At the pinnacle of my career some years ago – and about to receive another award for outstanding achievement – a television interviewer asked me:
“What is your proudest achievement?”
I looked at her smiling face, at the cameras and lights surrounding us, at the bare studio floors — and paused only slightly.
“Raising children who have become strong, decent adults.”
She stared back, surprised. It was not the answer she was expecting.
I knew she was expecting me to mention my professional achievements. The award-winning television programs. Contributions to the media industry in Canada and other countries. Championing new program methods and technology. Mentoring women and cultural minorities in the sector. Helping to transform South African public television after apartheid.
But she hadn’t asked me to identify my biggest career achievement. She’d asked about my proudest achievement, and I had answered truthfully.
Was that a look of disappointment I saw on her face? That a woman who had come of age during the recent years of the women’s movement, the years when we fought hard for gender equity in the workplace — that a woman who had climbed those challenging ranks, moving up from one influential role to the next – that such a woman should, after all that, point to raising children as her proudest achievement?
I didn’t mean to disappoint her. I didn’t mean to suggest to someone in the early years of her career that mothering should be her greatest aspiration.
I was simply voicing my own truth.
Not that I’d always known it. There were times when I was being lauded for my career achievements and I got a big head, and could feel myself getting high on my own supply.
But now I had been there, done that and won all the career accolades. And, upon reflection — as I thought about all the things that I had done with my life — I knew my answer as surely as I knew my own name.
Parenting was the thing for which I’d never received an award – and rightly so. Indeed, I was still struggling at it. Parenting may come easily to some people. Not me.
Just a few days before, I’d rushed to give one daughter advice when all she’d needed was a listening ear.
A week before that, I’d missed an opportunity to hang out with my other daughter, only to realize later that I could and should have gone. I’d remembered too late, my mother’s advice: “When your children invite you to spend time with them, drop everything else and go.”
Ironic, then, that I should name parenting as my proudest achievement.
My mother, despite her academic brilliance, had given up her own dreams of becoming a professional teacher. Money was scarce after her father’s unexpected death.
Instead of going to teachers’ college, my mother had married, borne five children and become a seamstress – designing and sewing dresses for the ladies of our village, something she did at home.
She was a loving mother; a great mother. But I vowed that my own life would be different. I wasn’t sure if I’d have children, but I knew that I’d have a career, one that took place outside the home.
Coming up next: Part 2 – The Juggling Act