My son turns 10 in a few weeks. I can’t believe it — double digits! And this means I’ve been a parent for a decade — the longest I’ve held any single job in my life.
When I returned to work after my first maternity leave, my sister remarked, “It feels like you are returning from another planet, doesn’t it?”
Yes. That’s exactly what it felt like. Though I’d spent my maternity leave only a handful of miles from my work, it felt like I had returned from a long, far away journey.
I gradually slide into my new work routine: arrive at the office early (loaded down with pumping gear), escape for pumping breaks, leave by 5 pm sharp so I could pick up my son from daycare. The best part of my day was that moment when I picked him up — seeing his cherubic face and bright eyes light up when he saw me.
Rinse and repeat.
Those two versions of me — the “work me” and the “mom me” — remained relatively separate on the surface, yet it’s impossible to think becoming a parent doesn’t change you. For me, it changed everything. And as weeks turned into months and then years, I wanted to understand how what I was learning as a parent was changing who I was at work. I knew it was helping me ruthlessly prioritize in a way I never had before, bringing more clarity and also deeper empathy to my work self. But I also knew there were so many other skills I was developing as a parent that were infusing who I was at work. And I wanted to understand them but didn’t feel like there was a place to have these conversations.
So I started this blog.
Now that my kids are older and those early parenting days are in the rearview mirror, I realize how much I’ve learned from my kids’ caregivers and teachers. Yes, I’ve co-opted a lot of great parenting skills and techniques, but more deeply, I’ve learned so much about people, about humanity.
How are we shaped by parenthood? What do we learn from being caregivers that we bring to our work? To the rest of our lives? These are conversations we need to be creating space for. (It’s been exciting to see these conversations start to happen– check out TendLab’s innovation work.)
We are living in a moment when not just our workplaces, but our planet, desperately need the wisdom of caregiving.
Whether we are parents or not, caregiving links all of us in some way — from our journey into the world and our eventual journey out of the world.
(stepping down from soapbox…) 🙂
So, with great love and respect to the many caregivers and teachers who have generously shared these lessons with me, here are a few of my top nuggets of learning:
See things from their perspective. When we were trying (unsuccessfully) to potty train our son before our daughter was born, our wise caregiver counseled, “it’s one of the few thing they can control at that age. They will do it when they decide.” That taught me to reframe potty training from a battle to seeing it from our toddler’s perspective.
Choose abundance. In preschool, my son went through a period where he wanted to marry his cousin (well, it was a debate between his best friend, Luke, and his cousin, Ben — ultimately based on whose toy collection he wanted to co-own). His preschool teacher’s beautiful reply: “Ben’s already part of your family. We marry people to make our family bigger.” Instead of trying to explain the incest taboo to a preschooler (as I likely would have), his teacher came from a place of love and abundance.
Embrace vulnerability: live with an open heart. Every August, I would watch my daughter’s sweet preschool tearfully bid farewell to her “graduates” as they left for kindergarten. She would let her heart be broken every year by a cohort of kids that had been under her wing for years.
The power (and simplicity) of truly seeing people. A master, magical kindergarten teacher taught me that people just want to be seen and heard.
What have you learned from caregiving?