The Mommy Contract

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Repost from the Working Mother magazine, March 2013
By Dana Brownlee
Read original article.

If your hectic life leaves little time for you, think about drawing up a contract—with yourself.

One reason I’ve grown to like jogging is that I seem to have the most interesting epiphanies while doing it. I had one a few weeks ago. As a small business owner, I partner with many other individuals, businesses and groups, and typically there’s a contract associated with any business transaction—certainly any involving money. Contracts are in place to ensure that everyone understands the terms and conditions of the transaction and to ensure that boundaries are clearly outlined and understood. About a mile into my jog it suddenly hit me like a bolt of lightning that I needed to draw up a new contract … this time with myself!

Like many other busy moms, I juggle many roles simultaneously—wife, mother, entrepreneur, friend, sister, keynote speaker, consultant, corporate trainer and so on. Trying to fit all those tasks and responsibilities into a 24 hour day (with sleep) would be laughable if it weren’t so frustrating. While I jogged, I literally felt a gust of wind slap me in the face (the universe wringing my neck, I’m sure) as if to say, “Stop and make a contract with yourself! Decide what you will and won’t do and let everything else go.” It reminded me of some profound advice I received years earlier: First, decide what’s important. Then, live a life that reflects that. The second is much harder than the first. That sage advice nagged at me for years, but I never really embraced it. Possibly, the universe was helping me rectify this wrong because as I jogged, the covenants of my contract literally took shape in my mind. As soon as I got home, I raced upstairs to write them down.

Hre are the five elements of my “mommy contract”:

1. I get to have my own identity. Women have long struggled with the choice between having a career or not. Fortunately, I started a training business nearly a decade ago that provides me tremendous flexibility and also allows me to define an identity completely separate from my role as wife or mother. I truly enjoy having an identity that is not completely a function of someone else, and I’ve decided that’s okay … better than okay, actually. This career identity means I won’t always look to my family for a sense of worth or validation. Although I’m no mental health professional, this seems like a healthy way to navigate life.

2. Family trumps work. Having decided that I get to have my own identity, I also needed to clearly decide that I’m not pursuing career success at the expense of family. Each working parent needs to figure this out for herself. But for me, as an entrepreneur, it’s important to have this value front of mind every day. I decided early on to work as little as possible to meet my career goals and instead grow my business through various passive revenue options. This approach lets me prioritize family over work. For me this means, among other things, spending weekends doing fun things with the family, minimizing business trips, being actively involved with my children’s school and making sure we take vacation time.

3. I can take care of myself always. For better or worse, independence is extremely important to me. Although I’m completely committed to the partnership of marriage and the inherent interdependence that comes with that, I am invigorated by the reality that I can take care of myself and choose to embrace this. This value doesn’t necessarily represent actions I wanted to take or things to do differently. It’s more a matter of holding up a mirror to myself, voicing the value, and accepting it.

4. I keep promises to myself. Women in particular can feel a bit guilty when doing things for ourselves like jogging, going to the hair salon, getting a massage, even having lunch with a friend. Yet we know some of these “personal investment” activities help us maintain a sense of balance, happiness and peace. It’s important that we consider where we are in career, level of financial security and responsibilities as we decide what promises to make to ourselves—because we need to keep them, and doing so may mean not spending time in other areas. I’m committed to picking up my kids daily, taking Ari for a treat after school a few times a week and strolling on the Beltline on weekends with the family. But I’m just as committed to my pilates class and jogging. These aren’t indulgences for when everything else is done; they’re calandar appointments I try my best not to miss.

5. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I decided a while ago that I have a limited amount of energy and must be very judicious about how I spend it. I use the “don’t sweat the small stuff” principle in two ways: First, it helps me decide where to put my energy; secondly, it helps me really let go of guilt about anything I’m not doing. If I’m not going to join a board or attend a holiday party, I don’t want to mentally obsess about it. Instead I funnel that energy into whatever I am doing.

The beauty of a mommy contract is that it’s yours, it’s personal, and it’s a reflection of your values, priorities and lifestyle. I plan to print and display mine prominently so when I’m faced with day to day decisions and options, I can measure them against my contract. My mommy contract helps remind me daily that I’m not simply a means to serve others, that I get to consciously choose how I use my energy, my time and my space.

 

Dana Brownlee is a keynote speaker, corporate trainer and team development consultant. She is president of Professionalism Matters, a boutique professional development corporate training firm based in Atlanta. She can be reached at danapbrownlee@professionalismmatters.com.