by Alice Alessandri & Alberto Aleo We know you're used to hearing that the first step is the hardest - and not the second - but we want you to reconsider this cliché. When you’re about to start something new, whether it’s a project, a business deal or a first meeting with a client, the initial enthusiasm…
Over the last few weeks I have been thinking over the difficulties that many people face in trying to balance work and family, to the extent that they sometimes give up on fulfilling themselves. So I asked an opinion from Enrica Maffi, an “expert” on the subject: mother of eight children, outstanding psychologist and author of the book Guida all’arrivo del Primo Figlio (Guide to having your first child). The conversation we shared was stimulating and enlightening and I hope many men and women may find it helpful when trying to find the ‘perfect’ mix between their own needs as individuals and the demands of work and family.
“We are made of many parts”: express each one
The first thing we should realise, says Enrica, is that we are made of “many parts”: each of us is an individual, a professional, and part of loving couple as well as a mum or dad once we form a family. What often happens to women is that, once they become mothers, they prune certain branches focusing everything on their parental role and supressing personal fulfilment needs. In the long run this process can be harmful for their children who are likely to remain stuck in the family, as well as for the couple because one of the partners is not present, and even for the women themselves as their identity is reduced to that of being solely a mother. The man’s role is crucial in supporting his partner to be open in grasping opportunities: work can become an instrument for developing their skills, as well as a source of regeneration and stimulus than can in turn create new energies and strategies that may enrich the family.
Enable your creativity and discover resources
How can you split yourself between the many different commitments? Who will look after the children? According to our psychologist many mothers take refuge in the belief that they are the only ones capable of properly looking after their children, or avoid taking action with the excuse that public institutions fail to provide sufficient support. Undoubtedly, more kindergartens and a greater range of available services, as well as bonuses and incentives, would all be useful. Yet when we are ready to take advantage of opportunities, creatively expanding our range of action, other solutions can be found: involving grandparents or aunts and uncles, or friends with children the same age with whom to spread the demands of childcare, or a nanny that can work with a group of families, creating small “home kindergartens”. Parents today are frequently grown-up kids. In fact, many adults find it difficult to make up their own minds, to follow their own deepest values and emotions, preferring to seek ready-made recipes and passively conforming to what others do.
Educating towards independence and a diversity of points of view
Educating towards independence and responsibility becomes difficult for those parents who are themselves deeply fragile. Enrica confirms that our psychological muscles actually work and can be trained and built up like the physical ones, helping you resist and overcome adversity. In order to learn how to walk, children must first fall and then pull themselves up, and no parent will be scared by this. However, when we step into the psychological / emotional realm, parents become excessively protective and fail to prepare their children adequately for life. We must rehabilitate the family as a democratic-pyramidal system in which children can practice in an environment made safer by the love that binds the different components, and through our relationships with them, striving towards agreement even through comparison and confrontation. This life-gym helps the “adults of tomorrow” to strengthen themselves, to develop their own individuality through mistakes and misunderstandings, and to develop appropriate communication and relational strategies for use first at school and later in the world of work. Children need to receive a plurality of messages and stimuli in order to develop their analytical and critical thinking, understanding the positive advantage of growing towards independence.
Find time for yourself
To better balance work and family it is important to stop and recharge. In a hyperactive society where even children are over-stimulated, with a daily agenda packed with commitments that fill every minute of their day, we end up confusing pleasure with duty. Enrica recommends we dedicate a certain moment of time to ourselves, however short, that is sacred and “purely for pleasure”: a time without time, when we can do things that make us feel good. Each of us has our own load and endurance capacity, though often we fail to realise this as we compare ourselves to others, and expect to achieve a similar performance. There are two fundamental requirements: accept your limits and begin to expand your use of the verb “want” instead of “must”. There is no perfect recipe that suits all, but once you become aware of your individuality in all its facets, it will be easier to identify your own style and live life to the full, locating resources and support and educating your children towards independence, and balancing work and family. Once again, at the basis of everything, lies responsibility: climb onto the stage of life and play your role, proud of your own identity.
If considered from the outside, Enrica and I are two very different types of women who with dedication, passion and kindness, seek to balance work and family. Despite our differences we share values and affections, the same that have brought our children close. Riccardo, my son, and Enrica’s son Luca, were born a day apart; they studied together and played basketball in the same team for over ten years, now they share both dreams and an enterprise (a start-up) in London.
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