Take a mother’s day vow to get out of your kid’s way

How to fuel the passions within your child.
How to fuel the passions within your child.
Image: AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz
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As a mom of an 8-year-old and the vice president of marketing at my company, I’m often juggling my home life with my career. I’m one of the many women who try to have it all despite being told by Anne-Marie Slaughter that I can’t.  I don’t have a personal staff making sure my closet and pantries are stocked.  And I’m not the CEO of Yahoo. I’m not that Marissa.

In one day, I’m a mystery reader and a meeting leader. I car-pool kids to swim practice and my staff to conferences. I could lean in and probably make more money or I could lean out and attend more PTA meetings (with smart women whose main outlet for their type-A energy is next week’s bake sale). There are days when I disappoint my colleagues because I’m not at a kick-off meeting, and there are days when I disappoint my family because there’s nothing to eat in the house.

But despite the way this has started off, this Mother’s Day reflection isn’t all about me and my work-family issues.  Yawn. This is about juggling, the kind you see at the circus. A couple months ago, I interviewed professional juggler, Michael Karas. I was fascinated by his ability to juggle seven balls, but I kept thinking: What did his parents say when he told them he wanted to pursue a career in juggling.

Do you think they just smiled, and said, “That’s nice, dear.” Or, maybe they’re the indulgent types who found him a circus camp that would satisfy his passion du jour, secretly hoping that he’d return to soccer camp next summer. Did they ever think that he’d perform at the White House or the Apollo Theater? It turns out that his parents offered support – the real kind. His mom pushed him to attend theater camp instead of spending the summer playing video games. Michael shared his story with me about the role his parents played as he went from high school valedictorian to professional, award-winning juggler.

As parents today, we’ve come a long way in helping our children explore their passions as evidenced by the assortment of camps and after-school activities available: Lego engineering, farming, movie-making, fashion design… I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one poring over the internet in the late hours, choosing activities and carefully constructing schedules for each upcoming season.

I plunk down the credit card and hope my son will enjoy the experience and maybe, just maybe, ignite a little passion.  I’m a sucker for the “Life is good” store because I subscribe to the mantra of “do what you love, love what you do.”  When my son tells me he wants to be a Lego designer, I say “go for it.”  But, do I really mean it?  When I think about all the unemployed college graduates out there, I get pangs of practicality. Probably the same pangs that my own parents felt when I expressed my desire to turn my years of piano lessons into a music career.  I dutifully got my economics degree and minored in music.

Most of us believe in the notion that choosing to pursue our passion is the path to fulfillment and true success.  And if you work really hard at it, a paycheck will follow. But what are we doing to pass this on to our kids so it’s more than just a logo on a t-shirt?

As Mother’s Day approaches, I reflect with gratitude on all the pieces that come together to make my own juggling act possible–my supportive spouse, my understanding employer, my loving child.  It’s pretty pointless to look back and fixate on how my life could have been different if I followed my dreams.  I’ve reached a point where I don’t really care what people think when I leave a meeting early to pick up my son.

It’s a much better use of my energy to think about what I can do to help quiet the societal noises enough so my son can listen to his heart.  When he shows interest in something, how do I support it in a genuine way? I’ve realized over the years that showing support sometimes means doing nothing at all–giving him the space to explore his interest before introducing a “class” that might take the fun out of it.

Perhaps if he chooses a career like juggling, he won’t have to worry about juggling work and life— because they’d be one and the same.