During Tuesday’s edition of NPR’s All Things Considered (if y’all don’t know it by now, I am an NPR junkie), I happened upon a wonderul story about how we can keep our brains exercised as we go through life and actualy continue to get smarter even into those golden years.
In his recently released book, Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance Richard Restak delineates three separate forms of memory, and how to exercise each: sensory memory, long term memory and working memory. (In writing this last paragraph, I have had to return to the article on NPR’s website three times to get my facts straight. Apparently, I need to exercise my memory more.)
As I listened to the story I, of course, translated the issues contained therein to what happens to a woman’s mind and memory while in the thick of early motherhood. Everytime I experience an all-too-common brain fart, I retort, “just another example of what happens after a few more brain cells have exited with the placenta.” (If you don’t get this joke, you obviously haven’t yet been pregnant, delivered, or raised young children.)
During those early years of starting our family, when Andrew and I brought three children into the world in less than four years, I noticed it happening: my ability to focus, recall, stipulate and converse intelligently had waned significantly. Making matters worse, as I traversed the landscape of stay-at-home-motherhood, I watched my esteemed husband climbing the corporate ladder and, quite obviously, getting smarter every day. I, on the other hand, felt like I was drowning in a puddle of wooden blocks, diapers, parenting magazines and baby drool. There’s not a whole lot of intellectual property to boast about about such a puddle.
All the while, however, I felt a strong urge to keep developing my “adult” brain. Having continued working as a PA for a while after our first child was born, I set that aside that form of out-of-the-household work (reasons too complicated to go into here) and within another year, completed my Lamaze Childbirth Education certification and started up my own childbirth education program. Two years after that, I started writing what would end up being my first book. For me, and running the risk of entering the dangerous role of Super Mommy, I simply couldn’t be satisfied with a life of domesticity that ran unchallenged by higher intellectual pursuits.
Yesterday, I had the lovely opportunity to meet with one of the keynote speakers from the Montana State University College of Business’ Second Annual Women’s Circle of Excellence conference. As we sat in a coffee shop with two of my three kids milling around us, she and I talked of how a motivated, career-inspired woman strikes that all-important balance between successfully tending to the needs of a family and successfully honoring the desire to better oneself as an individual with hopes, dreams, drive and talent. We talked about how, when you feel pulled to develop a certain talent or intense interest that’s percalating within the confines of your brain, ignoring that talent or interest in lieu of only tending to domestic duties can result in a bitter, stifled, unhappy woman.
This particular woman I visited with, a retired exectutive from a mammoth of a medical and home health and beauty supply company, managed to prioritize her family in the way of occasionally leaving high-powered meetings for Alice in Wonderland tv date night with her daughter, while also surging ahead into a high-powered private and public sector career.
She didn’t do it all alone, of course. She had help in the way of nannies and housekeepers and such…a luxury many of us certainly couldn’t afford to employ. But the take-home point of our conversation, for me, was that there is always a way to make it work: to nurture your own drive and desires as an individual and raise children. It requires creativity, prioritization, making some concessions, asking for help, lining up help, and spending your time wisely.
As luck or coincidence would have it, I spoke on these same topics at a Bozeman MOMs Club meeting on Monday morning. My talk, entitled, “The History of Modern-Day Motherhood” revolved around the historical, cultural, social and medical elements that influence how we “practice” motherhood in the United States in 2009. A big part of this talk was how the current generations of moms are having to find new ways to balance career, motherhood, personal needs, and the need for support in raising a family that is all very unique to our American social set up. The messages I strived to deliver to those twenty-or-so mothers of young children were aptly refelected in my conversation with the reitred exec.-mom.
Coalescing the exploratory work I’ve done on contemplating and laying the ground work for my own career path, the writing work I continue to pursue, the local speaking engagements I’ve thus-far accomplished and the conversations I’ve had with mentors such as mentioned above, I happily left that coffee shop yesterday, feeling more than ever, like I’m on the right the path.
I’m on the right path in how I am raising our children (with the support and equal involvement of one very involved partner). I’m on the write path in my burgeoning writing career. I’m on the right path toward the public speaking career I hope to grow into the future.
Balancing an excellent form of motherhood with career pursuits is not an easy thing. It requires…um…balance…and a lot of creativity…and a lot of external support that might come easily from extended family for some, from hired sources for others but, at the end of the day, is necessary nonetheless.
What is your path? Are you spending time thinking about where you want to see yourself five, ten years from now? Are you putting things into motion that will pay off for you in the future? What are you working toward?