Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mommies need appraisals too!

This weekend I caught up with a few of my ex-colleagues from one of the companies I had worked for in my corporate avatar, back before I gave it all up to be chief slave to the little tyrant who now rules my home (and my life ) with an iron fist. This particular group of colleagues had also grown to be good friends over the years but it had been a while since all of us had got a chance to meet and I was looking forward to catching up with them. I was therefore a little surprised when my initial excitement at seeing them all together was returned with wan smiles and terse ‘hellos’.

“We had our year-end appraisals today” they explained morosely “And now we need a stiff drink each to forget them quickly!”

It turned out that three out of the four friends I was meeting had been given a rather rough time during the appraisal by their immediate bosses and the fourth friend’s appraisal had been, in his own words, ‘too confusing to make any sense of’ and he had left the meeting with more than his fair share of existential angst!
“You’re so lucky you don’t have to go through these corporate feedback sessions anymore!” one of my friends exclaimed as we reminisced about one joint appraisal we had gone through years ago, when we were still mere rookies in the corporate world. I laughed in response and the moment was drowned in a fresh round of minty Caprioskas brought to the table, but the words came back to me hours later when I was back at home, ensconced in my daughter’s room as we built large teetering towers with blocks and shaped little red butterflies with blue dots out of Playdoh.

True I didn’t have any formal feedback sessions anymore, ever since I had swapped my demanding corporate job for my even more demanding role of mommy, but sometimes I felt I sure as hell needed them as much if not more than before!

Motherhood brings with it a barrage of advice and feedback, and it starts even before the star of the show, the baby, makes its first appearance. Right from the moment you break the ‘good news’, or, if you’re the reserved kind, from the moment the bump begins to show, everyone from your vegetable vendor to complete strangers you run into in the parking lot, consider it their moral obligation to offer nuggets of advice and wisdom. When the baby does arrive, the stream of advice flowing in multiplies manifold and swells incessantly until you’re ready to throw in the oars and make a mad swim for it. Most of the advice is well meaning and can even be helpful of course, but the sheer overload of information coming in can often be overwhelming for an unprepared first time mother. Over time you get used to it and you even begin to discern the good advice from the unnecessary stuff, but one thing remains constant: your new found status as mom ensures that the advice keeps flowing in thick and fast at every stage of your child’s growth.

Given that parenting is one role that doesn’t come with an instruction manual, I’ve often felt that sometimes it might help to get objective feedback on probably what is the most important role I will ever play in my life; that of shaping and nurturing another individual. And so I decided that I would put my business education and my corporate training of many years to good use and give myself a ‘mom-praisal’. My husband decided to play the part of objective third party since my boss was too young to conduct the appraisal and could not be trusted to not throw a tantrum or make ludicrous demands if things didn’t go her way, and we got started. I decided to give my mom-praisal the importance and structure it deserved and created a list of performance parameters against which I rated myself, borrowing generously from the many performance appraisals I had gone through in the corporate world. Here’s a quick peek at what my mom-praisal score card looked like:

1.Displaying a Sense of Urgency:
This is one area where I score hands down, even though it would not be entirely untrue to say that my performance on this parameter is driven more out of fear of failure than anything else. For my boss does not tolerate tardiness at any cost! From a dirty diaper to a demand for food, right from the early days of her birth, my daughter made it very clear that not displaying a sense of urgency when it came to her needs being met would mean retribution of the most severe kind: ear splitting shrieks and mutinous howls. Displaying a sense of urgency soon became second nature.

2.The ability to innovate and think out of the box:
Much as I’d like to gloss over my (many) shortcomings as a mom, this is one area where I’d have to admit defeat. For when it comes to parenting I’ve always found a sense of security in following the text book approach. Parenting tomes of all shapes and sizes occupy pride of place on every conceivable surface in our home now and everything ranging from a tantrum to a refusal to eat the midday snack sees me rushing to consult my trusty mommy manual. Definitely not an example of innovative thinking, though I must say I have invented a pretty nifty technique of speed reading my ‘What to Expect in the toddler years’ while simultaneously entertaining my daughter with a snazzy rendition of ‘Dorothy the Dinosaur’. The husband however is one of those dads who can think out of the box and make it look as easy as shelling peas, so there is hope for me yet!

3.Monitoring and communicating progress frequently:
Another area where I can proudly pat myself on the back. Right from my bai, to my daughter’s playschool teacher, to the hapless husband, to anyone else who cares to listen, I make it a point to update everyone with any semblance of progress. Right from the first utterance of a new word or a particularly complex sentence construction, to a tantrum free day, to successful trysts with the potty, all progress is painstakingly monitored and communicated. The bulk of these communication updates happen with the husband who is given a blow by blow account as soon as he walks through the door. Yes, this is one area where I think I deserve a notable mention or perhaps even some mommy accolades for exceeding performance benchmarks. The husband doesn’t seem particularly pleased about it though!

4.The ability to manage stress with ease:
Now this is a tough one because I am one of those people who tend to get stressed easily. And while I make sure I don’t let my sky rocketing stress levels get to my daughter (mostly), I don’t exactly handle it with ease either. My way out of a stressful situation is usually to stuff myself silly with the most calorie laden food I can get my hands on. Like the time I binged on a pizza the first time my daughter fell ill. Or the walnut brownie with fudge overdose to help me cope with the first day of school and having to let my baby go into the care of strangers for two whole hours. Or the innumerable bars of chocolate to soothe my frayed nerves before her first solo stage performance. I’m getting stressed just recalling all of these instances! Think I’ll just take a quick nibble of some chocolate to help deal with the, er, hunger.

5.Do I strive for constant self development?
Now this is something I haven’t thought about for a while. I’m always thinking about ‘developing’ my daughter, of course. Developing gross and fine motor skills and physical balance and co-ordination are routine playground conversations with other mums. I make a sincere effort to foster a love for reading and am working at developing her socializing skills since she has been displaying marked signs of having inherited the anti social gene from her mother. I try and bring on the creativity by getting the husband to spend time with her while I re-read my book on ‘how to foster creativity in your child’. So yes, I get full marks for trying when it comes to developing my daughter. But me? I guess I never really thought about me. I suppose I’m in a happier place than I was before since my daughter took over my life. I’ve finally become patient and selfless, qualities I always admired in others and sorely lacked myself. I’ve learned to stop, slow down and relax. More importantly, I’ve finally got my priorities right and figured out the things that really matter to me, and that’s made me feel more settled. So yes I guess I have managed some self development without consciously striving for it.

I’ve decided to make my mom-praisal a regular feature to ensure that I don’t stagnate as a mother. Maybe, when my daughter is older she can take over the appraising bit and give me some feedback to make me a better parent. Until then, I will have to make honest and brutal self assessment work for me, I suppose. I have to admit though, that unlike the often dreary appraisals from my corporate past, doing my mom-praisal was kind of fun. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this time round I am hopelessly in love with my new boss!


Originally written for "The Punekar"

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Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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