How do we define success in a career-driven society, once we become parents?

According to Oxford Dictionaries, “success” is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” Synonyms include: “favorable outcome” and “triumph.” The antonym is “failure.”

Success looks different for each person — just as every person on this planet is unique in their likes and dislikes, what they find uplifting or oppressive. To be more precise, perhaps we should be defining “success” as a feeling, a sense of fulfillment or accomplishment.

Perhaps a better question would be: What in your life fulfills you? What has given your life meaning?

me and NathanIf you’re like me, that answer changed drastically once you became a parent.

Before I became a mother, I would have identified myself as a career woman. I was a journalist who worked 50-plus hours a week, never missing the opportunity to take on the next big story. I was eager to climb the career ladder, with aspirations to manage my own news organization someday. I lived for praise from my editor and readers, and I was constantly on the lookout for a better-paying, more prestigious position. Like many young professionals, I was in a hurry to “prove” myself and would define success in how much readers admired my writing and how many possessions I could accumulate, how many friends I had, how many social gatherings I attended and how many vacations I took at Boutique hotel zermatt.

Then I became pregnant with my daughter Rachel, and I began to feel a tug in my heart. As I planned my maternity leave, I still thought that my life wouldn’t change nearly as much as it did. I thought that I would take off a few weeks from work, then put her in daycare and go back to my journalism job. The only difference is, I thought, perhaps I’d cap my hours at 40 per week and limit any overtime.

Rachel was born 10 weeks early due to a placental abruption. As I lay on the hospital bed, hooked up to an IV of magnesium sulfate so potent that I had to be on oxygen during the treatment, watching my baby’s heart rate bounce up and down on the monitor beside my bed, wondering what would happen to her, I had a thought: that what had defined success for me, up to that moment, doesn’t nearly measure up to what it means to be a mother. And what my daughter needed, and still needs 9 years later along with her 8-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother, is a mother who is devoted to her role as a parent more than to her career.

Three months later, after my paid maternity leave, I asked to meet with my editor and told him that it was critical to me that I be allowed to work from home. It is true that my premature daughter was still dealing with major health problems, but the bigger reason for my request was because I felt that neither she nor I were ready emotionally for separation. He declined, and totally unlike my people-pleaser nature, I quit that day. I decided to do freelance-writing from home.

100_0607It has worked out well. I don’t make the paycheck I did before I had children, but between my husband and myself, we make enough money — and save enough through our financial management — to live comfortably. I am happy with my choice to balance my children’s attachment needs and my family values with our financial needs and my career path, and know that as my youngest child grows beyond the critical early childhood years when attachment needs are strongest, I can always choose to go back to working outside the home.

I no longer live for my editors’ and readers’ praises. I live for time spent with my children. I don’t care about accumulating possessions, but rather memories with my family. The social gatherings that matter most to me are playing or cuddling with my kids. And instead of looking to the next rung on the career ladder, I focus on how to have a stronger, more secure attachment with each of my children and my husband.

I know that not everyone can, or wishes to, quit their jobs to stay home with their children, but I urge everyone to be mindful of how they can best balance their child’s attachment needs with their career aspirations and financial obligations. If you choose to continue working outside the home, understand that Attachment Parenting can be crucial for dual-income families. Preparing for parenting, Breastfeeding, Warm and sensitive responsiveness, Nurturing touch, Cosleeping, Positive discipline, Consistent and loving care, and Striving for balance in family and personal life — API’s Eight Principles of Parenting — provides a road map for establishing and maintaining secure parent-child attachment for all parents, but parents with limited daily time with their children report that Attachment Parenting is especially necessary to keep their close family bonds. The research fully supports this.

APM 2015 logoWe at Attachment Parenting International (API) hope that you found inspiration to take parental leave from working seriously. The importance of parental presence didn’t end as the calendar flipped from October to November, and we invite you to continue exploring this topic all year long and into 2016. Parental leave is a topic just getting started in the United States, and national discussions are sure to pick up in the next few years. Feel free to refer back to API’s Research Paper for AP Month 2015 for talking points on “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Society.”

Not My Best Day

A couple of weeks ago, I woke on a Thursday morning with a scratchy throat and some tightness in my chest. From there, it was destined to be the sort of day that starts poorly and goes steadily downhill.

On that day, I was not a good AP mom. I was not a good any kind of mom.

I had ten quiet moments to myself to make my bed and feed my cat before both kids were awake and bouncing off the walls.

On a usual day, I like to get up, shower and dress before my children wake up, and on a really good day, I’ve also eaten something and spent some time on the Internet. Being dressed and ready to go, even if it’s in my gym clothes, helps me to handle their early morning energy more easily.

Only on this day, here were both kids awake and raring to go, and I was still groggy and unshowered, not to mention not feeling well.

Three beverage spills, two tantrums and one time out later, I decided we had to get out of the house and head to the pool. I asked the kids to please start picking up their toys so we could get ready to go, and my son immediately bopped his sister on the head and earned himself another time out. Right after that, my daughter informed me, “No. I’m not going to do it.” And I lost it. As I went stomping into the living room to tell my stubborn daughter that she needed to take off her slippers and start putting her dolls away NOW, I leaned over to scoop up a loose toy and….it happened. One of those freak things. A tiny stray piece of wood that was on the floor was suddenly and painfully jammed up under my fingernail, all the way to the cuticle. It felt like fire. I couldn’t get it out on my own, so I placed a hysterical phone call to my husband, then shaking and crying, bundled both kids into the car and drove to the nearest urgent care center.

In the waiting room, I was short with my kids. While waiting for a nurse to bring me an ice pack, my son told me that he wanted to sit in his sister’s chair and she wouldn’t move. It’s difficult to feel sympathy over a silly sibling squabble when you’re fighting back tears of pain, your finger is swollen to the size of a sausage and your entire hand is throbbing. “Figure it out on your own,” I snapped. “There are eight other empty chairs, pick one and sit in it.”

It continued in the exam room. As I played the guilt game with my kids–the pool would have been more fun, right? So next time do what I say and pick up your toys–a little voice in my head was saying, “Stop talking to your kids that way.” I was not feeling loving and I was not being respectful.

Eventually, the doctor showed up, numbed my finger and cut off part of my fingernail to remove the stick. In the absence of pain, I started to feel some remorse for my behavior that day. Having had some time to reflect on it, I came to the following conclusions. Please understand that I am not trying to make excuses for my behavior; rather, I’d like to identify the reasons my day was so horrible so I can avoid them in the future.

**My morning routine was thrown off. I am a creature of habit, and even one tiny thing throwing off my expectations for my day can send me into a tailspin. I can work on this by being more flexible and looking more closely at my priorities. Is it really the end of the world if the carpet doesn’t get vacuumed?

**I was under the weather. Everything in life, except maybe sleeping, is harder when you don’t feel well. I need to give myself a break. Our shining parenting moments rarely happen in the middle of an Urgent Care center while suffering from acute pain and distress.

**Both kids were overtired. A tired child is a cranky child, and both of mine had not slept well the night before and rose earlier than usual. I need to cut them a little slack too.

**My older child is in a phase where he questions everything and tests every limit. My younger child is feeding off of him and establishing her own independence. The younger one is also old enough to have the communication skills to fight with her brother. This is probably the biggest one. I already know that I have a temper, and an easy way to make it flare is for someone to purposely and willfully ignore my instructions. In addition, I have a very low tolerance for sibling rivalry. Listening to an argument over something as absurd as whose socks are whiter makes my blood pressure go up and my good sense drain away. I need to focus on the fact that, despite what it sometimes feels like, my kids don’t bicker with each other to make me crazy, they’re just being normal siblings. Putting them in charge of their own relationship has helped somewhat. They know that if they can’t come to a mutual conclusion on their own and need me to mediate, there will be consequences, and they usually don’t like them. I just need to find a way to tune out the racket while they figure it out.

Out of my terrible day came a good lesson for all of us.

For me, it’s easy to be a great mom when the kids are behaving and everyone is healthy and well rested and the day is going as planned. It’s not so easy when a person is sick or tired or has a tree limb jammed under her fingernail.

For my kids, they saw that even moms have bad days and they learned that there are consequences for their behavior. (In this case, not picking up the toys caused mom to turn into a crazy crying woman who made everyone go to the doctor for impromptu surgery.) And when we talked about it later, they realized that it’s okay to have a bad day–as long as you apologize to all those you were nasty to at the end of it.

How about you? What are your triggers and how do you make up for a bad day?