In 2011 I took on the most demanding, stressful, fear-inducing, challenging yet fulfilling and rewarding role in my career to date. I became a parent.
I had, up until my 31st birthday, been absolutely resolute in my belief that I would never have children. It was a standing joke in my family that I would literally grimace and cringe when a relative brought their new bundle of joy (not so in my eyes I’d like to add) to visit. I was awkward, unnatural and uncomfortable around babies and just didn’t get the ooing and aahing and the hours wasted staring at a sleeping baby.
I just didn’t get it, until the day before my 31st birthday. I had been dating my husband to be for 9 months at the time and I had returned home to the UK to be with my family and meet my long-awaited niece (and as I wasn’t going to be bearing any grandkids my parents’ hopes for the next generation rested solely on my younger sister, who I might add was totally on board to deliver and I was therefore “off the hook”). It was my first meeting with my niece and ok I admit, even I had softened a little bit by becoming an Auntie, but living in Australia still gave me plenty of distance to retain perspective! And the circumstances of our meeting would melt the heart of the hardest stone – I had flown in the day before my 12 week old niece would undergo the first of 3 open heart surgeries that would subsequently save her life. Perhaps it was this, perhaps it was my relationship, perhaps it was my body clock – likely it was a combination of all these factors, but the moment I held that baby in my arms I was hit by a tidal wave of love, stronger than I have ever felt (even to this day I might add) and I knew my heart had shifted. If I could feel that for my niece what on earth could I feel for my own child (a topic for a future blog!)?
And so a relocation, marriage and 9 months later I delivered my very own bundle of joy and my life officially began. Now I may be speaking out of turn but I don’t think many people get pregnant and think much about anything else other than having a baby. I know I didn’t! But that baby grows and they grow faster than I realised time could move.
Before I knew it that little bundle found a voice and I started to see likes/dislikes/preferences and natural abilities for certain tasks. I had been able to learn how to change a nappy, how to sterilise and make up a bottle of formula and how to satisfy the basic needs of my baby. I found myself completely ill-equipped and unprepared for parenting my toddler. Now I’m not talking about managing the terrible two’s. Discipline is something that comes quite naturally to me and I take seriously. As I do manners.
What I’m getting at is responding to and meeting the needs of this emerging personality; in other words the “nature”. I had worked very hard to build a successful career as an HR professional. Recruiting, developing, rewarding, coaching and retaining talent had been my professional life, area of expertise and source of satisfaction for 10 years. Now I found myself literally up parenting creek with nothing more than a nappy bag to keep me afloat. My parents voices ringing in my ears “we told you children don’t come with manuals” and everyone else around me seemingly mastering the transition with natural grace and ease.
It wasn’t long before I hit rock bottom. A stress induced premature labour of my second baby only added to the trauma and after a period of extended personal leave (due to bereavement & stress) I returned to work a shadow of my former self. Work was a refuge. Time to try and be the person I used to be. Time to try and be good at something again. Time to show what I was capable of getting results and being successful again. But it just didn’t feel right and I certainly wasn’t delivering as a professional or as a parent.
I needed some direction and it came in the form of a leadership assessment tool called Strengthsfinder. Unlocking my natural talents and being able to see what came naturally to me gave me a renewed sense of self and more importantly purpose. My self-esteem and confidence were so low but as I began to understand my Top 5 natural talents I began to look at myself differently and get clarity on what action I needed to take for me and for my child.
Now for the sake of the intended discussion about nurturing nature I am going to fast forward a few years. I am now a Mum of 2 daughters and am running my own Strengths Coaching practice. One of the greatest gifts I have received since immersing myself in the positive psychology of the Strengths-based approach is focusing on what my kids CAN do and not what they CAN’T.
As an HR professional I became really troubled by the constant focus on fixing weaknesses in the corporate performance management system. This was mirrored when my confident and assertive 3 year old started to be told she was “bossy” and “too loud”. At the time I was a delegate on a leadership course for women at work where we were being taught how to “take the stage” at work. Right then I knew I had to nurture my daughters nature, I didn’t want her to be attending a course in 25 years time that would teach her to do what I was about to start conditioning out of her. I didn’t do it with intent at the time, but I told people that cared for her to refrain from using words like bossy and anything else that was negative towards her natural leadership and sense of self.
As my awareness of my own Strengths and my ability to play to those Strengths has developed so has my ability to spot the natural talents of my children. Don’t get me wrong I’m not about to start winning any Mum of the Year awards and still it’s fact that there is no right way to parent. I make mistakes every single day but I have greater confidence in my ability to parent in a way that celebrates my children’s uniqueness whilst using my own Strengths. It builds on what they do naturally well and encourages them to embrace and build on those talents.
When you are working from you talents and nurturing nature you do a better job, more efficiently and you enjoy it. I experience that for myself most days now but how awesome is it that I can give that experience to my children? Who doesn’t want the best for their children? Who doesn’t want their children to live happy lives filled with love, joy, purpose and passion? One of my biggest fears for my daughters is that they move into their teens with low self-esteem. I want them to value & respect themselves, their uniqueness and be confident in who they are and how they can contribute. I want them to understand and embrace what makes them special and be able to use that talent to live a life that they love. But more than what I want for them as individuals I want us, as a family, to have a common language and appreciation for our collective talents so that not only can we develop to our full potential but we can also be effective in dealing with the challenges that will undoubtedly come our way as our family matures.
Parenting is for life and let’s face it, it will likely be the job that breaks us and makes us all. By nurturing the natural talents of both ourselves and our children who knows what transformation we might achieve?
A Guest Blog from Sarah Dena