BLOG / May 11, 2014

The Mother Load

By Janine Garner

'Mmother and girl with laptopsy mother said to me, "If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope." Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.' - Pablo Picasso

Sunday just gone was Mother's Day for Australian women. It means different things to different people; for me, it is a chance to stop and simply say 'wow' when I look at my three amazing children. I don't see it so much as being about me (although the gifts are appreciated, don't get me wrong!) but more about a celebration of my own little family and how incredibly lucky I am.

It also made me reflect on the way I want my daughter to grow up, and what I would consider a 'successful' life to be for her. Obviously I want her to be healthy and happy, but above that, what do I want her to achieve. She's a very intelligent, empathetic and soulful little girl - how will that translate to her adult life?

There is no denying that for my generation - Generation X, or X-tra Guilty as I think we often see ourselves - our mothers have had a vast psychological impact on how we view success in our working lives. Was your mother a progressive, Joan Harris kind of woman, or was she a stay at home Mum, who equally encouraged you to be all you want to be and maybe also to be proud of a successful marriage and well run house? Often her position was coloured by her own socio-economic position, and to some extent, which country she (and for that matter you) grew up in.

Our relationships with our mothers can often mean the difference between whether we feel guilt at wanting to succeed in the boardroom, or see it as a natural progression of our talent. Whether we are willing to step out as entrepreneurs, to attempt 'sky's the limit' dreams without a niggling little voice saying inside our heads 'but you're neglecting things at home... that's not how I would do it. Darling. Just saying.'

It may simply be a lack of understanding between our mothers and what we actually do for a living; several people I know say frequently that their parents, and in particular their mums, don't have a clue what they do day to day. But this can sometimes be a wilful ignorance, whether from a dislike of 'modern priorities' or on occasion simple envy at the opportunities they have missed out on and would have loved. For myself, I freely admit that housework, cooking and anything to do with home decor pretty much brings me out in a rash - but that doesn't mean that a comfortable home for my family isn't massively important to me. Equally though, my success outside of the home environment is a key part of my makeup, and if I attempted to deny that, it would actually impact negatively on my partner and children, so in terms of being a 'good wife' and mum, I see my career as essential.

So what coping strategies can you employ if your mum thinks corporate success is a four letter word?

  • Don't get caught up in the guilt. It's ok to have different definitions of success.
  • Respect her opinion and the era and the economic conditions that developed it - and the missed chances she may be regretting.
  • Respect YOU and your achievements.
  • Be willing to walk away if necessary. Be the adult you bring to the boardroom.

When I think hard about this, I know in my heart what I want for my daughter as an adult. It's actually incredibly easy. I want her to be happy and to have exactly the same opportunities as her brothers.

That to me will be success.

And if she wants to send her dear parents on a round the world trip, first class...

Well, I'd be happy with that too.

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