Don’t forget the language!

That was my mistake which only made the process of an adaptation so much longer – I thought I could do without the knowledge of a local language. Actually there were three mistakes. First, I did not immediately recognize the need to learn the language; second, I was putting blame on others instead of myself; and third, I thought it will just stick by itself in the end.

Fluent in English in addition to my mother tongues – Russian and Latvian, with a decent French, some notions of German and Spanish I have moved to Belgium to do an MBA. In English. After that I started my PhD and working for the business school – likewise in English. I talk to my husband in English and – hey! – majority of Flemish at least understand English, but a lot even speak this language fluently. Why bother? And that was what I did for the first 4 years of my life in Belgium: I did not really bother. I was just getting frustrated at my Flemish colleagues in the business school talking Flemish in between themselves; I was just annoyed at the family parties when the family of my husband was talking Flemish. On top of that I always believed I was good at learning foreign languages and thought that Flemish will just stick somehow by itself without me putting any special effort into it. Besides, I was not sure that we will stay in Belgium.

What I do know now the later does not matter. Even if you are in the country for a short period of time – learn the language! Even if everybody understands English – learn the language! Especially if you are already undergoing a change in respect of your professional career and in general – your identity – learn the language! You will never be fully accepted in the society and will not feel good yourself if you are not able to communicate.

I totally lost 4 years and was still not sufficiently active in the following two. My knowledge of Flemish at this particular point in time is in terms of European classification something around 2B, which is a conversational with a good understanding. However, I am now finally putting a lot of effort in learning this language. A great tool I found recently is a DUOLINGO app for the iPhone. They also have a website, but I find it very convenient to use an app. Totally free, pleasantly diverse and overall I would even say an addicting way of learning with an offer of Dutch, Spanish, Italian and a bunch of other languages.

To note that also with respect to learning Flemish I apply the principle of the set time limit. It is a difficult, close to impossible, task when you have kids running around to find an hour to learn a language, but finding 4 time slots of 15 minutes at some point in a day is so much easier. Same total time, yet better output due to a more concentrated effort.

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Why is a “stay-at-home mother” a profession?

Just a stay-at-home mother does not exist! It cannot be be “just” when you have to balance in between so many different professions and change so many hats throughout a day. Let’s have just a quick peak at a non-exhaustive list:

  • a caregiver;
  • a teacher. Even if your kids go to the kindergarden there are still a whole bunch of things that you need to teach them;
  • a cleaning lady. And yes, you can just sometimes take out that vacuum cleaner and dust off some shelves, or you can approach the whole cleaning up differently and follow, for example, a”fly lady” concept. I am not talking about hiring a cleaning lady, that’s also possible, but then that requires you to hire, delegate and supervise, which also is a set of professional skills;
  • a laundress. Same as with a cleaning lady;
  • a psychologist;
  • a stylist. And for your own kids, while they still allow, and for your husband (LOL);
  • an interior decorator;
  • a stock manager. It’s up to you to fill up the pantry after all – in time and on budget;
  • a chef. And once again – yes, you can just heat up ready-made meals or order pizza, or make one and the same dish over and over again, but you can also become a real master in the kitchen. It is a skill and it is an art!
  • an animator;
  • an arbitrator;
  • an emergency situations’ manager which is so-to-say a first-aid specialist plus. Anything can happen and usually does happen: from a torn favorite sweater to a broken tap in the kitchen, cut finger, drawings on the official documents,… You have to be able to keep calm and figure out a solution. On the spot.
  • a family life manager. You have to learn to divide tasks, to delegate, to supervise, to search and hire help if you need it. You need to be a strategist and a planner, and a supervisor,… Well, basically you need to be at least a CEO (!).

The above list as I have already mentioned is in no way exhaustive. Of course, everything is a matter of choice. But that is the same everywhere else, in all other professions. You can be an ordinary sales manager or an ordinary nurse, or you can choose to excel. This is the same with being a stay-at-home mother – you can be ordinary or you can bring this profession – and damn it! it is a profession! – to the highest level.

Managing cleaning-up

Cleaning-up is one of the most annoying chores around the house. At least for me. First of all it seems to be never-ending, especially when you have kids. There always seems to be dust everywhere and spills of all sorts, not even talking about toys all over the place, books on the ground and piles and piles of all the different junk. Secondly, it is really frustrating that you seem to never have the time to finish anything – you’ve been cleaning for an hour, but it’s only the floor that is more or less clean. There is still a pile of dirty dishes and laundry, and dust on the TV, and… the list goes on. And it doesn’t even seem like you would have done anything! How to survive in all of this?

I am not going to talk about hiring help at this point in time. Now it is about doing everything yourself just without driving yourself totally mad.

Ok, let’s think like a manager – after all we have a mess to manage.

Step number one – de-clutter! This is a priority number one and one of the most difficult tasks. However, the less junk the less sorting. There is absolutely no way how to effectively sort junk. It clutters your home and your life and will keep on doing that forever until you get rid of it.

Practically speaking using the example of toys. Kids never play with all the toys they have, what they love to do is to throw these toys all over the place and go back to those couple of favorite ones. Elimination! I am not encouraging to throw away toys, but toys can be strategically put away. We have a set box of favorite toys and a couple of rotating boxes of other toys. This is a great way how to always have “new” toys. Other junk has to be analyzed on the regular basis and sold/given away/thrown away, you pick. But is has to go!

Step number two – How to get to it? Now, the approach I personally like towards the time management for the cleaning-up is the FlyLady (r). This is an approach by Marla  Cilley which in the nutshell can be summed up as follows:

  1. 15 minutes at a time. This point I sincerely consider to be genius! As Cilley says herself this is a way to stop procrastination and reduce opportunities to get sidetracked or bored. Indeed if you have a concrete task and a limited time allocated to it there is a big chance that this task gets done. Results! That is what is so much missing in the life of a stay-at-home mother. You seem never to have results – tangible, concrete, visible! If you say – now, I have 15 minutes, I am doing the dishes, tik-tak – there is a big chance that you will manage to do the dishes and you have your result. Now, next – laundry. Same 15 minutes. In half-an-hour you have two tasks realized, two results that you see.
  2. Clutter cannot be organized. That’s what I already said. Be as strict as you can on this one.
  3. Weekly routines and zones. This point I personally use with precaution, as I don’t like too much structure in my life. If I see that somebody messed up the drawers of my kitchen island I am not going to wait until it is a “closet cleaning-up day”. Although, Cilley has some point on this one, because routines allow for additional focus.

What Cilley also recommends is to keep a “Control Journal” which is some sort of a household management notebook or binder. The purpose of this would be to keep track of the routines, lists and other important household information. I personally don’t have a journal like this once again for the same reason that I don’t like to have too much structure and having a journal for me is a “too much”. However, also here I do see the point related to the psychology. If you have a journal of routines, tasks and consequently tasks scratched out, you visually see your results, your achievements and your goals. Just like a manager of any business unit or entity.

Finally, and this I also consider to be an extremely important one, is to always keep in mind that perfectionism is a b*tch! This is applicable not only to cleaning-up but to literally everything, because the only outcome of being too much obsessed with perfection is your procrastination and inefficiency.

“Why did you even bother to do an MBA?”

I am writing this post for a couple of reasons.

The first one is probably just to reassure myself once again that I am not actually downshifting, but on the contrary – I am applying everything that I have ever learned, I am progressing and moving forward not only in personal growth but also in terms of professional development.

The second one is even more emotional. There is a thing that was really bothering me – the phrase that I heard from somebody – “if you decided to be a stay-at-home mother in the end, why did you even bother to do an MBA?” And here I come to the second reason for writing this post – an external affirmation. Even though I claim that I do not care that much what other people say about me, even though I do insist that I have accepted my new identity (maybe… yeah, ok, still in the process), the lack of an external affirmation cannot be denied. But that is so not fair!

Being a stay-at-home mother in itself requires me to use all the skills and knowledge that I obtained both in my working life and in all my studies. Mediation? Try resolving a conflict over who get this or that toy! Negotiation skills? Try persuading the toddler to eat her soup! Operations management? Household! Corporate finance? Well, family finances in general, as well as investments and expenses are so far still pretty much on track with us. I will get back to MBA and its applicability to my life as a stay-at-home mother in more detail later on.

Yes, one can clean the house and buy groceries and pick up kids from school without having studied at one of the back then best European business schools. Yes, it is possible. Likewise, being a manager and even being a consultant is possible without an MBA. What I have learned in my professional career was that a lot of things are just a matter of common sense and a bit of an outside view on the problem. If you are smart, creative and able to learn you are able to reinvent the wheel yourself.

Here! Reason number one: you get an MBA and learn all those things like “lean operations”, “marketing mix”, “strategy execution”, “BATNA” and so on to be able to just do whatever you do without reinventing the wheel. In that way you just become more efficient. Also as a stay-at-home mother!

Reason number two: it was actually during my year-off to study an MBA that I actually took a first moment to think about myself, my values, my priorities. Maybe back then, during that year I still did not decide what I want, but I for sure did decide what I do not want. I now, more than ever before, have a choice.

As a final note, Tim Ferris had a great phrase in his book on 4-hour workweek: “It’s not giving up to put your current path on the indefinite pause“. It is not if you did an MBA that you now have to go and kill yourself working for a large consultancy firm (unless that’s what you really want); and if you decided to stop whatever you are doing and change a course, it is your choice. Your life. You don’t owe anything to anybody in this respect. And if you really truly want to go back, you will. And that will also be your and only your choice.

(Re-)discovering myself

 

I used to be a successful career girl: a lawyer, patent and trademark attorney, as well as strategy consultant and mediator in cross-border civil and commercial disputes. I hold an International MBA degree and I did two years of doctorate in business.

At this moment, I am a happy stay-at-home mother.

I was born and raised in Latvia, yet I am ethnically Russian and culturally homeless. Six years ago my MBA studies brought me to Belgium, where I also met my future husband and settled down. We now have two amazing little kids whom we are raising bilingual: Russian and Dutch. However, they are exposed also to English language, as this is the language I speak with my husband.

I ended up as a stay-at-home mother partly by chance, partly by choice. After the graduation from an MBA I started with PhD in Business for two years attending the Doctoral School in Social and Behavioral sciences and in parallel working as a researcher in a business school. My focus was on risk management in non-financial companies. However, the academic world turned out to be not my cup of tea, as the reality is so much more stimulating than a statistical report with numerous reservations. Also the cooperation with my supervisor was far from being smooth. I now understand why all the three PhD candidates who started with her at different times, quit shortly. It got worse after I said that I want to take not only the 3 months maternity leave, but also the additional 4 months parental leave after my kid is born. I was told that I obviously lack the motivation required for doing the PhD (which was probably true). So I got fired when I was 7 month pregnant with my daughter and in the hindsight that was the blessing which spared me quite some nerves and left me with some extra cash.

After that I freelanced doing mediation and consultancy work in strategy and intellectual property matters; I lectured in risk management; I worked as an international coordinator for one of the mediation associations, assisting them in their internationalization efforts. And then…

Then, I lost my third child when I was 12 weeks pregnant… And it dawned on me. What a hell am I doing? I have changed but I am still pretending to be someone who I am no longer.

What I really want now is to be there for my kids, write, learn, golf, bake,… open a coffee house in the future, one day have my own vineyard and maybe see to apply my mediation skills to a different level (I will come back to that in detail in due time). So I have finally collected myself together, identified my new priorities and goals, and took full control of my new life. And I intend to make the best out of it!

cropped-image1.jpegThank you for reading this and I would be glad to meet you: be it in the virtual space of this blog or over a cup of coffee some day.

Feel free to contact me directly by e-mail: familylifeceo@gmail.com or via social networks: LinkedInInstagramTwitter

How can a parent master time, continue self-growth and follow her true dreams

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