Mari Williams: It's okay to love your job and your kids

Mari Williams: It’s okay to love your job and your kids


Leadership coach, therapist, author and podcaster Mari Williams on getting over the guilt

My first session with a new client is always a ‘History Session’.

This, quite simply, is an hour-long ‘brain dump’ for the client – so we can see what’s holding them back and create a plan to resolve it. Often, towards the end of such a session, a client will start to look uncomfortable. They’ll shift about in their chair, stop making eye contact, drop their voice to a whisper… and finally, like releasing a guilty secret, they’ll admit that they really like their job – almost as much as they love their kids.

‘Ah…’ I think. It’s that issue again.

First things first: these people would always put anything serious happening with their children before their job. The ‘conundrum’ in their heads is not about love. It’s about fulfilment.

Why are we so afraid to admit that we like our work? That it fulfils a part of us that our children don’t? That when our kids (no matter their ages) are being difficult, work actually feels like a break? That work is the place we feel happiest, where we step into a slightly different persona, where people (in the most part), do as we ask them to, and respect us?

Children are hard work. Full stop.

I have five of them, so I know what I’m talking about. I love them all dearly, and I’ve enjoyed most of their different stages, except baby and toddler – I’m one of those rare people who likes them walking, talking, potty-trained and weaned! I actually really enjoy being around teenagers (when they will talk to me). I enjoy conversing with children; I enjoy them proving me wrong, or showing me something I didn’t know. I enjoy activities with them – swimming, board games, walks, cinema – let’s be honest… I enjoy the fun stuff. I do not enjoy researching to find meals everyone will eat, re-washing clothes I’m pretty sure I washed yesterday because they were ‘put away’ in the floordrobe or being treated to an ‘uh’ in response to my every question. Or the screams and shouts when they don’t want to do what I ask.

At work, however… I just don’t have to deal with the bad stuff! I’m lucky that I work for myself, so I have lovely clients that I choose to work with. I know that some people are treated very badly in work (they tend to become my clients), but happily, most people wouldn’t regard a colleague only communicating in non-committal grunts, scornful rejections, tearful wails, and angry screams as being a normal occurrence.

Our work is often based around industries we choose, with companies whose ethics match ours, and we are often complimented for our work – even if it’s just with a smile. We feel a sense of satisfaction as we complete tasks, and most of the time we are reasonably autonomous in our roles. But this isn’t the case in parenting.

Work can be extremely fulfilling, and being so, encourages the brain to give us lots of happy hormones as a ‘thank you’. It allows us to look after the side of us that isn’t a parent. This is so important. We tend to lose ourselves in our children – feeling guilty if we want any time without them. We may stop all the activities that we love and focus entirely on them. When they are first born, they do need this attention – but after a few months in, we do need to start making sure that we exist separately to them.

One of the most common problems I see in my clients is a history of parental neglect. What might surprise you is that I’ve also had many clients whose problems have been caused by their parents over-caring! When parents give themselves over totally and entirely to parenting, it’s actually unhelpful for the child. With a parent so focused on them, they’ll never learn to problem-solve or fend for themselves and will end up lacking in independence and self-soothing abilities. Someone who can’t self-soothe can’t make decisions, can’t manage challenges, will panic in situations out of their control, and might choose neglectful or abusive partners. A child whose parents do not always come running will learn to self-soothe by default… whereas children who are their (often unhappy) parents’ sole focus grow up within a model of unhealthy self-sacrifice.

Parenting is very rewarding… but it is not all that you are. You are a person in your own right, with likes and interests other than your children. They’ll find you a much more stimulating person to be around if you can discuss things you’re doing, and your interests outside of the home in any case. By doing so, you’ll model a healthy balance of parental and personal identities to them – I am Mum – but I am also Mari.

Finally, children grow up, and move out. If you live until you’re 80, you’ll spend about half your life without your children at home. Most of your time will be spent on your career.

So: love your children and enjoy them – but don’t feel guilty for loving and enjoying your job, too, – or your other activities. Your next challenge is to pick the right role…

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