Identity. What is it? It determines so much in our lives. It is who we are. It is what we do. It is where we come from. It is how we look – inherently and aesthetically. It is how we behave. But it has become about so many more superficial things in today’s society and the result is that so many of us get lost in finding ourselves because we ourselves don’t know who we are, or who we want to become. We get caught up in the world, our jobs, our things and lose sight of our goal, if we ever even had one, in the process. Sometimes the search for one’s identity feels as though it’s a never-ending, treacherous, mountain climb and you’re standing at the foot of a daunting peak. Great Expectations stopped and took stock with Liz Winter about her decision to exit the corporate world in search of her identity and finding meaning in her life.

To give you a little bit of background, Liz completed a BComm Honours in Organisational Psychology in 2007. She then went on to work as an online Travel Agent to save up the money for an air ticket to the U.K. She arrived in London, bright eyed and bushy tailed, in April 2009 and worked at an Asset Management Company for 2 years after which she returned to Cape Town in 2011 and continued to work in the Finance industry for 4 years. She underwent a drastic career change in 2015 and started working in the Events Management industry. She is now currently (and recently) unemployed by choice, and is excited to be on a new journey to discover what career she’d like to follow. Now, these days exiting the Corporate world at such a young age can seem questionable. And there are, I’m sure, a whole host of questions and unreserved judgements being made regarding her decision. I mean, you’re on your way to a successful career some may think, you’re earning well, you have everything you need…or do you? We asked Liz (pictured left below) to answer a few questions for us to shed some light on her recent careers moves and to provide some encouragement for those in a similar place who are feeling the need for a change…

Liz, your original decision to leave Corporate for Events, what prompted that? I feel like this was the first decision in a series of events which resulted in you making this career move?

Yes, there were a number of reasons for leaving – it was the long working hours and the working environment – it made me unhappy, there was very little recognition and I began to feel like I wasn’t good at my job. It was very demotivating.

What prompted you to make the change from being an employee in the events industry to your current status?

I was unhappy with who I was becoming in the workplace as well as outside of the workplace. I did not feel accomplished or satisfied with the work I was doing. I realized that my work was creeping into my personal life far too much, and the result was that I was not taking care of myself or having the time to do the things that I enjoy. Everyone has different priorities in life with varying degrees of importance. Being at work for 70% to 80 % of my week means, for me, that I need to feel some sense of fulfilment and happiness – this has become my priority and this was not the case a short while ago.

You left without a job lined up which some will question and ask “was that wise?”

A number of thoughts ran through my head for a couple of months before I resigned from my job. Fear and doubt being the biggest two of them all. Fear of: judgement, debt, being unemployed, halting my ‘life plan’, and doubting myself that I could cope. These were all very big fears, but the fear of judgement and failure consumed my worry the most. I was worried what my colleagues, friends and family would think of my decision – assuming that most would think it’s irresponsible and question what I would do next. Opposite to the fear I was feeling, I felt the overwhelming need to take care of myself (physically and mentally), and this is what I chose to do and I am so glad I did.

Your ability to leave your job without one lined up – many would say that’s unrealistic and they’re not in a position to just stop working and how could you have done that if you weren’t earning an income so perhaps we have to practically shed some light on what enabled you to make that move as this may not be the case for so many in the same ‘career transition’ boat as you. I’m just considering how to encourage in light of the situation some may be in and perhaps it isn’t stopping working to find themselves but perhaps it’s making a move to something they are passionate about that is the first step in the right direction of finding their identity?

When I made the decision to resign, I knew it was a huge risk financially. Although I could reduce my monthly costs slightly, I still had expenses which needed to be paid (rent, medical aid, insurance etc.). Of course, I had moments of panic whilst working through my notice period, doubting whether I would manage and whether I would eventually have to rely on my family. I was emotionally exhausted, and the support and encouragement I received from my family made me realise that although it’s scary to resign without a new job lined up, it was far more important to take care of myself. Once I had resigned, I decided on a rough timeline – how long I would like to take a break for and what was realistic financially. I knew that I would need to dip into my savings and that I would need to get a part-time time job. I have been very fortunate to find part-time work which has supported me financially and also allowed me enough time to figure out what is next, and what job role I might enjoy. One and half months of unemployment-by-choice done, and so far it’s been great – mostly because I have the time to think. I definitely don’t doubt my decision. Taking the step to resign without a new job almost made me feel like I had an identity – I did something which was important for me.

What advice would you give to others on how to handle this period of transition?

  1. Be honest and confident when someone asks you why you did it and what your plan is. Most people will respect and support your decision. I have received a huge amount of support and encouragement from my family and friends.
  2. Try to develop a routine for each day. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you still have to wake up at 6:00 am like you used to, but plan your days out – I even schedule in my walk in Kirstenbosch. This time is equally important during a time of transition, so schedule it in. I write everything in my diary the night before. It’s not set in stone, but it’s a guide and it also gives me a purpose to each day.
  3. Take care of yourself, and be a little selfish with your free time – don’t try to squeeze too much into each day.

In my conversations with the most senior and seemingly confident women, fear is often cited as a reason for not going for that new job, a promotion or salary increase. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, or fear of losing are all implied as reasons for not stepping out and speaking up. But most often, fear is expressed as “not having enough” of whatever they perceive it may take to succeed or excel. Enough skill, enough experience, enough whatever…

As this wonderful picture shows, men and women think and behave differently in these circumstances! Women see development discussions as an opportunity to talk about what they’re not getting right, while men see development discussions as an opportunity to promote themselves. When it comes to applying for a job or a promotion research tells us that men are more likely to apply even when they lack a large percentage of the criteria required, while women being generally more risk averse, might have 80% of what’s required for the role, and won’t apply because in their view, “it is not enough! ”

This issue is regularly part of the coaching conversation we have with women who have transitioned back to work after maternity leave. They might well return with a change of identity and a whole new set of responsibilities and priorities, but this doesn’t mean they have lost everything they knew before they became a Mom. In fact, in our coaching conversations, I am intentional about helping them focus, not only on the strengths they have always had, but also on the immense learning and growth they experienced on becoming a parent. When I ask the question: “What have you learnt from being a mom? What have you learnt about yourself?” they are taken aback by the question. When given enough time to think about it, they are then surprised by their own answers. Here are a few that regularly come up …

– I don’t sweat the small stuff

– I have become more patient and tolerant of others.

– I have become more empathetic; I have become softer in a good way.

– I am better at delegating

– I have become more productive – I have better focus on how I use my time

We then talk about how these translate into the way she handles her day to day business operations and connections. It’s a major AHA! moment for her when she recognizes that many of these new found skills and attributes are valuable for leadership, and can be the very thing that will differentiate her from other candidates.

A good acronym for Fear is: False Evidence Appearing Real…

Next time you have an opportunity to put yourself forward for promotion, don’t question whether you have ENOUGH to offer. In most instances, we have more than ENOUGH to take that important step in the direction of our goals. It is just a case of examining the real evidence,and then having the courage to present it for consideration.

Great Expectations has collaborated with a few amazing local businesses to bring you a Mother’s Day competition to swoon over. We will be offering one lucky winner in Cape Town:

A luxury pedi voucher valued at R390 to treat your toetsies to from Rouge Day Spa. Rouge Day Spa are a health and beauty spa based in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. Their environment, whilst being professional and service orientated, is also wonderfully casual and comfortable. In summer, guests are encouraged to relax on the sun deck, enjoy the salt water swimming pool and tanning loungers. In winter they offer a cosy lounge area complete with a fireplace and wifi facilities for you to enjoy before or after your treatments. To find out more about this local gem, visit their website’s about us page and view their treatments here.

Second on the list of prizes is 2 dreamy classic satin pillowslips from Satin Secret, an owner run business also based in the southern suburbs in Cape Town. Helen is a dear friend and has developed a beautiful brand. With major benefits including reducing sleep creases and ageing effects to your face and hair, satin’s soft and lustrous texture and hypoallergenic qualities make sleeping on it a ‘Royal invitation to health and beauty!” With a pillowcase so inviting you’ll be wanting to lay your head down on it all day!

Next up is an exclusive floral bouquet valued at R550 from The Rose CafeThe Rose Café is a floral studio offering exclusivity in flowers and has become firmly established as one of the first choice florists for discerning customers across Cape Town. Their team provide quick and efficient flower deliveries across Cape Town 6 days a week. They pride themselves in the excellent quality of the stylish and elegant combinations they lovingly put together daily and the personalised attention to detail you can rely on from them. All of their flowers are hand-picked daily by Angie and Thandi to ensure their freshness. Their bouquets, posies, arrangements and hampers are beautifully presented and finished off in their signature Rose Cafe stylewhich is known for its classic English influence with a local, South African flavour. They have a comprehensive online shop for your convenience, making ordering beautiful flowers, whatever the occasion, a walk in the park.

And, to top it all off, our GRAND PRIZE is a 2 hour Coaching Session with Melany Green of Great Expectations valued at R4000! Great Expectations helps organisations realise the significant commercial benefits of retaining their high achieving women and improving engagement during the critical life stage of maternity transition. Melany is passionate about mentoring women through the challenges and joys of integrating their multiple roles as career women, wives and mothers, and making business a better and more accessible place for parents. The session she is offering is best suited to a woman who is going through or has recently been through a career or maternity transition but it can also take the form of an executive coaching session so it does not exclude anyone not fitting the above criteria. As a detached awareness raiser and facilitator of introspection, Melany will help you through listening, reflecting, challenging, supporting and encouraging and hopes to provide you with some clarity and direction about where you are at and where you are headed in your career.

Now, if you’re wondering what you need to do to stand a chance to win this incredible prize, the answer is simple:

  1. Like the Facebook page of each of the contributors mentioned above.
  2. Like and share the post on your timeline, tagging in each of the contributors.
  3. Tag in 2 friends to the Facebook Competition post pinned to the top of the Great Expectations timeline who (apart from you) you think would most benefit from this amazing prize (so that they can enter too).

Good Luck! Our winner will be announced at the end of May.

  • Winners need to follow all of the above steps in order to qualify for the prize.
  • Prizes are not transferable.
  • Due to the value of the prize on offer and our desire for this to be of maximum benefit to the recipient, the person eligible for this prize needs to be a professional, currently working or in a career or maternity transition.
  • Our decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

You can’t “have it all” if you insist on “doing it all”, yourself.

The merging of a career and family is not an easy transition. A common theme in my coaching sessions with professional women in this phase, is to explore their sense of feeling overwhelmed, overloaded, and fatigued especially upon their return to work.

On examining their circumstances, the real issue is best described by the women themselves in these words: “I am my own worst enemy – I can’t let go, I know I’m doing too much!”

Whether you are a perfectionist, OCD or a control freak, the D.I.Y approach doesn’t serve you long term. Choosing not to seek help from others, or resisting offers of help, simply increases the pressure on yourself. This pattern tends to start during maternity leave and is unsustainable when, on return to work, the amount on your plate doubles.

Here are some good habits to cultivate, so that you can focus your time and attention on the activities that count …

  1. If you have a domestic support system, USE IT!

In South Africa we are blessed beyond belief to have access to wonderful domestic helpers and nannies. Consider some of the basic domestic chores you may be insisting on doing, because it makes you feel like you are a ‘good mom’. Ask yourself: “Is this the BEST use of MY time when I get home from work, when I have so little time for myself, my husband and my baby?” If the answer is no, hand the job over, equipping your helper to handle it for you to meet your expectations. Don’t be washing bottles while your helper is washing your baby. That’s precious bonding time that you’re missing out on. Be present, delegate and don’t allow the tiredness at the end of the day overwhelm you into robot mode when you get home. Connecting with your baby and husband will be what re-energises you, not a sink full of soapy water and Milton!

  1. Share the load with your husband or partner. 

A colleague of mine said this the other day: “We are taught that a VERB is a DOING word: FATHER is as much a DOING word, as MOTHER!”  Your husband or partner is a key element of your support system. Accept his offers of help and invite his help as soon as the new baby arrives. Then let him find his way and build his confidence without criticism, even if it means biting your bottom lip until it bleeds! It is easy to nitpick when he doesn’t do things as perfectly as you would, and most men won’t because they just not geared that way to begin with, but you are creating a rod for your own back later, when you have considerably less time after work. With more mom’s becoming significant financial role players in the family ,with greater work responsibilities drawing them away from their families, there is even more need for Dads to lend a helping hand. It’s the perfect opportunity for Dads to be integral in the daily lives of their children when in days gone by they were, for the most part, disconnected physically and emotionally from their children. The ‘woman’s place’ was considered to be with the children and most men would come home, pour a drink and sit down in their chair to relax. With many of those stereotypes being blown out of the water, a lot of Dads are actually forming closer, more intimate relationships with their kids and are playing a more significant role in moulding and shaping their little ones, as they partake in their daily routines in a more active way.

  1. Accept offers of help from family and friends graciously

With the arrival of a new baby, we underestimate the interest and love of family and friends, who often demonstrate this with sincere offers of help. They want to feel involved and supportive in some way – it makes them feel good and useful. But the natural tendency for many women is to respond to these offers with a “no thanks, I’m fine”.  Why do we say this? We may genuinely be ‘fine’ but our refusal more often than not is because we don’t want to cause the person any trouble, or display any signs that we aren’t coping. It is also easier to say no when we haven’t thought about what help we may need. Consider having some ideas in mind of the kind of help you would appreciate, so that you can respond with something concrete, like a pre-cooked meal for your freezer, some child-minding or shopping. I am sure if you think about it, you can come up with a few practical ideas of your own.

In whatever life-phase we are, it is a sign of strength not weakness to be effective at delegating, to graciously accept help when it is offered, and to be vulnerable enough to ask for it. Being helpful is as much a gift to the giver as it is to the receiver.

Let’s be honest that menstruation and sanitary hygiene are generally considered taboo subjects. It tends to create a sense of embarrassment, perhaps driven by the belief that it is a ‘private female issue’ not to be raised publicly, even in its many euphemistic forms. I sadly have to admit that I thought twice about our recent adoption of our social investment NPO, Project Dignity, and the reality that I would need to go public with this topic, in support of this worthy cause.

This is however a topic that must be spoken about.

Despite being a natural and necessary biological consequence of puberty in young women, in many cultures menstruation is perceived as unclean and something to be ashamed of. Many of us who live in our little bubble of the Western world have no idea what women in many countries in the 21st Century, including our very own, have to endure every month for the better part of their lives.

survey in India found nearly 25% of girls drop out of school permanently when they reach puberty, because they have no toilet at school. Women in many parts of India and Nepal are banished for menstruating. It is really hard to imagine being 14 years old and isolated in a hut away from your community while you bleed, a hut that has no sanitation and where you are prone to disease. It is a practice called Chhaupadi, which an article by Sugam Pokharel and James Griffiths of CNN describes in more detail.

Closer to home, and taking a look at the figures provided in our feature picture, statistics indicate that close to 7 million girls between 10 and 19 years in South Africa, miss a week of school every month due to limited access to sanitary pads. The poorer townships and rural schools lack affordable sanitary products, safe, clean sanitation and running water, and private ablution facilities.  It makes it easy to understand why a young menstruating girl would choose staying at home over attending school. The reality is a shocking one.

The stigma of menstruation prevents girls and their communities from talking about and addressing the problem.

I get angry when I think about the loss of the potential in these young girls, and the loss to our society of more educated, empowered women who can add value to the economy and whose lives and ultimately families could be changed for the better as a result of a better education. All of this can be enabled by a simple, basic need being met. We all need to know what is happening on our doorstep, to care about it and to dare to talk about it.

Project Dignity manufactures and supplies SubzWashable Pants and Pads which has given hope to young girls, allowing them to feel free to participate in daily activities, not to feel ashamed or embarrassed, and to complete their education. They work with existing networks of community educators and Life Orientation Teachers in schools to raise awareness and to distribute the Subz Pants and Pads product to young girls aged 10-19 years in schools throughout Kwa-Zulu Natal, Cape Town and South Africa.

Donations are very welcome. If you would like to contribute to the incredibly worthy cause simply click on the Donate button on our fundraising page here  https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/great-expectations-project-dignity-fund-ra. We are only just getting started but we can use all the support we can get.

Is the decision to start a family the “fork in the road”?

“She chose to have a baby, she needs to just accept that she can’t perform the way she used to” (…said by a female Line Manager of her recently returned employee)

“Having a baby was her choice – she mustn’t expect special treatment now that she’s back at work” (…said by a male Line Manager of his recently returned employee)

“I suppose it was my choice to start a family; I need to deal with the fact that I can’t compete with my male colleagues” (spoken by a female lawyer on her return from Maternity Leave)

“They should never have chosen to have children, if the intention was for her to go back to work.” (…this said by a baby boomer friend who has a daughter who is now a working mother –I was so gob smacked I was speechless, for once!)

I get seriously irritated when I hear these kind of comments, which I hear often in my work. What they are saying, is that when you choose to have a baby, you have also chosen between family and career. In other words, “I need to resign myself to the fact that I can’t stay on track of my career and be a good employee and a good mom.” This is precisely the kind of thinking that fuels self-doubt, and stops us having the kind of crucial conversations that are necessary to change the way organisations think about working mothers.

We are looking to merge the paths. Each woman’s journey is unique, and she needs to find the best way to do this that is right for her, for her family and for her career. If we can help more women get this right, organisations will reap the commercial benefits, and more families will benefit from the significant legacy value that working moms bring to their children and their household.

A few interesting snippets on Sleep, with some gift ideas for Christmas! 

You may be wondering how Sleep and Christmas gift ideas fit together, read on…

I am a third of the way through Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive, and loving it. (Note: Gift idea #1)

One of her topics, which she cheekily calls “Sleep your way to the top”, promotes the value of sleep as a health habit (which I think we all get), but also as a source of creativity, confidence, cognitive function and consideration for self and others – all good leadership qualities. Amongst others, she quotes a Dr Breus, the author of Beauty Sleep, who apparently swears that sleeping will actually do more for weight loss than exercise. So that is another benefit right there, ladies!

I realise I am on shaky ground talking about Sleep when many of the readers may be new parents, and where sleep has taken on a whole new meaning. For you, this is a season of tracking and counting every minute of sleep you get and having just 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep is worth celebrating. The good news is that seasons change and this intense period of sleep deprivation won’t last forever.

Whether your sleep bundle is three hours or eight, getting a good night’s sleep can be easier said than done. Here are some practical steps that could be useful to help you get a restful night (and more gift ideas to support them)…

  • Have an unwind routine to switch off your brain. This includes cutting the umbilical cord from all cyber connectivity (laptops, TV, mobiles etc) for at least two hours before bed time. I find this takes huge discipline as curiosity to just quickly check for messages often gets the better of me.
  • Keep a note book and pen handy to jot down the top few to dos for the next day. Unless you are one of those people who can just hit the pillow and go into dreamland, have you noticed that as soon you are about to doze off, your brain goes into ‘search and detect mode’? Mine tends to find my biggest most obscure issue and then settle there. So annoying! Somehow, getting the problems or actions down on paper, takes them out of your head, so that you can let go of it.
  • Get a new pillow, or better still get yourself a satin pillow slip. You have no idea how luxurious it feels to put your head on a satin pillow. Did you know that outside of the lovely feel of it, satin is anti-ageing, anti sleep-crease, hypo-allergenic and prevents hair loss and breakage?

I have a small travel pillow with a satin cover which I take on trips, because it fits easily into a suitcase. It is helpful when sleeping on foreign pillows in guesthouses or hotels, to have familiarity of your own pillow and some extra neck support.

  • An eye visor is also helpful. Somehow blocking out all light, and having some weight on your eyelids, can help to get you off to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. A satin one is a bonus!
  • Having some exercise during the day also improves your chances of a restful night

If you would like to get the Satin items mentioned here for yourself or as gifts, please contact Helen Veitch. She is a lovely lady in Cape Town who has created a little business to support her retirement. Please note that I don’t earn any commissions for promoting her products! Feel free to contact Helen direct via the email address you can see on her packaging in the photograph or by clicking on the link above and she will be able to send you your order wherever you are.

In closing, for Arianna, getting more and better sleep has influenced the regularity and quality of her dreaming. For me, the best thing is to cancel the alarm and simply to wake up when I am finished sleeping!

by Melany Green

A real strategy for women to get ahead. I know what you are thinking:  Self-Promotion??? I can’t do that! My response: Yes, you can. You CAN make yourself more visible, position your value and even ask for a pay rise!

Let me explain…

I was recently reminded that for many women, self-advocacy does not come naturally. I have the privileged job of working with many amazing professional women, coaching them through the maternity transition. Time and time again, especially once they have returned after several months of maternity leave, the issue of self-doubt is raised. Understandably after being away, it takes a few months to get back into the rhythm of their role, managing the ‘new normal’. But it is a fact that these high performing women become job-fit very quickly and are able to put in an amazing day’s work, before they go home to their young family and their roles as Moms and Wives.

The problem is that women don’t give themselves credit for what they ARE getting right and getting done. They tend to focus on what they perceive they are not getting right nor doing enough of. And what makes this worse, they often unwittingly express their lack of satisfaction with their own performance in conversation with others, rather than talking positively about what they ARE achieving.

Is this a confidence issue or is it simply that high-achieving women are naturally self-critical, don’t recognise the value of their own contribution, and don’t (sell it?) position themselves in a positive light?

In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance. Women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality. Men are more inclined to put themselves forward for a promotion and pay rise, than women.

Here are some gender stats to confirm this:  Hewlett-Packard discovered some years ago, when trying to figure out how to get more women into top management positions, that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. “Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. At HP, and in study after study, the data confirms what we instinctively know. Under-qualified and under-prepared men don’t think twice about self-advocacy. Over-qualified and over-prepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.”

Closer to home, I had another recent example of this. A recent coachee, who is a top performer in her firm, in a unique role, with everything going for her, actually told me that whilst she feels she is worthy of promotion, and if not promotion, definitely of earning more, she would never raise this with her line manager. She said “I would hope they are noticing my contribution and would recognise and reward it appropriately”. At which I commented “Hope isn’t a strategy” – which she loved!  (She is probably reading this – if so, this is for you)

So what to do?

If women want upward mobility, we need to stop resisting the very things we can and should do to increase our credibility and visibility, to build a strong reputation and to get ahead.

Here are just a few top of mind practical ideas, which I intend to build on in subsequent Blogs…

  • Watch your posture. You can take this word literally or apply the figurative sense. My husband’s favourite expression which he ingrained in our girls, was: “Sit up, slouchy”. This was something he said regularly at the dinner table, and any other time that he saw shoulders hunched. I seriously believe that we don’t do ourselves justice by wearing the burden of our busyness or fatigue in the form of bad posture. Our body language gives away our mood and our self-belief. Make sure the way you sit and engage others in meetings, or the way you stand and walk, is projecting confidence and competence. You know how to do this.
  • Acknowledge your positive attributes, actions and achievements. ‘Flip the coin’ – the positives really are sitting on the other side, if we care to look at them… I find that many women when asked: “What are your strengths?” struggle to answer the question. Make it your business to think about this, get feedback from others, and write them down. Keep adding new attributes or behaviours to the list so that, when required, they roll off your tongue. Maybe reading the list now and again will be a good reminder to keep you focusing on the good, rather than the bad. Keep gathering and recording your new learnings. We learn something new every day, especially in the post maternity leave period, where our growth curve is significant.
  • Grab opportunities to position your value. This is a favourite topic of mine and I will expand on it in the next blog. But for now, think about this: use every opportunity you get to communicate and engage with peers, with your line manager, with clients, to position what you are good at. This doesn’t mean to blow your own trumpet in a way that will put people off. Don’t wait for a performance review. Get good at relating to or highlighting actions you have taken, the problem you solved, the challenge undertaken, the extra attention given – whatever it is – as a way to keep your strengths visible, reminding them of what you are good at and what you are getting done.
  • Pitch what you want. It is true that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I read an article written in 2015 in MailOnline, which said this: “A closed mouth doesn’t get heard”. I believe it is more about courage than confidence, to speak up and let people know what you want. So take courage. And whilst Line Managers may well notice what you are achieving and may be impressed by your performance, they might not think that you, as a working Mom, have aspirations of promotion. If you want more, let them know. If you think you are worth more, start the conversation, but make sure you have all the necessary justification prepared to back up your argument.

The power is in our hands to get ahead; don’t leave it to hope – it is not a strategy!

 

By Melany Green, CEO of Great Expectations

When Baby makes 3… Pay Attention to your Marriage – A top tip to protect your relationship during the parental transition.

When our first daughter was just 8 months old, my husband won an award through his business – a trip for two to Mauritius. We didn’t hesitate. We spent three glorious weeks having a second honeymoon in Mauritius – just the two of us. Our baby stayed with my parents who were more than delighted to have her to themselves. She thrived, they survived (very happily), and after the first 24 hours of longing, we had a ball, reliving what it was like to be free and to have a full night’s sleep!

This was the first of three such memorable holiday breaks we enjoyed together before our children were teenagers. Looking back, there is no guilt or regret in any of these decisions to take time out together.

After 36 years of marriage, I feel qualified to talk about the importance of nurturing the spousal relationship, because it is the best thing you can do for your children.

When a new baby arrives, life as we know it changes. Whilst the change is good and yes, we deal with the challenges of adjustment, the one relationship that is generally most neglected is that of husband and wife. It is understandable because of the demands on the new Mom – everything seems to revolve around the baby’s needs. Many of the working mothers I coach raise concerns about what they describe as the deterioration of their relationship with their husband in the first year or two of becoming parents. They comment that they are both too tired to talk to each other except about practical domestic issues, a social life is a distant memory, and let’s not speak of the absence of romantic candle-lit dinners!

So what am I promoting?

I believe that to break the inevitable repetitive pattern of work followed by home chores and possibly more work after hours, it is essential for a couple to build leisure time out together into their weekly or monthly schedule.

It is easier to implement this if you have access to a reliable trustworthy support system. If you don’t have parents or in-laws or other close family or friends who would be happy to take charge, it is worthwhile developing a relationship with a good babysitter, and investing in her services. The value in the time you spend as a couple far outweighs the cost of the babysitter and the cost of the outing.

Time out together could include any or all of the following …

  • Arrange a date night.

Having a date in the calendar once a month as a start can develop into a more regular event.  It doesn’t have to be a big budget dinner; a movie, a casual coffee or breakfast together away from home for an hour or two, is a treat. You might even find after a while that the baby is not the central topic of conversation.

  • Take a weekend break together or even just one night away from home.

This may take more courage to do, but you have no idea how therapeutic it is. Working moms will often give the counter argument that they would feel guilty to do this seeing that they don’t see their child all week while they are working. My response is that a weekend away with your husband will benefit your child more in the long run. I have it on good authority from many women I have coached, that a weekend away restores sanity (in other words they begin to feel ‘normal’ again) and reminds them of why they fell in love in the first place. Happy loving parents are good for the well being of your children.

  • Plan a longer holiday without the kids.

Now this is daring. There will be family holidays, but sometimes the two of you need to recharge your batteries and do some serious team building to keep the family together. If the children are left in good caring hands, they will not notice or measure your absence. In fact for them too, a change is as good as a holiday.

In closing, one of the greatest benefits from my experience of taking time out together was resurrecting my ability to laugh. We get so overwhelmed with life and tend to take everything so seriously, that we forget that laughing is indeed the best medicine. There is no doubt that when you are having fun and laughing together, you are more likely to connect more deeply.

There is something about being away together in relaxed surroundings that helps one to lighten up, see the positive, find the joy in life and rediscover the good in one’s partner.

It is simply the best way to pay attention to your marriage.

I was given a little book years ago, called Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much. It was at a time in my life, when I was at my busiest with a growing business, a young family, and an insatiable appetite to achieve and to get things done. I took this gift as a compliment. I loved it when people asked “How do you do it?” or “Where do you find the time?” I even secretly enjoyed my husband’s little jabs as I assembled equipment to support my next new hobby, from screen-printing at one end of the scale to roller-blading at the other.

I now realise that the book title was suggesting an elixir or remedy for a condition that isn’t healthy or something to be proud of. We must learn to press pause…

Busy-ness is the culture of business and in fact, of our time. In most professional firms, it is a culture that suggests a high performer is someone who works long hours and late into the evening. This type of ‘work ethic’ is honoured and applauded. It is a work pattern that is perpetuated by leadership and expected of their teams. It is the substance of stress and burnout. One can imagine the pressure experienced by women returning from maternity leave to fee-earning roles in these firms, to manage the expected billable hours, her self-induced high performance expectations, and also serve the needs of her family. It is an exhausting pace of giving, giving, giving, and getting little if any respite or replenishment.

With the wisdom of hindsight and experience, my belief is that productivity and effectiveness have nothing to do with how busy you are or how much you get done. It is our capacity to press pause in our doings, which will ultimately impact how effective we are both personally and professionally.

Pressing pause, means cultivating a habit of rest. It is about taking breaks to rest both mind and body. In practical terms this means putting more commas and full stops into your weekly pattern of life. Like reading an essay out loud that has no punctuation, we live our lives without stopping for breath.

My advice to anyone who feels the pace of life is leaving them breathless, is to consider what your commas and fullstops could look like, and build these pauses into your week, intentionally. Here are some practical ideas …

  • Book a daily diary date during work hours called Think Space. Imagine spending just 5 to 10 minutes when you get to work in the morning, and then again later in the afternoon, uninterrupted, away from people, phones, your laptop and all other devices, just thinking. Imagine the potential for gaining clarity and perspective or getting some creative thoughts flowing?
  • Turn off all sound in your car on the way to work, now and then. There is enough happening outside the vehicle to demand your focus. Use this time for peace and quiet.
  • Identify and eliminate any home-based activities that you really don’t need to take on yourself. Define what your priorities are at home, and ask yourself: Is what I am about to do in line with my priorities? If not, delegate it, delay it or dump it.
  • Develop a Micro-Me-Time opportunity at home to recharge your batteries – time for you. It doesn’t have to take long to give you the benefits. 3 or 4 minutes of solitude to put your feet up (literally), to read something that inspires you, to journal or even to plank … or to DO absolutely nothing at all, and simply BE.
  • Take a short walk in the fresh air and be aware of breathing. This is an old fashioned idea that researchers still maintain is our best form of R and R.

What will change?

There is no doubt that cultivating rest habits will impact you on a physical, emotional, mental, relational and spiritual level. For those of you working moms who may be sleep deprived, the need to rest is quite literally, good for your health and wellbeing. The benefits you derive in turn will impact the people you work with and those you live with for the better.

In closing, life to date has taught me that regular breaks from high activity serve to restore, renew, refresh, refuel and re-energise. You need to discover your own ways to press pause on work and life in general. I encourage you to give this serious thought – it is just a decision to build rest habits into your daily routine.

… And don’t rule out the idea of stopping to smell the roses or simply, in solitude, from wherever you are, to enjoy the view. Give yourself a break – it’s worth it.