Debunking a few Parenthood Myths

This is my third year into motherhood so I feel morally obliged to share some insights. It has changed my life immensely and it has been by far the biggest blessing I ever received, but I wish there were more sincere aspects of the hurdles of first time parenthood on the web to prepare women for this life-changing experience.

So here it goes, debunking some myths:

“Balancing career and motherhood will sort out itself ”: The African saying “It takes a Village to Raise a Childprobably sums this up best.When you decide to start a family and you are a professional person, the first thing you need to do is look around you and identify what is your support network. Are your parents or your in-laws retired and willing to give you a hand once you return to work? Can your salaries afford you a nanny or daycare, and would you feel comfortable leaving your new born with strangers for nine hours per day? Obviously these are questions that should be addressed beforehand.

Breast is Best. Ok, this is such a sensitive topic. Obviously breast is best. But sometimes I feel I agree with the French on this one. You should always do what keeps you balanced and sane. You are an intelligent human, not a feeding machine. Couples today, eager to be the best parents possible, go to extreme lengths to prolong breastfeeding, and are very proud when little Sofia, that has a mouth full of teeth and can speak sentences,pulls mom’s blouse down in public to drink milk. Stop feeling a failure or guilty if breastfeeding did not work out or you simply did not enjoy it.

Early Potty Training. Just like breastfeeding potty training is another topic that sparks lively database and attracts the most condescending and smug  comments from parents that trained their baby as soon as he could hold his head up. Enough with this madness. Sooner or later they will learn, and rest assured, they will not go to school wearing nappies.

Playdates: As a new mother I felt obliged to take my daughter to playdates way before she was interested in engaging with others or even inclined to liking others. I would say that toddlers from the age of two onwards are likely to look for the company of children but earlier than that, I am sorry to say, but it is a waste of time. Yes, it can be also a social opportunity for the mom to meet other moms but don’t expect to get a second for an adult conversation,let alone an intelligent conversation of any kind. Most of the time you will be either pretending to tell off your baby not to scream, cry and throw things down (and pretend in front of others that there is some logical explanation for that “This is totally because she didn’t have a nap today”) and, secretly planning your escape when she gives her best and loudest performance. “I ll take her home for that nap that we were saying”.

I take care of my baby while I work from home. Since I became a parent I came across this urban legend of the professional (usually a mom) that works from home while she takes care of her baby. Even though I am not familiar with the specific working arrangements of every person this sounds like the equivalent of trying to write a text when you are driving a motorbike at high speed. When I work I need to be able to focus on what i am doing, which is virtually impossible with an awake baby in the house. If however someone offered me the kind of job that you can do while taking care of a baby, and paid me with real money for it, i would take it in a heartbeat.

The second one will be a breeze. I left my favourite for the end. In life you can never keep people happy. When you are single people want to know when you will tie the knot, and when that happens they regularly interrogate you when are you planning to get pregnant. Just when you thought you have ticked all the boxes and they will finally leave you alone, there is the question of the second baby.I once had a mom that tried to convince me that having two kids is easier than having one just because they keep busy playing with each other. As a new mom of one, I thought it was one of the most outrageous arguments I had ever heard.  Even if it holds true for some part especially when the children are older, the popular idea that the second baby is a breeze and it will simplify your life is ridiculous. Sure, you already have all the know-how but that does not make the 3am feeds any easier, or lessens the overall responsibility of raising another human being.

So have more kids, but because you welcome the joy and the hard work, not only to provide the first one with a play mate.

Thinking about relocating abroad as a “trailing spouse”? Some things you should know

expat-cap-small

I may use it in the title but I dislike the term “trailing spouse”. To me it describes someone who lets her or himself be carried abroad like a another piece of luggage and from there lives trapped in a semi-stigmatised existence, confined in the role of the housekeeper and the emotional supporter. It might be true that once (you know in the olden days) when couples relocated, the wife was not expected to do much other than support the husband’s career, volunteer in the local community with women in similar situation, and attend weekly get togethers with expat women so she can vent about her expat life.

Nowadays, however, with globalisation having transformed completely the international work dynamics, a spouse should be able to do better than that. First of all, finding work abroad is much easier and much more common. People can work remotely with a laptop and a good internet connection. There is much more mobility, diversity and flexibility. So theoretically the life of the “trailing spouse” has become much easier and uncomplicated.. Right?

In my experience I have met some pretty amazing people living abroad, trying to support their partner’s career while they work hard to find their own decent place in the new society. It usually takes a lot of courage, strength, and dedication to make things happens. Often it is a huge blow to the pride. But you have to work with your self and the personal issues that every one has and find your way.

I know because I am one. Having lived abroad several times for my own sake and ambitions this was the first time I let my partner’s career goals decide where I will be.

Here is the list of things that in my opinion you should consider before deciding to take the leap:

Your motto: good research.

The Country: The country where you relocate can make or break your success story. Being “abroad” in one part of the globe will not be the same as being “abroad” in another. In short, don’t just jump with excitement in the prospect before researching the place. If you move for example in Paris, France you will have a completely different life from if you move in Oslo, Norway. Which means that if Paris is what you have fantasies for and you move in Oslo to have a similar “european” experience you will be disappointed. (the opposite is true as well, desiring to live in the woods and find yourself in the middle of a big chaotic city). Of course in this example i use extremes, Parisean lifestyle is lightyears away from Scandinavian. I know that it does not depend on the “trailing spouse” where the relocation will be but I am only highlighting patterns you should avoid. At the end of the day the connection you personally have with the country and its people will determine your willingness to work hard to integrate.

The Country: Romantic Ideas vs Real facts. You may have already visited the place and find it charming, romanic, refreshing… Only because you have seen it as a tourist. You have done all the cool stuff and somehow that makes you feel that your life there will be like that, a constant amazement. Almost every place in the world can look charming when you are a tourist. But think that once you move there you might not live in the cool city centre because the rents will be just out of reach. You might find yourself in a suburb away from amenities and attractions. When the initial newcomer’s excitement fades, would you like to live in THAT place permanently? Will the transport be convenient to use on a daily basis? What do the people do for entertainment and does that match your expectations? Are you attracted to the culture, people and society?Remember you will be a newcomer there, you need all the conveniences you can get. Is this place what you think it is or a beautiful holiday memory?

The Language: This one is a HUGE HUGE factor. Do you speak the language of the country you are going? If not ,are you willing to learn it? I mean really learn it, beyond ordering “a big cappuccino please”. Your partner will probably be fine speaking in English at work but the same unfortunately will not be true for you. In certain parts of the world many people will look at you in shock,bewilderment and even contempt if you don’t address them in their language. Think that learning the language is not optional when you relocate and especially when you have not already secured a job.

The job: Getting a job in the new country might be easy or difficult. it depends on the place you are, the language, your own field and skills, and in many cases nationality, ethnicity, race etc. (Sad but true. ) If you plan to work asap try to find out what people in your shoes generally say about their experience. Don’t take things for granted. You might be hot stuff in one country and in another get constant rejections. Be prepared, disappointment might come. While volunteering at a swedish shelter I met a girl , a rather fierce go getter from Spain who had moved to Stockholm because of her Swedish boyfriend. She wanted to get a job the next day. You could see she was like a lion in a cage, she was not ready to take the blow to her pride and surrender to the new hard reality where her CV did not get her any interviews. Even the simple task of handing food to the homeless had become for her a competitive task where she had to prove herself. Only a few months later she moved to Germany to work in her field. Having said that there are many well educated professionals who endure much longer than that in order to be with their partners. The reason why I think this example is important is because many people today, especially if they have invested a lot in education and personal growth, lose their sense of identity and self worth once they are removed from their jobs and careers and thus feel lost and disorientated.

Money. This is something you will probably need to sort out with your partner. His or her salary might sound alluring in dollars or yuan but once you calculate your expenses according to the cost of life in the new place you realise that your lifestyle might actually worsen. Plus his salary, if you have no job will be used to support the whole family. Will you be happy to live in a smaller apartment, have no car and depend on your partner for pocket money?

I don’t mean to sound too discouraging. At the end of the day each of us is different and will take the decision considering what they have to give up and what is important to them on a personal level. But you have to be well informed-know what you are in for.

Living abroad can be a very rewarding and unique experience. Plan your “escape” wisely.

And if you try and fail don’t beat your self up. Always kudos to you for having tried.

Thoughts on Motherhood

Lately I have spotted on the news various opinion articles written by women who confess having no regrets about deciding to stay childless. They are usually accompanied by numerous congratulatory comments from other women who have felt the pressure to become mothers for years.

I feel like this leap in human evolution has been the elephant in the room for the last decades but finally women are free to speak out the truth behind desires of motherhood. For one thing, motherhood has been regarded as a natural purpose that is manifested for every woman at some point in her life. If it doesn’t, she is seen as a person “with issues”, someone who is lacking an intrinsic part of femininity and womanliness. Women who declare they do not want children are patronizingly being told that they will change their minds when they get older and then it is going to be too late. I too know women who have regretted their decision to stay childfree. Except that they faced this dilemma a good sixty years ago.

One cannot help noticing that in today’s highly competitive world with unstable economies and relationships as well as a plethora of choices and stimulants, staying childless is something that comes naturally to both men and women and not something they have to fight off. Today’s society after all, celebrates the individual and through the social media encourages self centered lifestyles. The things you do about yourself, in short, and your career achievements are the only things you will be really congratulated for, admired or respected. Sadly nobody will ever appreciate you for the years you spend in dirty sweatpants washing bottles and cleaning like a maniac while humming the tune of Peppa Pig.

There are those of course who use children as a way to enhance their own image. These are usually women who have enough money to pay nannies to raise their children while they pursuit their careers and continue their lives as usual. In that case, the “maternity halo” make them look better in society: they make them look less self-centered and less self-absorbed, more giving and more sacrificing. But these women who experience motherhood mainly through the impression they create on others are not the women I would like to talk about.

Instead I speak of the modern woman that has too many things on her plate. Pretending career and family is an easily manageable choice, like for example my parents’ generation did with the full time voluntary help of their hard working housewives mothers and mother-in -laws is no longer an option. The new grandmas are often either still working or newly retired with little patience and little desire to babysit.

I am a mom and I would not change my daughter for the world. She filled my life with hard meaningful work, sleepless nights and despair, strength, courage and truth. She has been my comrade in this physically and emotionally difficult journey and she has rewarded and punished me with hard all consuming absolute love.

I have however only respect for the modern woman who has also made a courageous choice and has proudly declared she wants to stay child free. As a woman and a mom I understand every single why she might want to challenge the hypocritical over-romanticized idea of motherhood as a life purpose or validation of self worth.

After all that’s the kind of pressure I would never want my daughter to face.

Confessions of a Facebookholic

Facebook-addictions

I vaguely remember these last few months before I opened a Facebook account. It was a particularly cold chinese Winter back in 2007 and I was a language student in Beijing. I did not have a soaring social life and I frequently spent the night in watching a movie or reading a book. These two activities were done always unobstructed, without me having to check on my laptop, a mobile device or an ipad to connect to others. Weirdly enough I never felt lonely too, despite spending most evenings alone in small 27th floor Beijing apartment. Every now and then there was always something to do with someone, who might not have been classified as a “Friend” but neither was there any pressure to become one. However nothing felt wrong.

There were of course established Facebookers around at the time. Usually they were younger girls around 18-20 years old that were too eager hang out with the “right” crowd (whatever that meant for them) and dismiss people who would not impress them in the first three minutes. I was watching them daily checking their Facebook accounts while browsing pictures of themselves posing and partying, and I thought what a waste of time narcissistic habit that was. (And imagine back then “selfies” were not even popular)

Six months later I got a Facebook account.

Seven years later and I feel I might be the last one of my generation that did not realize on time what an addiction Facebook is. Just like alcohol or smoking it depends how well you handle it. But it has not been inviting you to handle it well.

Facebook is a great marketing tool, especially if you are a creative artist, writer or self promoter and want to share work. It also artfully creates excuses through sharing to stay connected with people with whom you would otherwise might not stay in touch. Even if the latter might sound to some more like a curse than a blessing; we do live in times where self promoting and networking are essential for professional survival.

Recently I read this piece written by The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman which I found to be spot on on my own experience. Rothman argues that Facebook and social media in general have become our Kafkaesque “altruistic punishment”: This is how we “punish” ourselves when we are being asked to contribute to the good of the community by posting our life success but we fail to do so. When this happens viewing the posts of others can only make us feel like we are being judged for failing to contribute with a similar if not greater success story: a photo attached to an update on a job promotion, an exciting job offer, an international lifestyle.

In that sense Facebook’s hyperconnectivity does not make us feel better about ourselves. Staying in on a Friday night, for example, can only get worse if you decide to check what your Facebook Friends are doing. They are either connected or not, but both cases are likely to make you feel worse about yourself.

But above all it is the false sense that the virtual space you enter is a real space where people enter to have a common social experience for a defined period of time , like they would do for example if they went together in a pub to get a pint. The only person you really confront when you seek sociability on the web is your own lonely and insecure self.

I am still on Facebook and I am not planning to quit. But I can only imagine how lonely my Beijing winter might have felt if I had spent it on the web, and I am thus grateful for the “naivety” of those older times.

Commenting on the Comment War: The superficial age of outsmarting (dedicated to the Matt Walsh post)

Lately I have seen a number of interesting yet provocative and controversial online posts about different aspects of motherhood. I say controversial because they attract a plethora of online reactions, apparently from people who, judging by the context of their comment, shouldn’t be interested in reading in the first place.

“Motherhood simplified your life? OH PLEASE!!! All my friends became selfish self centered and boring after having kids!!!” on Lauren Laverne’s Having a Baby will simplify your Life or on one of my all time favorite posts by Matt Walsh You are a stay at home Mom what do you do all day? “OH PLEASE!!! I work full time and STILL have to take care of my kids when I go home!! In fact I work all day!!!” or “B***hit My parents are both successful psychologists working full time throughout my childhood and I am SOOO normal!!”.

Of course open comments are meant to do just that, allow people to express their personal views and opinions and thus create and ongoing debate. But very often I do wonder how people read and comprehend an opinion article. For one thing both pieces mentioned describe life lessons learnt, and life discrepancies observed and they are all drawn from sincere personal experiences. And there is something more. In Matt Walsh’s piece for example I love how obvious and yet intangible is his love for his wife. How noble is his desire in his writing to protect her from obnoxious people and defend her against social madness that sees her role as a mother as an obstacle to being someone. And by doing the above declare how invaluable is her contribution to his life and the family. His intention behind his post was sincere and true.

And yet there were numerous comments accurately reflecting the kind of negativity the author observes in his post: Women berating other women and bragging about how busy they are, exactly by doing what he described as confusing being busy with being important. It is their right to do so but it just sad. How can you really reject a piece written with honesty and love that reflects the soul of the writer?

Ernest Hemingway had said about writing “All you have to do is write one true sentence, write the truest sentence that you know.” What can be truer than a reflection of one’s soul? Because today we are continuously being drawn to the idea that one version of truth does not exist. All our thoughts and beliefs can be refuted. Even though that applies to many essential philosophical questions, it sadly also applies to moral responsibility. We have seen it in politics, society, tv shows. Being the bad guy is socially acceptable, even desirable. There are after all always two sides of the same coin.

But there is something true. It is what comes from your soul. I don’t believe all people have a soul, even though in theory they are supposed to. But to write a “true sentence” you have to have a reader that will read it with “truth”. A reader with soul. One that will not seek to destroy it with popular punch lines that reflect what is socially acceptable.

I do enjoy writing and reading comments as well as online debates. But I do wish fellow readers and writers to always read, think and write with truth.

My experience with NGOs and “institutionalized” Help

In the past I have spoken a bit harshly about Ngos. I intend to keep it that way. I suspect that the last thing the human species needs right now is somebody to pick up the pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support turning a blind eye to pain, loss, or grief. Quite the opposite. I just think that the whole concept of humanity and humanitarian action can no longer be isolated in strict institutional frameworks, manipulated as a political instrument to keep things on an even keel.

Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. These are principles that do not interest anyone anymore in politics or in most professions as a matter of fact. Somehow they are seen as dated principles, linked to dying religious beliefs and truth is they carry an innuendo of embarrassment as well. Yes, embarrassment, because kindness is seen as a form of weakness. Try writing in a job application Cover Letter something like “I am an honest or just person” instead of the equivalent of “I am a corporate slave”. You don’t like where this is going? Ok, let’s move on.

My experience working for a prominent Greek NGO which in this blog I call The Public Sector for obvious reasons has been an interesting one. Its rampant bureaucracy and shocking deliberate isolation had created a surreal Orwellian landscape where extremes of Kindness and Evil existed side by side, making no pretenses. At the same time there was a total absence of grey zones in which a somehow healthy, productive, professional environment can contain the beast inside of us. In there you were likely to meet the most benevolent souls, often ordered around by the ones whose personal demons had found the most fertile ground to run wild.

The good people you met in there were almost definitely good by nature, and their goodness in this restrained and isolated environment was maximized perhaps analogically to the levels of the inhumanity of others. These kind people were kind in all aspects of their lives and obviously treated their friends, spouses and colleagues with respect. Their work helping people in this sense never ended. It was not a mission, a project or a plan but essentially a way of life.

I am thinking that, in fact, this is the only way to go ahead. You simply cannot “help” people 9-5. You can certainly try, but in the long run will not get very far. And once you try to institutionalize kindness, compassion and humanity then you are more likely part of a society that has devalued humanitarian principles.

Another simple example can be drawn from my experience in first world Sweden. A few months living there and I took up a Language Volunteer role for an Ngo helping Immigrants coming from EU countries.(not necessarily EU citizens). At that time, despite my legal rights as the wife of someone who worked full time in Sweden, the bureaucracy was preventing me for months from getting a Personal Number. (The Holy Grail of Survival in Sweden).The majority of Language Volunteers had similar profiles and stories to share: they were mostly well educated multilingual South European (and not only) women who had moved in Sweden to be with someone, either that someone was a husband, a boyfriend or family in general.

They all had more or less the same legal issues that caused great frustration and strain in their lives and relationships. In fact, many of them were not much better off from the immigrants visiting the Center to get food, shelter, clothing, Internet, Communication and legal advice. However what they needed most was a piece of solid legal advice about their pending cases and the shady laws that supposedly covered their rights as EU citizens. I for example turned to the Human Rights lawyer in the Center to ask a simple routine question about how I can deal with my inexplicably pending case. Instead I received no reply. The irony was that, as volunteers, we were asked to perform a number of such phone calls to help visitors to the Center. But we could not get further support for our own cases if we did not give up our status as volunteers and instead ask support as immigrants. Instead we were strongly encouraged every week to attend Free Counseling that was offered to all volunteers. Ironically, venting about our problems for an hour every Tuesday was fully funded and guideline approved, while getting a 5 minute practical advice about how to solve them was not.

Which leads me again to where I started. Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. Can you really be humanitarian by the book? Or does the sole act of helping others conflict with the way our whole system works? Education, experience, planning, funding are always very important. But they are useless when people-leaders especially- lack charisma and integrity.

I don’t object to systematic efforts. But please bring Goodness back in the field and people who genuinely want to help others.

Does your name on your resume matter?

In the last decade various studies and individual experiments have proven that yes, names on resumes do matter when it comes to job hunting in Western countries. Resumes with ethnic, unusual or long names are less likely to be shortlisted and more likely to end up in the trash bin.

A number of jobseekers testify on the web that after months or even years of fruitless job hunting, it took a simple experiment of changing their name on their CV-and only their name- to start getting calls for interviews. Taneesha became Tiffany, and Mohamed became Michael just to find out that the US and Canada workforce need more Tiffanys and Michaels, just as Sweden cannot get enough of Annicas and Svens.

One has to wonder why parents are still inspired by celebrity culture and “uniqueness” if they are not well connected millionaires themselves. Surely when celebrities give their child an outrageous name they don’t expect that this child will ever sit across an HR Manager, sweating under rigid work clothes and hands clasped in mental agony to be asked:

So, your name is Apple?”

Not that it would get that far anyway.

So how do names matter in job search? Given that they imply things about a candidate, which cannot be proven if an interview does not take place, unfortunately they match cultural perceptions and stereotypes. In these short 4 to 6 seconds that a HR megabrain takes to decide if it is a yes or no there is no time for any equality and fairness or “see the big picture” thing at all. In fact there is no time for thinking-period.

Discriminatory as it may be, it is only one in the long list of things that subconsciously or not might matter in the workplace.

The recession world has become the cause for jobseekers to struggle to rationalize their inability to land a job by scrutinizing all their professionally irrelevant traits.

Thus , “Does my skin/eye/hair color or hair thickness and/or height/weight keep me from getting an interview , landing a job or getting a promotion and a salary raise?” Not that this futile self reflection can lead to any real self improvement or any professional and personal confidence for that matter. Instead, realizing how unfair and predictable this world can be will only make you feel paranoid and bitter.

Ignorance after all is true bliss.

Ignore your guilty suspicions and good luck in your job search.