One of my earliest memories is of living in Boston, Massachusetts as a four year old and walking with my mother and big sister along the brick lined streets of Harvard Square.
My mum would point at the bundled up students walking hurriedly to class. “See these unnis and oppas?” she’d ask us in Korean. “They’re off to class, studying to be the best and the brightest. They’re going to be the next Presidents of the United States, astronauts, senators, doctors and scientists. I want you to look at them and set your goals high. I want you to be smart girls. Smart, independent leaders who do great things with your lives.”
Instead of following her own dreams, my mum focused on raising two educated girls who would do more with their lives than she did for herself. Having children fundamentally redefined my mum’s trajectory, but for me the change in how I saw myself was more subtle – at least at first.
I fell pregnant with my first when I turned 30. She was the best thing that happened to us. I photographed every milestone, Instagrammed every little eye blink and dove head first into everything ‘mummy related’ I could find in Canberra. Then I became pregnant again 18 months later. Career? That can wait! I’ll jump in when I’m ready again, I told myself. I’m a mum now. I was incredibly happy and couldn’t have fathomed finding a greater joy in life. Until I was ready to rejoin the workforce.
I’ve been running a family photography studio in Canberra called Pobke Photography for over seven years now. Being an entrepreneur is great, because I can set my own hours, my own expectations, the number of shoots I want to take on, etc. But it’s not so great because if I don’t work, there is no business.
I was slotting my business in the leftover scraps of spare time and energy, and it wasn’t working. It was agonising trying to reorientate my balance between the demands (and rewards) of family life and my re-emerging personal aspirations. How on earth had my mum managed to run the household and help my dad with his business and still have a hot meal waiting for us at the end of the day?
How is it that when I think back to my childhood, I remember a smiling mum taking me for walks, instead of this frustrated mess of a mum I feel like I am most days?
I truly loved being at home with our two girls. I loved spending Sundays doing crazy activities my husband had so excitedly planned for all of us (sure honey, I’d love to go bushwalking in 34 degree weather and then go to the art museum and then go trampolining for an hour). But a certain sadness would creep in at night, like I had lost something that couldn’t be made up for by doing an extra load of washing and perfecting the art of folding a fitted sheet. My mother’s words would echo in my head: “Set your goals high. I want you to be smart girls. Smart, independent leaders who do great things with your lives.”
During a long break visiting my parents and sister in Seattle, I had a sharp moment of clarity. I realised it wasn’t motherhood that was holding back my personal aspirations – it was me. I used all the good parts of motherhood to avoid facing my fears. To postpone the anxious leap of faith it takes to reinvest in your business and reinvent yourself as a person who can wear more than one hat. To recognise that while things are going to be more complicated than they were, they just might be better as well.
I don’t need to be perfect at everything on Day One. I’m certainly not alone in this big career/life/family project and it’s ok if the whole thing is a work in
progress (at least that’s what my wonderfully supportive husband reminds me day in and day out).
In many ways, having daughters of my own has made me more personally
driven, not less. Strangely enough, this whole epiphany made me feel more connected to my own mother, despite how different our lives have been. Like her, more than anything else, I want to lead my daughters by example.
To teach them to never stop striving. To work tirelessly, at whatever part of your life you happen to be prioritising right now.
This much we have in common.
Christine Pobke is a Korean-American-and-now-Australian living in Canberra, ACT, with her partner and their two daughters; Pippa and Elsie. She’s the owner and photographer of Pobke Photography and one of our 2016 child mags blog + Bugaboo bloggers. Follow Christine on Instagram.
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