Archive for the ‘CNAD’ Category

The Diamond Age

I had a very interesting exchange with a friend on Facebook this week, who was – rightfully – bemoaning the high cost of good daycare, and irritated that more than half of her paycheck was gone just to take care of her child while she was at work. She made a comment regarding the fact that this seems to be just another cultural universal in the modern day, something everyone contends with, and as a long stream of her friends and acquaintances chimed in with their agreement, I felt like I owed a voice to the conversation.

“Not everyone,” I said, “uses daycare.”

The immediate response was a mass eyerolling – silence your mind, and you can practically hear the sclera rolling slickly in a million sockets with an unpopular post – and some rock-throwing, including questioning whether we had a nanny, or parental help, or simply had children old enough to be at home on their own.

“None of the above,” I replied. “We watch our own kids. Simple as that.”

When we fired our nanny for good in 2007, having experienced a string of nanny experiences that would turn your hair white, we decided – at that moment – that we were done with the concept of outsourcing our children’s care. From that point on, it would be us, with the attendant challenges that created. So we threw everything we had on the table, Apollo 13-style, and attempted to build a new life going forward.

First to go was the idea of two full-time careers outside the home. Home was to be the primary venue for raising our kids, so we weren’t interested in having our children grow up in full-day Accenture summer daycare, for example, or coloring listlessly in an office all summer, shushed at every ring of the desk phone.  So part-time and home-based work became the planks for this new life; I cut back my consulting practice to focus on distance work and local client on-site projects only, while Kath cut back her patient hours and switched to a flexible position. Together, we could just do it – with some expense-cutting and heightened fiscal scrutiny.

It started, though, with a very specific perspective: building from the family up to our careers, rather than building down from our careers to our family. It wasn’t a case of ‘this is what we do for a living; how can we accommodate three gifted and intense children within that framework?’ It was ‘these are our family realities; how can we make a living while respecting our kids’ needs?’

Something in our life, we decided, needed to be a diamond; it should cut all other things. And not everyone has options in choosing their diamond surface; for some of us, a Diamond Age is thrust upon us – we’ve got a serious illness of our own (or that of a parent) to contend with in our lives, or perhaps our kids have special needs (2E or not 2E, that would be the question). But for those of us lucky and blessed enough to have broad familial health intact, the next step is deciding what the diamond surface is in your life. For us, the growing level of intensities in our house, and the specific needs that each of our children was beginning to show us, made the choice an obvious one.

When we positioned our family as the diamond surface in our life, other things got cut – literally and metaphorically. Vacations have a lot more laughing in the tent, and a lot less beachhouse rent – and the TV we bought five years ago seems to be holding up fine. Monopoly, it turns out, has an ageless quality of fun, and stroking your daughter’s hair while she reads pegs the happiness needle; no objects or debit cards required. What’s interesting is that the cuts are visible ones; I can see, in our bank account, every place that earning less and spending more time with my family impacts us. They’re easy cuts to see, and maybe that’s a dangerous thing. The fact that they are so obvious, so quantitative, makes me doubly sure that those cuts would be happening somewhere else if we’d made something else – career, self, hobbies or collections – our diamond surfaces. But those cuts, I fear, wouldn’t be nearly as easy to spot. Some of them, I’m confident, would have been made on my childrens’ hearts.

As the Diamond Age unfolds in our household, I find that I don’t have the life that society tells me I should have or want, and that feels strange sometimes. Things are just different for us, and I have to shrug that off occasionally. Our decision has been our own, and it doesn’t always lead to the easy, tangible reward or the societally-blessed lifestyle. I’ll probably post more about those feelings as they come up.

But right now, I’ve got to go. E’s got a hotel on Boardwalk that she just can’t wait for me to land on.

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Making Our Own Path to Happiness

I’ve been reading all the the press recently about whether women can “have it all” and what that even means (see Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All“). My own perspective on this is, as usual, “off the grid,” so I thought I’d share. My reflexive answer was, “Why the hell would I want that?”

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to help my children find true happiness in life. Note that happiness does not equal achievement in my book. Why? Doesn’t every parent of a gifted child routinely say they want their child to grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer? Isn’t that why we all spend so much time on the “right” schooling –  thus getting into the “right” college? Once they’re working as a doctor or a lawyer, game “won”, right?

I’ll let you in on a secret: I am one of the only happy female doctors I know. I love being an internal medicine physician, and the years of medical school and residency, although tough (never mind paying the medical school loans), and now twelve years in practice, has not dimmed my love of my profession. I work part-time, in a very flexible position where I can set my hours day-t0-day, which obviously helps my happiness quotient. It’s hard work, rewarding, and intellectually interesting.

So, after all those years of school and training, what do my fellow female physicians want to do? Most of them, when asked, say that they would like to stay home with their kids.  Perhaps not full-time, but a lot of the time. That, they say, would make them happy.  Publicly, they will all deny they feel this way, because it’s not politically correct to be wishing to be a mommy when you’ve become a doctor. Privately, though, it’s what we all talk about: the elusive work-life balance. No less important: most of my male colleagues struggle with this, too.  I can’t speak for lawyers – although my sibling is one – but I would bet the same conversations come up.

It presents an interesting conundrum for the parent of a gifted child, especially a gifted daughter. We continually tell them they can be anything they want to be, and if they work hard and go after their dreams, they will be “fulfilling their amazing potential”. But what does that really mean? And what if they have fulfilled their potential, in highly educated professions, but are unhappy with their life? Haven’t we then failed them as gifted kids – because then what would be the point of being gifted in the first place?

As has been said many times, by many others before me, I wholeheartedly agree that the solution is to change the conversation. I have been reading some different ideas over the last year from people who are really, truly, changing the conversation.

A recent Equality Blog post from Equally Shared Parenting’s Amy Vachon really cuts to the chase :

“Many of us want all the nontangible, nonmonetary things that come with true equality. Not for the sake of equality but for so much more, including balanced lives for both partners that include all of what each considers important. And to choose equality (and balance), we often need to dethrone Money as the reason for all decisions. And dethrone its friend, Prestige. We have to decide how much money is enough, and exchange the neverending prestige quest for the joy of being an artisan worker in whatever career we choose. Then, the whole world opens up for both partners.”

The Center for a New American Dream continues the discussion. Their video, “Visualizing a Plenitude Economy,” gives a profound visual of what’s possible when we let go of what we’ve been told is the goal.

We need many more intelligent people to model and speak out about the fact that being gifted gives you more choices, and more potential, on your way to your own happiness path in life. Achievement by itself will not make you happy for the rest of your life. Working hard on something you love so you can have more real choices, however, just might. Teach them about working less, spending less, having less stuff, educating themselves for the sake of knowledge, doing what they love, and sharing their lives equally with each other and their children. Let’s have conversations with our gifted children about joy in work, balance, and the importance of designing a life where they can spend lots of time with their (likely gifted) kids. It will be more important than anything they learn in school.

My small pledge: next time I’m talking about my hopes for my children, I promise to not reflexively jump to any of them being a doctor or a lawyer. I will focus on happiness. In my own small way, I will start changing the conversation.