The Professional-Me and the Parent-Me

It can often seem like our professional-selves and our parent-selves are two separate things. When we think about how these two identities intersect, it’s usually in the context of “work-life balance” (that dreadful catchphrase of modern life!), laden with implied meanings about the incompatibility of these two constantly-battling halves, as inevitable as the push between ego and id.

But laying this usual dialogue aside, I’ve been thinking about a different angle on how work-me and mom-me interact: how does who I am and what I do professionally impact my parenting priorities and values?

For some professions, tangible connections are easy to see between work-and-parent identities. My dad, for example, an intensive-care pediatrician, could always be counted on for a valuable (if not always welcome) dose of perspective when one of us was losing our minds about a minor cut or scratch: “Are you bleeding? Do you need surgery? Then no, you don’t need a band-aid; it’ll be fine.” Pretty obvious correlation there.

For some of us, though, the connections might not seem so noticeable, so I’ve been thinking more big-picture, about how what I do in the environment where I spend 40 hours per week impacts my outlook on the world:

  • What beliefs do I have about how the ‘real world’ works?
  • What life skills seem to be most important for everyday success?
  • What principles/attributes are reinforced for me as normal and valuable?
  • What is reasonable/appropriate in interpersonal interactions?

 

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The answers to such questions will surely influence how each of us parents our kids as we try to raise them ‘right’ (whatever that means!). And I can’t imagine that the place in/tasks on which we spend so much of our waking hours don’t affect our perspective. So how do we know that we’re parenting thoughtfully and deliberately, rather than just being consumed by our own work ‘bubble’?

A few issues related to my field, university academic counselling, have been popping up in mainstream media lately (and they seem to be simply everywhere in the news streams and blogs I follow professionally): increasing mental-health crises, a lack of coping skills/resilience in young people today, and a rising collective sense of entitlement.

I realized, as I was ranting to my partner last night, that living in this particular work ‘bubble’ for the last three years, and working on some specific projects/problem-solving of late that’s directly related to these issues, has had a huge impact on my thoughts about parenting:

  • I’ve come to believe that in the ‘real world,’ young people are increasingly incapable of dealing with disappointment, frustration, anxiety, or stress of any kind, and that this rings all kinds of alarm bells for a future full of fragile, helpless adults who will not be up to the task of solving big-picture problems of the world if they can’t even deal with the run-of-the-mill stresses of everyday life.
  • Resilience, self-organization, and the ability to form realistic expectations for oneself seem to me to be the most important life skills for my kids to have in order to succeed.
  • Entitlement seems to have been normalized, so self-management, initiative and gratitude are heightened in value.
  • My daily interpersonal interactions consist mainly of people requesting and/or needing things from me, and involve mainly those who are struggling – which results in a bolstered belief that it’s most vital for me to model and encourage self-sufficiency and resourcefulness in my kids through our interactions.

It’s easy to get sucked into my own little bubble, which, when I articulate it in writing, presents a pretty bleak picture of what I expect of my kids and of my priorities as a parent. Thankfully, among the recent avalanche of alarm-ringing, there are a few making cool-headed counterpoints (such as this article here, if you’re interested in the topic).  Finding these alternate perspectives really helps me to emerge from the echo-chamber of my work environment.

And while doing this reflection doesn’t change the fact that I still think teaching resilience, self-management, and coping skills for everyday stressors are still highly important in my role as a parent, it at least helps me to remember not to lose sight of some of the other goals I have as a mother: things like teaching my kids passion, joy, and kindness, which, unfortunately, are not so consistently reinforced through my everyday work.

Now I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this, dear reader! How does your experience of work influence your parenting outlook?

 

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