One of the greatest gifts of my life has been and will always be, meeting my best friend at college and being given her, as my kindred sister. If you’ve ever read the lighthearted satir Lamb by Christopher Moore – you know it is the story of Jesus’ life as told by his best friend Biff showcasing their adolescent and young adult adventures. It is a parallel of my friendship with Annette – she was the inspired one, and I, the irreverent, edgy, out of the box, and rarely but sometimes, wise one. Just like Jesus and Biff, we had a fierce and unconditional love, in spite of and because of our textured differences. We met when I was 18 and were attached at the heart ever since. Over the course of our friendship, we fashioned careers, married men, raised children, wrote books, shared secrets, dreamed dreams, shed tears, climbed mountains, inspired thinkers, held hands and bore each other’s burdens. Today is her birthday. It is the first birthday in our 35 years together where she will not be on the other end of the phone. Today we will not laugh, complain about our weight or the weather … or talk about our next bright idea or trip to the sun. This year she is with me in spirit only and I now quell the reflex to call her. She is woven into the very fabric of my being and I know God’s intimate love because of her. So today, instead of calling her, I write this blog in her honor … and I share with you one of her many writings and wisdoms. This is a piece she wrote in 2005.
By Annette Moser-Wellman
Whenever I see Meg Whitman in the news, instead of wondering about the P/E ratio of eBay, I wonder about her philosophy of mothering. I’m curious how she redefines this ancient profession in the light of women’s relatively new opportunities and challenges.
As busy professional woman myself, I’ve spent considerable time thinking about how I define mothering. While it’s trendy to talk about the educated elite that opt out of professional careers, there are a lot of us who love working and love their children at the same time. Since old models of mothering typically don’t work for us, what will? I’ve found that in talking with highly capable women, if they can construct a philosophy of mothering that works for them, then life flows with more grace.
I’ve spent the last decade shaping my definition of motherhood and I share this with you so that you can shape your own. Here is my Motherhood Manifesto:
Tenet 1: I am the steward of my child’s life and learning
I do not have to be the only one to teach my child or take care of their physical needs. But it’s my job to ensure they are taught and their needs taken care of. Others may practice the math facts with them. I just need to know my child knows them. I don’t have to make the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I just need to know it’s eaten. Not unlike a business, I delegate what I can and manage the execution.
Over the years, the children have run to nannies to help them with tasks around the house, or even for comfort, before they run to me. The nanny would often say, I hope that doesn’t make you feel bad. Of course not! I’m thrilled. I just need to know they are getting their needs met.
Tenet 2: I am the teacher of high concept skills.
My primary responsibility is to ensure that my child knows the best of my wisdom. Your high concept skills will be different from mine, but the point is to be sure you codify your hard-earned wisdom and pass it on, so that your children don’t have to re-create it on their own. High-concept skills I teach my children are:
1) How to be creative
2) How to solve problems and identify the right problem to solve
3) How to identify, share and manage their feelings and those of others
4) How to handle and negotiate conflict
5) How to be a leader
You should have a mental “manual” of what you want your children to know as a result of having had you for a parent. This is usually why women feel like they have to give up working outside the home. They think “If I don’t take physical care of this child, what good am I as a parent?” When you write your high-concept skill list you’ll know what good you are as a parent and will let others or your child handle the day to day as appropriate.
Tenet 3: I am my child’s spiritual guide
This is something we delegate to the minister or the rabbi, when in effect it is the one thing we should never delegate. We need to provide them with religious education. We need to help them choose a faith system. We should be the person to pray with our child every day or night if possible. We are our child’s link to the holy and give them language to enter into the most important relationship of their life.
In addition to the stories of the bible, I have a list of stories of faith, both personal and those of others that I share with my children. Different stories for different ages. Some fictional others not. But it’s the stories that populate the lessons of our children’s lives and create their moral backbone. From these stories you can shape their values on fairness, ethics, sexual relationship, on responsibility, on leadership, on learning, on caring. You should be building out this story list.
Parents today make the mistake of letting the child decide for themselves issues of faith. I have a minister friend who says, we’d never let our children decide for themselves what they think about calculus? Why would do this with something as important as faith. Moreover, “letting our child decide for themselves” assumes that the issue of faith in your family is a blank slate that can be filled in however the child pleases. When in fact, the issue of faith isn’t blank in any family. It’s just a silent issue and probably perceived as confused or irrelevant. You don’t know how to deal with it so you de-select it. Begin to take responsibility here.
And the last tenet of the Motherhood Manifesto:
#4: I call out my child’s genius.
I work at every turn to see what my children love. I chronicle it and capture it. When they write a song, I take note. When they become engrossed in a project, I pay attention. When they make jokes naturally or dance gracefully, I recognize it.
Because my job as a mother is to create an institutional memory. A record of who my children really are at their core So that they can use my ideas as an ingredient to their own. So that they can recognize and know their genius. And someday nurture it themselves and use it for the greater good of humanity.
We spend boatloads of time as parents carting our kids around to soccer games, baseball games and horseback riding lessons. Ostensibly to build their self-esteem. But building self-esteem is a ridiculous enterprise. Self-esteem is a by-product of knowing your genius – what you are meant to give the world. Genius either relieves suffering or promotes beauty. The best way to show your children their genius is to use your genius in the world. And it probably isn’t as a chauffeur.
Mothering is only a season in a woman’s life. You can design the season in any way you deem best for you and your family. This is only how I’ve designed mine. I’m sure I’ve made mistake and will make more as a mother. And if you meet Meg before I do, will you get her philosophy of mothering and pass it on.
All by Annette Moser-Wellman :