“So, what do you do?”

I used to dig out the flashiest version of my title. By the pinnacle of my corporate IT career this was: “Head of Project Management – I manage the overall programme of projects and I have a team of Project Managers”. Even now as I type it my head tilts up and I look down my nose. Boy, did I sound important!

Standing tall

Hmmm, so what now? I’ve been an at-home-mum for a decade: focussing my attention on the needs of my children; learning alongside them as we have traversed these tricky new paths called new-to-life and new-to-parenthood, concurrently; I’ve cried and felt more wretched than I ever did before; I’ve laughed louder and longer too; I’ve said the things I told myself I’d never say and done the things I wasn’t going to do; I now know so much more that I didn’t even know before that I didn’t know; I’ve never felt so very exhausted and exhilarated at any other point in my life…

So what have I been doing this past 10 years? What do I have to show for myself? What have I been achieving for the nation, for the future, moment to moment, with my children?

Pani popo making together

OK, here’s a small sample of my day. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing many, MANY, meals. As babies, my children were often lying on their backs learning how to move their bodies whilst soaking up what it is to be a human being in this room (the first step to understanding their place and value in the world). I’d chat to them while making breakfast, snacks, lunch or dinner, go to them when they needed and allowed them to take in all that was going on. Sometimes they were in a sling that I had taught myself to adjust so they were close to both me and the action, while snuggly safe. A relationship of respect was being created, experiencing how to treat other people, learning to trust that needs will be met so that learning can flow unhindered, and creating a sense of self through enjoying our own space – the cooking itself was really a by-product, considering the importance of all this other great stuff.

As toddlers they moved about desiring, discovering and discarding household items and furniture, along with their toys. They kept a check in with what I was doing – yes, I’m still preparing food – and when necessary I interrupted my flow to avert or clean-up a hurt or mess. With my support they began learning about real life cause and effect and had much practice at emotional management. Patience and self-control were role modelled by me to maintain a calm energy in the kitchen even when the unreasonable and irrational was running rampant (we’re talking most of the time here for both of these). Relationship-wise I was now very much their secure base and safe haven. From this place of safety my children could get on with the business of learning to be amazing human beings. The cooking tasks themselves were being noted and sometimes participated in with much excitement and little skill, but that doesn’t matter as it’s building the WILL to learn that’s far more important than WHAT they learn at this stage.

Stirring sauce

Once they grew a little older I strapped on an apron and had them up with me helping to cook. Peeling and chopping food, mixing, pouring, sifting, yes, licking, were building up their small motor skills. Cause and effect lessons generously arose with every session, along with taking responsibility for cleaning up messes. We chatted while we cooked and continued to build on our relationship – laying the foundation for how my children would go on to interact with other people.

As the older ones became the big ones of the family they practiced teaching the younger ones how to do the tasks – in so doing built up their brains’ understanding of empathy and leadership. They also moved on to more difficult cooking tasks such as using the stove, oven and other equipment, planning the menus and doing the complete cooking process themselves, including serving. Along the way they also discovered the use of trial and error in experiencing how to cook something that tastes good, perseverance to try again and a dose of humility when it all turned to custard (sorry custard, I’m not sure why that phrase is so degrading of delectable custard). These are all vital learning dispositions ideally practiced during childhood. Conflict management arose in abundance – I want that whisk! – along with risk management – hot stoves, knives, standing up at a high bench. As a Project Manager I was hugely grateful to have good skills in these areas.

Chopping veges

Aside from preparing food there were many other daily tasks, experiences and interactions I was sharing with my children, not just for 8 hours a day, but sometimes 24×7! So, really? Have I been “Just a Mum” or have I supported the generation of three confident, competent and contributing human beings to offer our nation? I believe my contribution to society is worthy of the highest regard, valued equally to the highest paid CEOs and specialists in their fields. Every interaction I have with my young daughters has the potential to help the world be a better place. I propose to never again let the word “Just” precede my title of Mum. Will you join me in this?

“So … what do YOU do?”

Arohanui, Sarah x

Addendum: We seem to believe in our society that the question “What do you do?” refers to what our paid job is because we assume that that must define us most completely. I no longer believe this. I believe that “what we do” is actually more honestly stated as how we utilise our lives, the actions we take that inspire us; that invigorate us; that have us live life to the full. So, perhaps what I do is create opportunities for growth in myself and others I interact with.

Sarah Amy Glensor Best is a Mum, first and foremost. She is also an author, educator and facilitator of child, parenting and communication topics. She has recently released her first book entitled, “Changing the World is Child’s Play” which can be ordered through the Publisher, Ako Books, www.akobooks.co.nz.