Recently, I was inspired by an interview with actress Kate Winslet who has just finished filming a new movie only six weeks after giving birth to her third child. “…There’s actually something really empowering about going, ‘Hell, I can do this. I can do all this.’ And that’s the wonderful thing about mothers. You can, because you must, and you just do.”
After having three children myself, the Parkinson’s law adage which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” has taken on new meaning. I get so much more done now – personally and professionally — than I did prior to having children. I may not sleep or relax as much, but I certainly accomplish more in every aspect of my life.
As a purpose-driven person, I take everything that I undertake very seriously. I believe that everyone should be able to define what a life of purpose means for them, and then align their life in a way that continually furthers you toward that goal. For me, there was never any question that I would have a life that includes both being a mom and a working professional.
“Soup from a Can”
Rarely, if ever, do I mentally revisit non-work-related small-talk conversations, particularly if they took place with individuals from outside of my inner circle. As an executive recruiter, I speak to literally dozens and dozens of people every week, and I simply don’t have the mental capacity or inclination to run a continuous loop of past conversations. I’m always on to the next thing. However, for many years now, there’s a comment that has lingered in my mind, perhaps feasting upon my “guilt” as a driven, working mom.
Eight years ago, while living in a well-to-do suburb in Minnesota, a nosey neighbor (think Gladys Kravitz from Bewitched)approached my husband in our driveway when my twin boys were only a couple months old. “Kristi isn’t going back to work, is she?” My husband proceeded to tell her that I was, in fact, heading back to work in a few weeks. My daughter was two years old at the time, and I was entering the phase of experiencing real sadness each time I faced leaving my babies to go to the office. But, I was going back to work.
“Well, my children have never even tasted soup from a can,” judgmental, nosey neighbor — condescending and awkwardly — volunteered to my husband who felt it was a clear effort to try to discredit me (while apparently attempting to gain some sort of credit for herself).
Hmmmm…”never tasted soup from a can” somehow equates to exceptional mothering skills?
For years now, each time I heat a can of soup for my children’s lunch thermoses, I think about this comment. Should I be spending more time cooking up large kettles of homemade soup every weekend to save my children the horror of eating soup from a can? Perhaps this comment rankled me so much because I am one of the best home cooks out there, or maybe it’s just because I find the inherent judgment so distasteful. Regardless, it was a comment intended to cast the stay-at-home mom in a more positive light, and to throw the professional, working mom under the bus. I mean, how could I possibly be preparing healthy meals for my family when I work outside of the home?
Clearly, this modern day Mrs. Kravitz had absolutely no idea who she was talking about. Cooking and gardening have been my primary hobbies for decades. I began cooking when I was 13-years old as my mother rejoined the workforce. She would leave notes every day asking me, for example, to put a meatloaf in the oven or place a pot on the stove at a certain time. This quickly led to me preparing full meals for dinner. Had my mother not gone back to work, I may never have learned to cook, a skill I have built upon for over 30 years. Moreover, my husband also likes to cook, and makes a hot breakfast for our children every single morning. These kids suffer not in the food department.
Actively Creating Personal and Professional Alignment
Back in 1997 when I began my retained executive search career as an entry-level Associate with the world’s largest search firm, I quickly realized that if I persevered long enough to become a Managing Director, this career could allow me the flexibility to come as close to “having it all”as possible — a family and a flourishing career. It has since proven possibly to be one of the best careers out there for a “working mom.”
What I have done for the past 17 years is create a career, working environment and family life that are completely blended and co-exist in ways that work well 90% of the time for me, and more importantly, for my family (with one calendar that incorporates both sides of my life). And, I managed to write a three-award winning book along the way.
Am I sounding defensive? If so, it’s because I have felt defensive for years every time I think about the infamous soup line.
Over the years, it has become clear to me that the tension that exists between professional, working moms and stay at home moms is the obvious byproduct of playing – and thinking – small. I don’t play small. Nor do I make judgments as to whether a woman decides to work outside of the home, or not. For me not to have a career where I can exercise/bring to bear the best of myself would not be a good decision for me, nor would it be the example that I want to set for my children.
I take a great deal of pride in having my career while at the same not cutting corners in any respect as a mother. As a matter of fact, I consistently attempt to go above and beyond in everything I undertake – both personally and professionally – every single day. For example, I have a personal distaste for the unsupervised circus in school busses, thanks to several traumatic childhood experiences. As such, my husband and I have made a commitment not only to drive our kids to school each and every day (an easy commitment to make given that the school is five-minutes from our house), but also to walk them to the door. Between the two of us, we have never missed a day, and it’s always a very special family time that we all cherish.
No, being a working mom does not, at all, automatically equate to cutting corners, or taking the easy way out when it comes to child-rearing. I have been blessed to find a rewarding career that I have fully integrated with my personal life. I am also grateful to have a tremendous amount of support and help in my life from both my husband and my mother. I am blessed.
Far Bigger and Lasting Lessons
Obviously, I have spent a great deal of time stewing in this kettle of imperious, other-kind-of-mom judgment. However, I have finally come to terms with this commentary after observing how my now 10-year old daughter – and 8-year old sons – are learning from my example. Yes, I take pride in the fact that they love my food (well, most of it), and will enthusiastically ask most every day what we are having for dinner. But, there are far bigger and lasting lessons taking shape here.
How am I going to teach my children to actively pursue and create their very best lives if I am not a living, breathing example of doing the same?
If I Were Today to Give Up My Career and Professional Activities to Stay at Home, What Would that Say to My Children?
The example my children see today is an ever-present mom who always has time for them, who creates a lovely home for them, and who always places them first. They also see me working hard, focusing, concentrating, preparing for meetings, engaging in interesting telephone conversations and Skype calls (that they don’t quite understand, but know are pretty important), traveling occasionally to locations they wish they could visit, and celebrating lots of professional wins together with them. They also know that their mom is a writer and author with a purpose to help other people to improve their lives. My writing also is fueling them to try to be the best young writers they can be. Every day they observe the importance of being self-motivated and consistent in effort. They see hard work, and they are learning work ethic. They are happy and secure, and understand how my career enhances all of our lives.
My kids will never play small. They are being taught that they are here to create significant lives and to do it their way. They don’t have to settle for playing small ball.
And, my boys also will never, ever have the perspective that females are somehow less. Their mom works, loves, cooks, plays…and occasionally mows the lawn. They know I’m a well-rounded leader who can do it all, their sister can do it all, and every female in the world is their equal. There’s no question that they’ll relate to women throughout their personal and professional lives in positive and healthy ways.
My children also consistently hear conversations about the importance of thinking big and pursuing greatness. They routinely hear conversations I have with their father about topics such as values, missions, callings, integrity, and purpose. As a recruiter, it’s second nature for me to point out –pretty much everywhere that we go – the jobs people are performing and the myriad career options my children have ahead of them.
Unquestionably, what I do today is shaping these little people into the great people they are becoming. I am present. I pay attention. And I am not missing anything. I noted to my daughter just this week that I’m so proud that she’s taken complete responsibility this year for doing her homework, and meeting her deadlines without prompting every evening from me. She’s internalizing the work hard / play hard environment in which she’s being raised in ways that are already becoming part of her own work ethic. She’s learning that to live our best lives, we must take responsibility for ourselves. She likes the recognition she’s receiving for being a great, not just good, student.
And, I think that really sums it up: My example as a working mom is going to prove to be the difference maker in forming these little souls into great — not just good — people. And, really, it’s not about the homemade soup.
However, in a shout-out to my modern day Mrs. Kravitz, the judgmental, subversive mom from Edina, I share two of my family’s favorite soup recipes.
2 1/2 pounds or ~5 large sweet yellow onions, halved, and sliced 1/4-inch thick (8 cups)
1/4 pound butter
4 bay leaves
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fine ground Tellicherry pepper
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup medium-dry sherry
1 Tablespoon (or more to taste) beef base
64 ounces beef broth (I use Pacific or College Inn)
1 cup brandy or Cognac
1 1/2 cups good dry white wine
Freshly grated gruyere and gouda cheese
In a large stockpot on medium-low heat, sauté the onions with the butter and bay leaves for 60 minutes, until the onions turn a rich golden brown color. Deglaze the pan with the brandy and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes until reduced by about half. Add the beef base and simmer 2 minutes. Add the white wine, salt and peppers, and simmer uncovered for 15 more minutes.
Meanwhile, slice baguette one-inch thick and top with mixture of grated gruyere and Gouda cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.
Add the beef stock plus salt and pepper to the onion mixture. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, taste for salt and pepper, and top with warm cheese toasts.
1Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons dried sweet basils leaves
1Tablespoon good olive oil
2 pounds beef oxtails (in Denver, I find them at Tony’s or Edwards)
2 cups chopped sweet yellow onion
2 leeks chopped (white only)
4 carrots, diced
2 stalks ½-inch diced celery
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
1 cup pearled barley
4 cups left-over, cubed roast beef or prime rib (optional)
Heat olive oil in a large pot. Lightly salt and pepper the oxtails and add to the pot. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned all over – approximately 12 – 15 minutes. Remove oxtails from pan and reserve.
Add the carrots, celery, leeks, onion, and garlic to pot and cook 12 – 15 minutes until the vegetables are just starting to soften and brown. Add the spice mixture and mix well, cooking for 4-5 minutes. Add thyme and bay leaves, and return oxtails to the pot, along with the cubed left-over beef, if using. Add the broth and raise the heat to a boil. Then, reduce heat to a simmer for 60 minutes.
In a separate pot, bring four cups of water to a boil and add barley. Simmer for 30 minutes and drain.
Remove bay leaves, oxtails and thyme bundle from pot. Add barley and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Kristi LeBlanc is an executive recruiter based out of Denver, Colorado, as well as a writer, author of the award-winning book, Living with Certainty, speaker, and mom.