Proximity vs. Connection : Mistakes We Make As Mothers

Some of the worst moms I know are stay at home moms that are by their children’s side 24 hours a day. Some of the best moms I know are stay at home moms that are by their children’s side 24 hours a day. The same goes for the working mothers I know. Some are the most amazing, inspiring mothers – others aren’t fit to parent a hamster.

Where you spend your day – working at home or out of the home – has NO bearing on your relationship with your children or if you are a “good mother”. It literally means nothing.

We often deem working mothers “bad” and stay at home moms “good” because of the time they spend with their children. However, as a society we have been focusing on all the wrong things. Being a great mother is not about proximity. It is about connection. Your motherhood and how your child feels is not defined by your physical presence to your child, it is determined by how connected you make them feel.

I am a working mother so it is obvious to the world when I am separated from my children. If I am in an office or on a business trip the world assumes we are…less.  However, I can say with great honesty that I am more connected to my children now than I have ever been. I am more involved, more in love, more attentive but mostly more connected than when I was at home everyday.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was never a roll on the ground mom. Seriously, if I can get through 14 minutes of Barbies or Lego building I am incredibly proud. I am just not an “arts and crafts, cut your sandwiches into shapes, adhere to a nap schedule, lets play hide and seek” mom. Sure in my earlier mothering years I would go through spurts and attempt it. I would look at other moms and think I should be like that – organized, with little Elmo seat covers in a perfectly packed diaper bag and well organized hair bow collections – but it wasn’t real. I could fake it for a while but it wasn’t really me. I will also say when I was a stay at home mom, I was never bored. I was often on the phone, online, doing volunteer projects, cleaning, wiping, scrubbing, and cooking. When I really think about it, I took it for granted the fact that I would be home the next day, and the next and the next and gave myself sort of a free pass on paying attention – a lot. While I was physically more present, the fact that I was “always there” and “sacrificing” my career, I probably masked the fact that I was not really that engaged.

I see it all the time now. I see moms on cell phones chatting away as they get their little preschooler. Nothing is sadder than watching a bubbly 4 year old with an art project, running to their parent only to be shushed with the “one minute I am on the phone” posture. I see working parents and I see stay at home parents do it. It is the clearest example of present but not connected.

Going back to work full time forced me to look at time differently. Where I used to be the mom on the phone probably gossiping about something social and ridiculous, my office calendar has a standing “no calls” at 2:30 so I can make sure, even if is for just 15 minutes, I talk to my kids about their day. This does not mean I am the one PHYSICALLY picking them up from school. Sometimes I step out of meetings at 2:30 – but I will admit to you that even if I am 2,000 miles away at that time, my kids are far more connected to me in that moment, when I ask them how their social studies test went, if their boyfriend sit with them at lunch or how the science fair was than the mother actually IN the car line on her phone talking about her neighbors pool boy or her next conference call. Connection is not about physical presence – its about being involved no matter where you are.

One of the best moms I know is a working mother that works 60 hours a week – more in tax season. But there is no doubt, that when I look at her kids and her together there is a strong connection. Her love for them is obvious. Sure she will tell you her house is a disaster – there are always dishes in the sink, and her living room often looks like a hurricane hit it because of all the laundry thrown on the table, but she will also tell you it is that way because when she gets home she doesn’t clean – all she wants to do is love her kids and spend those two to three hours focusing solely on them. That is connection.

Sometimes you have to take things away to realize how powerful they are. A few months ago, I started becoming mentally absorbed in work. I often didn’t call my kids at 8:00 am like I typically did when I was away. I was working through the 3-5 pm hours in my home office and not really focusing on homework the same way. I was just a little quieter at dinner. Nothing really changed physically – I was not away more or home less – all that changed is those teeny little things – and my husband called me out on it. It showed me just how powerful those little things were because when they were gone the impact and loss was obvious. I was as physically present as always but when I was gone I was not consciously taking the time to build connection.

What defines a “good mother” is not where you do it or how many hours a day you are in the same room as your children – it is how you demonstrate throughout the day that they are always your priority and you are always available for them. It is always feeling attached to your child – that no matter where you are or they are, you are still in this universe moving together. Children are smart – they know when they are really being cheated and when they are not. An emotionally connected mother never has a child that feels cheated – they feel loved whether their mom is upstairs or in a different continent.

Building connection is easy and it takes very little. It simply takes a consciousness of the importance of it. It is taking an interest in your children’s lives and being a part of it by any means necessary, and making a conscious effort every day to be mentally and emotionally involved. Those phone calls after school, the little gifts you pick up because you saw something that reminded you of them, the late night gossip sessions with your daughter on FaceTime from your hotel, the pictures of the giant dinosaur you saw in the airport you send to your son, – these are all the little fibers of connection that build the ties that bind, far more than never stepping away.

 

 

Jennifer Calise is a founding partner of fishbat Media, a NYC based internet marketing company, and working mother to 5 children, 5 dogs, 2 birds, 3 bunnies, and one overly aggressive lobster named Larry. In her wealth of spare time, she writes and speaks to encourage woman to leverage the unique wisdom gained in their role as mothers to become more successful in their careers, fueling the idea that we can be more because we are mothers, not despite it.

Destroying Magic & Killing Dreams: Why Our Kids Lose the Most in Our Mommy Wars

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It is often said behind every successful man there is a strong woman.
I believe, behind every successful woman there are …other women.

We often admit that it takes a village to raise a child, but truthfully it takes a village to support the women raising the children in that village. The thought that mothers are battling each other – working mom vs stay at home mom- seems ridiculous since we are in many ways accountable for each others success.

Working mothers: Without the stay home moms and the contributions they provide – the best of our society crumbles. I owe the class moms of 1D, 4M and 6D, as much of a thank you and cash bonus as any strategic partner of my business. When I remember the snack I signed up for I feel like I should be given a ticker-tape parade. These women, the stay at home moms, breeze in with Pinterest-worthy cupcakes, hand-made classroom decorations, run 4-H clubs, sew dance costumes, and all the things the world demands of mothers today. They are the ones whose work is helping to make my child’s day memorable. And magical.  They accomplish everything I fail at. Not because I am too “good” to do it or I am doing more “important” things but because there are not enough hours in the day and I am barely hanging on here as it is. (Seriously, this morning I found my phone in the refrigerator). They organize the field trips, they volunteer at our libraries, contribute to our community centers and parks and countless non-profit organizations that better our children’s lives. They just make life better. And astonishingly, they are so selfless– they do ALL of this – ALL of it without even being paid to do so. Frankly, I feel stay at home moms should be on the payroll of every business because without the stay at home moms the society every business operates in, falters. We all becomes less stable, less kind, less magical. The mistake we make is thinking that the endless field days, the class play scenery, the classroom volunteers – are trivial. They may be appear to be small tasks, but they are not “little”. They are the quiet fibers of our children’s lives that create magic.

“Stay at home” mothers: Working moms that have jobs outside of the home also provide immense value to the stay at home moms and their children. If stay at home moms are the magic, the working moms are the dream-makers.  Working moms help girls that aspire to be doctors, lawyers, marketing executives (insert shameless self promotion here), business owners, etc. to have female role models that are achieving their dreams. Working moms are showing your daughter that no matter what she wants to be – she can. The working moms help keep the job markets competitive for your girls, they pave the way for their professional dreams. They also show your sons, that women (girls) are their peers, deserving of respect for their own goals and ambitions. They show your sons that women can contribute to their lives in many ways, in many roles, all for the betterment of a richer fuller life. Someday, the income your daughter-in-law creates may be what allows your son to take his dream trip to Australia, or pursue owning his own business as her salary carries their expenses.

The truth of the matter is when we criticize each other in front of our children – they are the people we hurt the most. By criticizing the choice of other women we place in our children’s minds they can make a “wrong” choice in living their lives. We are defining the “lines” of “good and bad” ways to be a mother. When mothers fight with each other we take away our children’s magic and their dreams. No “good mother” – no matter how you spend your day – should find this acceptable.

The worst part of all of this…ALL of it, is that changing this is so simple. It does not take dramatic measures. It starts with just one act of kindness…and then another and another….

Small little gestures each day, whether it is a genuine compliment, a thank you note, covering for a mom as she runs to daycare, bringing a report from the printer to their desk or simply thanking a car line volunteer, etc. are a small price to pay to keep the magic and dreams in our children’s’ lives. With social media it is even easier to extend praise, recognition and kindness to each other. Small acts of kindness are a first step in establishing mutual respect.

If we all just made this commitment, this 2 minute daily commitment, to do one act of kindness for a mother on the other side of the mommy battlefield, I promise you within 3 months we would all see magic and dreams everywhere we looked – and so will our children.

 

 

 

Jennifer Calise is a founding partner of fishbat Media, a NYC based internet marketing company, and working mother to 5 children, 5 dogs, 2 birds, 3 bunnies, and one overly aggressive lobster named Larry. In her wealth of spare time, she writes and speaks to encourage woman to leverage the unique wisdom gained in their role as mothers to become more successful in their careers, fueling the idea that we can be more because we are mothers, not despite it.

 

 

 

Woman Like Your Daughter Is Watching

You are standing in line at Target.
A man blatantly sees you waiting but cuts you in line.
You are alone.
How many of you would probably just say nothing and let it go?

One week later, you again are standing in line.
Same scenario – a couple sees you waiting but cuts you in line.
This time, your daughter is standing next to you.
Your daughter is watching.

Would you still let it go, or would you say something?
I would venture to say far more of us are letting it go when we are alone. We are not compelled to stand up for ourselves, but when our daughter is watching – when we are aware we are a living breathing example of what she will do when she is wronged – we step up differently. We find our voice.Ask a mother why she will speak up in scenario two, and she will say, “I do not want her to learn to let people take advantage of her.”

In an ideal world, I am telling you – believe in yourself! Stand up for yourself like you would your daughter. Be the mama bear for you that you can be for your child.

But I am not.  

Frankly, it would be foolish to think that any word or inspiration can trump millions of years of evolution. Face it, we are hard wired to fight for our young – even far more than for ourselves. Believing in yourself is fantastic, but let’s work with what nature and motherhood has bred into us.

What I have learned to do is not fight that nature – I embrace it and leverage it every day at work.

Every time I walk into a presentation, a sales opportunity, a meeting, or negotiation, I woman like my daughter is watching. In this case, I use “woman” as a verb – an action that defines the strength and the courage of women in action. To me, “womaning” represents the pinnacle of the awesomeness of women in motion. Everyday, I pretend my daughter is standing in the very corner of the room watching how I handle myself. How I interact. How I woman.

When I am wronged or someone tries to take something from me at work – whether it is my job, my promotion, my sale, or credit for work I have done – I see her standing there, her big, beautiful, brown eyes staring at me thinking, “Well, mom? What are you going to do? What should I do if I were you?” No one deserves credit for her work. No one deserves her paycheck. No one deserves to take care of their company bills over her well-being. And to show her that, I will speak up for myself, inspired by the promise of the voice she will someday have for herself.

I have come to realize that if I do not assert myself, when someone is wronging me, they are wronging her. They are taking away from her – they are challenging her. And I NEVER want my daughter to think anyone is better or deserves to cut her in line.

So I woman everyday like she is watching. I step up to presentations and see her in that first row. When a man makes an inappropriate comment or demeans me with a “joke,” I don’t defend myself for me. I do it because I pretend she is in the room and hearing those words.

I do not care if you need a 5-foot cut-out cardboard of your child, a picture on your desk, or a wallpaper on your phone, but every time you doubt yourself, every time you hesitate to assert yourself because you feel intimidated or nervous at the confrontation, look at your daughter’s picture. Confrontation is hard for a lot of us – generally speaking, women are not wired to be aggressive and confrontational – and I get that, but I am telling you to do it for your daughter. I know not one of you will ever back down when asked to do something that would be right for your child.
 
Don’t worry about fighting or asserting yourself for YOU – do it for her, because someday she is going to have to woman herself, and just may have a cardboard cut out of another little girl she is imagining in the front row.

 

 

 

Jennifer Calise is a founding partner of fishbat Media, a NYC based internet marketing company, and working mother to 5 children, 5 dogs, 2 birds, 3 bunnies, and one overly aggressive lobster named Larry. In her wealth of spare time, she writes and speaks to encourage woman to leverage the unique wisdom gained in their role as mothers to become more successful in their careers, fueling the idea that we can be more because we are mothers, not despite it.

How A Mother’s Worst Fear Can Breed Success

In 2011, my son was 5 years old. He was like every other child – happy, laughing, sloppy, whining, always on the move — until he was diagnosed with cancer. In an instant, I went from running the errands of motherhood, to warrior mode, facing the possibility I may bury my 5 year old son.

In the blink of an eye, I exchanged shopping for toy cars for chemo. Playgrounds for pediatric oncology units. In an instant. Most women believe if their child was diagnosed with cancer they would lose it. Fall apart. Could not go on.

It is a lie.

You, too, would soldier on because that is what we do as mothers. We step up.

But what most parents really do not believe is that personal hardship happens. We grow in ways we never imagine — and this can be a gift.

I was terrified at first. And then, slowly, I found a new normal.

While he was sedated, I was running conference calls.
As he slept, I created wireframes for websites.
I negotiated contracts while he watched movies.
I cuddled with him in bed and rubbed his back as I ran through sales reports.

I took all of that fear, all of that incredibly overwhelming terror, and fear of loss, and let it propel me to build something up, instead of falling apart.

To some, I may have looked like a terrible mother. There was more than one mother in the unit that looked at me with disgust as I typed on my computer. There was more than one parent that was puzzled. (Interestingly, when I showed up with my computer so I would never miss a single treatment I was a “bad mother” for working, but the fathers that were there with computer were “heroes” for finding a way to work and be there for their child — but that is a story for another day). The point was I was there for my son, I never left his side, but I used that fear to build something. Instead of spiraling into an emotional mess, I was using that negativity to fuel something positive. (Let’s face it, frankly I was either going to be building a business or a really expensive drug habit to cope).

One of the most amazing things you can do living a conscious life is to recognize the power of negativity and change it into motivation and fearlessness. I have always said negative events are like the wind – they either propel you forward with gust or they hold you back.

I watched my son’s bravery as he walked into the chemo unit knowing full well what he was facing, and was ashamed to think I would be scared of a contract negotiation or a client challenge or meeting. I saw the inspiration and the miracle in it. And I followed his lead.

And in turn, the year my son was diagnosed with cancer was the best year I have had financially. I was a CEO’s dream and my consultancy THRIVED because I had no fear. I would ask for what I felt I deserved for taking time away from my son. I made no compromises – I wanted to only work at his bedside. I would NOT travel. I would attend every chemo session, and I could not have cared less what anyone thought.
This did not mean I did not care about my work or it was subpar in the wake of my real life problems. I knew for my demands I needed to earn the privilege and I produced my BEST work, but what made me powerful was that I did not have the same self-doubt or hesitations I had in the past. In fact, I think my work was the most creative and the boldest it ever was. I took creative risks in my work – because why not? I didn’t obsess over what could go wrong – I had bigger fish to fry. I was uncompromising, motivated, and honest. I did not have the time or the inclination to obsess or question my instincts or worry about potential consequences. I told CEO’s the cold hard truth about their businesses and what they needed to do because, frankly, I didn’t have the time or energy to care what they thought or obsess over what could happen for my honesty — and in return, my paychecks and my client base grew.
 
I suddenly became a true confidant to the C-level – in a world of “yes” men – I was the one to go to for the truth. I would deliver it without batting an eye. I had a child with cancer. Nothing is scarier than that. And so day by day, I became bolder.

Thankfully not every mother has to LIVE the fear of being so close to losing a child, but our fear is common. Just as common is our ability to recognize and harness it. My fear and your fear – they are the same. The strength and opportunity that can be derived from it? Also the same.

The next time you are faced with an opportunity, a challenge, a risk … think about the fear you have of losing a child. Think about how much of a REAL problem that would be. The perspective of worrying about what a few people think of you compared with the weight of what you worry about as a mother will have you giddy at the idea that your biggest worry is that PowerPoint to the Board, that deal closing, that meeting, that financial risk not being profitable. You are a mother – as long as your child is okay, you are okay.

So take the shot at work – really, what is the WORST that can happen?

What consequences or loss could be worse? Nothing. No comparison to losing a child. Use that perspective when those voices of self-doubt begin to creep into your mind.

This is not a morbid thought. It should be freeing. Because when you realize you have nothing to lose professionally that can compare on any level to what is truly important to you, you can become fearless. You can take the shot. You stop taking the time to worry about what is not important and you are fueled with a lack of fear. You are not afraid. You are bold. You are unstoppable.

Everything you face in your career has no true loss, see it for what it is — an opportunity for you to take with no hesitation, no fear of the worst case scenario. Because you are a mother, you have a reference point for what a true problem is… and you can be empowered by it.

And if you are a mother that has lost a child, suffered a miscarriage, battled infertility… You, sweet friend, are already a warrior. You have overcome, and you have fought and battled demons so much deeper and darker than whatever the corporate world can throw at you. Harness the survivor in you. Consequences be damned, hold your head up and warrior on.  You know what a truly “bad” day is. Whatever you face professionally is a schoolyard scuffle compared to what you have already beaten.

Thanks to my daughter’s major thalassemia, I am still in the oncology/hematology unit every two weeks for her blood transfusions. Being there, and seeing real problems, keeps my perspective. It keeps me fearless. It keeps me unafraid of truth and risk. In fact, it is the very reason I was bold enough to write this very article.