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Leadership training may begin in the maternity ward

April 13th, 2004 · 2 Comments

In his post titled “Women and Leadership”, Michael Williams linked to Eve Tushnet :

WOMEN AND LEADERSHIP: Clio writes: You suggest that women have a difficult time with leadership because they are too focussed on “relationships” to keep track of institutional goals, and cannot accept the idea of the “mask of command”.

I suspect that these problems are more visible among younger women aspiring to lead than among older ones. I haven’t noticed that either is as much a hindrance to women who’ve lived long enough to outgrow the hypersensitivity of youth, which makes many of us flinch from both crticizing and criticism.

Work experience helps; so does having married, managed a household, and had children. The latter point may sound counter-intuitive, but one advantage of raising children is that you learn to take knocks. (I speak from observation here, NOT experience.)

I wonder what Eve Tushnet meant when she wrote “one advantage of raising children is that you learn to take knocks”. From whom does a mom take knocks? From her family, her friends, her co-workers or her children? I would say probably all. My kids don’t give me too many knocks yet. They are beginning to remind me of my inconsistencies. Yet I’m sure in a few years they may begin to give me a harder time, and perhaps from adolescence on, I’ll be hearing more criticism. That is, perhaps, until they become parents themselves 🙂

As a mom, I’ve needed convictions. Yet I’ve also needed humility. The battles begin before birth, in pregnancy. You learn to take knocks when your belly begins to bulge. Well-meaning friends and family members all want to offer guidance, even if you may disagree with them. Strangers walk up to you, expectant mom, and expect to be able to give advice or comment on your choice of food, clothing or due date. If I’m making mistakes, I want to know so I can change. But I’ve also had to stand my ground and explain what I was doing to my husband, the grandparents, friends and others in our lives.

I need to take criticism. To take a good look at myself. Yet I also need to evaluate the “knocks” with wisdom and not allow what others say to disturb me. I am still learning this.

The longer I’ve been a mom, the tougher I’ve become – I think. I’ve learned that if people criticize my kids, they’re not necessarily criticizing me. My kids are not me. Even my mothering is not me. My kids are not exactly how I would make them to be – and that’s good! – but it’s also difficult at times. They are themselves. They are whomever God put in this family. They may be more shy or outgoing or active or quiet than I am. That’s who they are.

I may be doing some things wrong as a mom. But perhaps what others see is who my kids are. For example, I used to think that a quiet child was well-behaved, when in fact it might be her innate nature to sit still. Sitting still – or other behaviors thought to be polite or valued in society – such as being able to walk gracefully or read early – might be much harder for one child than another. As a mom you can work hard with your children at home and yet when you are out in public with others, the child can turn opposite: run away, throw a tantrum or spill milk over everyone. It’s easy to judge and criticize while more difficult to walk in someone else’s shoes – or rather, walk with someone else’s children. Since I became a mom – and since I’ve had more children -, I’ve made a few mistakes on the road, and I like to think I have more understanding now for others who are experiencing a bump or two.

“This hypersensitivity of youth” – is this a gender issue? I’m not sure it belongs simply to women. I have read that females seem to be more sensitive to what others think of them, building their inner identity from what the outside world tells them they are. This has been true of me. But I think I have gotten less sensitive with age and motherhood – or so I hope…

Leadership may begin in the maternity ward. Not to say that women who are not mothers are not leaders: that’s not true at all! But I believe this paragraph of Eve Tushnet’s observations is true:

But from what I’ve seen it’s middle-aged mothers of grown children who do best at commanding the respect of both sexes–especially if they come from extended families in which managing people is essential to harmony.

This is my hope.

Tags: motherhood

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 MD // Apr 13, 2004 at 8:25 am

    I think life experience definitely comes into it. I seem to be less sensitive and more willing to ‘tell it like it is’ as get older. I don’t have children but seeing my brother and his wife balance work and baby makes me very admiring of parents. Looks like the hardest (and best) job of all 🙂

  • 2 Michael Williams // Apr 13, 2004 at 2:10 pm

    People who fulfill their duty (as society sees it, for better or worse) tend to be respected. Men who make lots of money get respect. Women who raise good kids get respect.

    Thanks for the link.