with tantrums, and when that stage had passed, it was time to start school, more like one curve ball after another. As my children grow, I am also growing as a mother. I have developed important leadership competencies since I became a mother and I bring these with me to the workplace.

You see some people will have to read a book or attend a course on how to develop these competencies and wait for situations to present themselves in order to apply their theoretical knowledge. I am not implying that there is anything wrong with this approach. I am simply highlighting a more applied way that some might have a blind spot for. Mothers  and other primary care givers out there gain these competencies in a practical manner. The motherhood curve balls are always coming and mutating such that if I do not respond with agility, the situation could deteriorate…but let me not get ahead of myself.

Stretch assignments are usually linked to development of specific competencies and below is a list of the important leadership competencies that I believe mothers bring into the workplace.

  1. Negotiation skills – Our three children are aged 6, 4 and 4. Trust me when I tell you that nobody negotiates like a toddler. Daily I have situations that present themselves where any one of them or sometimes all of them have their own goals and intentions which are completely different from mine and I have to go through a negotiation process of seeking common ground to reach a mutual agreement whilst avoiding a third world war in our household. As mothers go through the negotiation process with their children daily, they are perfecting this very important competency. If the roles you have require a lot of negotiation, then consider a mother. It could save or bring your company millions of dollars.
  2. Conflict resolution – When the negotiation does not go as planned and the situation has deteriorated to a dispute and tears, then its conflict resolution that is needed and as any mother will tell you, we are highly qualified for this too. It’s from issues like I want to watch Paw Patrol and she wants to watch Sophia the First to You gave him a blue car and you gave me a yellow car but I also want the blue car. I always smile at the end of it when the twins are giving each other a hug after mummy dearest has “handled it”. And if a mother can do it at home, she can do it at work.
  3. Managing expectations – My eldest daughter taught me this one in an unexpected way. I actually wrote a post about it back in 2016 which you can read here but the brief summary is this. She had her first sport day at school (this was also our first sport day as parents). The conversation in the morning went something like this:

Me I am so excited and looking forward to your sports day.

Her But mummy when we were practicing others were faster than me.

Me (caught by surprise and not sure at all what to say)… Just do your best and have fun

Sometimes I am also caught by surprise by the questions and comments i get from my children but i have also learnt to think on my feet… but i digress, back to managing expectations. So my husband and I went for the sports day which by the way happens during working hours so if you want the benefit of what mothers bring to the workplace, offer them flexibility to attend important events such as these.

The races began and finally it was our daughter’s turn and like all the parents, we were on our feet cheering. To my wonderful surprise our daughter was first in two races and second in the 3rd race. I had an opportunity to talk to one of my daughter’s teachers who confirmed that during the school practice sessions, our daughter had not really been the fastest. When she told me her friends were all faster than her, she was not under promising. She was just telling me what had transpired. Obviously it was unintentional on her part but my expectations for the day were managed. I also believe despite this, she still wanted to do better and still believed she could and hence her really great performance…. well according to me her mother.

I was obviously happy and learnt a very important lesson from this incident and that is to manage expectations, a necessary quality in the workplace, needed as you lead your team and when you manage upwards. No under-promising or saying what you know cannot be done because that is what they want to hear. And by the way,  no employer will ever mention that they want you to manage their expectations and yet it’s an important skill for success.

4. Walking the talk – What I have learnt as a mother is that I have to walk the talk and not just be a “do as I say” person. Children will do what they see and not what they are told. It cannot be about putting rules of what should be done, and not do it yourself. One of my Line Managers who made a very great impression on me was very consistent when it came to “balance”. Most of the time he was out of the office by 6 pm. He would pass through our office and remind all of us to ensure we got home before the kids were asleep and we had helped them with homework. It’s extremely powerful when employees see workplace leaders model the behaviors they are requesting from them. As a mother and primary caregiver, I can be trusted to walk the talk in the workplace because I do it daily at home such that now it comes naturally.

5. Receiving and giving feedback – Receiving and giving feedback is important for any successful team. It’s easy to give feedback when it’s positive and even easier to receive good feedback. My children have taught me to receive the not so good but necessary feedback. Any mother will tell you that most times when young children give you feedback, it’s not even done in a considered way. Most times it’s brutal. When my children gave me feedback about my culinary skills, it stung but I received it and invested the time needed to improve in this area of my life. Not only can I receive negative feedback with grace, I can give it gracefully too because I know how important it is for feedback to be given in a considered manner for it to be received well and acted on.

6. Agility – When the curve balls keep coming, agility is the key to survival. Nothing teaches you agility like motherhood does. Sometimes the nanny does not come back from the weekend, sometimes the meetings take longer when I should be picking the children after school and sometimes one child falls sick when I  am on a business trip. When things like this happen, I do not panic, I calmly activate appropriate strategies, like leveraging my support structures to help. I liken the curve balls to the V.U.C.A world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) in which businesses operate today and who better to help a company navigate this than someone who has handled this before and still handles it often, a mother.

7. Teamwork – Teamwork comes naturally to me as a mother. I am not trying to be a lone ranger out for individual glory. In motherhood world, this is not possible. I have a “tribe” of trusted friends, helpers and advisers to help me as I navigate motherhood and yet I am fully aware of my own individual role in the whole process. Most workplaces are made up teams and I know about the chemistry that is needed for teams to succeed. You can trust a mother to build a great engaged team.

Here is what I am advocating for:

  • When you have a mother who took time off to look after her children and she is now re-entering the workforce, remember she developed some valuable competencies during her time away. She might have a gap on her CV, but this is by no means a gap in her leadership capabilities. Give her a chance.
  • When you have a senior position that you need to fill and one of your candidates is a mother, remember being a mother has already taken her out of a comfort zone and has allowed her practical development of critical competencies. It has stretched her. Give her a chance.

Motherhood is one unending stretch assignment. When you think you have mastered one development stage, the next one comes and you are stretched again. When you thought you had gained experience from child number 1, child number 2 and child number 3 will be completely different individuals requiring you to re-evaluate what you thought you had mastered. Isn’t this the agility needed in the corporate world?. Have I convinced you to consider motherhood a stretch assignment? Let me know in the comments section.

Follow me on my blog www.muminstiettos.com

Love and blessings

Mum in stilettos

I wish I had known….

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Before I became a mother, I had my own perceptions of what I thought motherhood involved. I never really understood the decisions and choices that mothers around me were making and therefore made judgments that when I look back I had no basis for making. Hey I am only human…

I remember visiting my sister during one of my college semester breaks. By then she was married with a little beautiful baby girl. I expected life to go on “the way I had always known it”, like we would go shopping, go to the hair salon or get our manicures and pedicures. To my horror, when we went shopping all she wanted to do was shop for little girls clothes… can you imagine how boring that was for me a nineteen year old varsity girl who had no interest whatsoever at that time in marriage, let alone in little babies….honestly, I concluded this was not the sister I had always known and she was now boring…

Well, fast forward more than a decade later and I am the mother of not one, but three amazing little people that I would walk to the end of the universe for. My life as I knew it changed the day I became a mother six years ago. Today’s post is like my confessional of all the misconceptions I had.

  1. I wish I had known that my workmate was telling the truth when she did not show up at work and her reason being her nanny had not pitched. I wish I had known that emergencies like this do happen when you least expect them to and at the most inconvenient time.
  2. I wish I had known that when my sister had that slightly bulgy tummy six months after giving birth, it was not because she was “letting herself go” or had given up on her looks. She really was trying her best to shed the post baby weight and what she needed from me was support and understanding and not judgment.
  3. I wish I had known that when you are the source of food and comfort for a little person, when you are sleep deprived and trying to figure out the whole mothering thing, you prioritise differently.
  4. I wish I had not judged that lady whose child threw up on her in church and she just did not have another change of clothes for the baby because he had already done the same thing twice already. Oh dear…
  5. I wish I had known that shopping for pink dresses and cartoon character clothing is just as important and that for sure long “stick on” nails are not that practical when you are a nursing mother and you need to wash the baby clothes on a Saturday when the nanny is away. Forget washing machine coz ZESA, ESKOM, Kenya Power and ZESCOM are not reliable at all. Trust me I know.
  6. I wish I had known that the sleepless nights I experienced during pregnancy were probably a “rehearsal” of sorts for the sleepless nights I would have nursing my twins. Maybe just maybe, I would have been in a better psychological space.
  7. I wish I had known that priorities change once a baby is born.
  8. Despite all the preparation, all the books I read and advice I got I wish I had known that my life would never be the same again and that experience is indeed the best teacher.

Seriously though, balancing or juggling or whatever you prefer to call it being mom, a professional woman, a wife and all other roles that we have is not easy. The mothers around us need our support so please do cut them some slack. If you are already a mother whose children are older, do not forget too quickly and also remember every mother’s experience is different. Let’s be there for each other.

I know I am not the only “sinner” here. Please do confess your misjudgments and misconceptions about motherhood before you became one.

Love and blessings

Doing you.. .

Do you ever find yourself comparing yourself to what you see others potraying on social media? Like how they always seems to have it all together?

Well the truth is most of us will always put our best foot forward, like posting the best pics only with our make up perfectly done, kids behaving and smiling for the camera and the house neat with all toys packed neatly in their place.

What you will not see are the days when the eyes are sleep deprived because one child was unwell for most of the night, or the untidy house because the maid had an emergency and could not show up and not forgetting the late night in preparation for the make or break presentation at work.

Today I just wanted to remind you that comparing yourself to what you see others potraying on social media steals your joy. Do you and remember that what you see others potraying is actually not the whole story.

Yours truly

muminstilettos@outlook.com

How to spend quality time with your children

So last Friday I wrote about Mommy Me Time and some of the activities that you could do to relax, rejuvenate and be in a good space to look after those you love. This is important. Remember you have to fit your own mask first before you can help others.

Now I know as a working mom you have to also spend time with your children. I find that sometimes I am extremely busy at work that I don’t engage with them fully during the week as I would want. Here are some of the things you can do to spend quality time with your children.

1. Prepare their favourite meal together regardless of their gender. If you are a mom of a boy child, remember you are raising tomorrow’s gentleman and husband. If he is going to help his wife in the kitchen in future, he needs to learn from you now.( That’s a topic for another day). YouTube has great videos for making easy recipes that kids can be involved in. On some weekends we make pizza and the kneading and mixing is so much fun for little people. Don’t worry if you don’t match the real pizza from the Italian restaurant. It’s about spending time with your children and doing something fun together.

2. If you have girls, go to the hairdresser together and enjoy getting your hair and theirs done.

3. Our boy loves cars and trains and there is nothing more he loves than have mommy help him build the race tracks and race cars together. By the way our girls are also into cars so this is definitely something we all do together.

4. Have a picnic in the garden and bring their favourite healthy snacks.

5. My kids love sleepovers but I do not allow them to go for any so once in a while we have a “sleepover” in the lounge and we bring all our mattress and talk and play games until they dose off to sleep one by one. We usually do this over long weekends when we know we aren’t going anywhere the following morning.

6. Watch their favourite TV show together with you totally engaged and your mobile phone very far away. In our house we love Paw Patrol, Blaze and The Monster Machines and Rainbow Ruby. (NB I am careful what my children watch and it’s important that every mom does). It is also important to limit screen time for children but we can talk about that another time.

7. Listen to them, their stories and be fully present. Answer all their questions and enjoy every moment with them. I am sure, well I know they will not be children forever.

Enjoy the weekend with your children and do share with me how you spend quality time with your children at muminstilettos@outlook.com

How To Make Mornings Easier

Weekday mornings are hectic in our household. Getting all of us ready and avoiding the Nairobi traffic to get to work and the kids to school on time is not easy. After trying out different routines, the following has helped our family a lot and below are some of the ways we make our weekday mornings easier.

1. Get a live-in house help. This will ensure you have help with some of the things that need to be done in the morning.

2. Prepare the lunch boxes the night before. It’s even better to make a schedule of what you are packing in the lunchboxes for the whole week and ensure the ingredients are available when you need them.

3. Pack the school bags the night before remembering to include everything needed, sports kits, library books etc. You really don’t want to be the one whose child is always missing one thing or the other.

4. Take out the clothes the kids will wear the night before. Same for you. Decide what you are wearing the night before and save yourself time trying out different outfits.

5. Make waking up pleasant. No screaming or pulling blankets off. If you use an alarm for the children, make it as friendly as possible for example their favourite rhyme or song.

6. With experience I have come to realise that our bedtime habits determine the success of our mornings. Even during weekends I now insist on sticking to the same bedtime as weekdays.

7. Wake up early and give yourself enough time to get ready and also get the children ready.

8. Simplify breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day but do not complicate it.

9. If you have to, set an alarm for the time that you need to leave the house and still aim to leave 5 minutes earlier than that time.

Try out some of the above and share with me your feedback and comments. I am always happy to hear from you and can be reached on muminstilettos@outlook.com

Have a great week ahead with easy mornings.