This interview is part of my series Leaning In. My aim is to shine a spotlight on successful women who are ‘leaning in’ to their careers. By sharing the stories of other women, I hope to help change the focus from what we can’t do to what we can do and to show other women that it is possible to have it all.
If you would like to share your story, please contact me.
Chrissie Davies is Melbourne mum of two via an open adoption. She is a passionate advocate for children with challenging behaviours and started her own business, Chaos to Calm Consultancy, to enable her to help families and teachers to make positive changes in children’s behaviour.
Chrissie has ‘life is what you make it’ attitude and believes that there is no one way to do things right. She doesn’t believe in perfectionism and says that women should support one another to have the confidence to do the things that they feel is right for their family.
Chrissie’s interview is full of passion and authenticity and is one of my favourite yet.
Tell us a little about yourself, your family and how you spend your spare time, if you have any!
We are a busy family of four living in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne. Our family story is quite unique, in that both of our children are adopted locally from Melbourne. My journey to motherhood was quite a long, emotional and challenging road. There were quite a few very emotionally tough years for me, but I never gave up on my dreams of having a family of my own. What that vision would look like had to be adjusted somewhat along the way. The years of heartache and longing are all a distant memory now of course, and we are just like any other young family raising their kids in the ‘burbs the best they can.
My children are still very young – 4 years and 18 months – so we are very much in the family grind of everything revolving around our children’s needs. We don’t have many raging late nights or evenings out any more, instead we focus on family celebrations and creating happy family memories for our children. We love escaping to the surf coast and being out and about. We know that this time will be gone before we know it.
What is your job? What does your work schedule look like?
I am a Behaviour Consultant who specialises in supporting families and teachers to better understand the needs of children with challenging behaviours. Chaos to Calm Consultancy grew out of my passion for advocating for children with challenging behaviours who are often branded as naughty and disruptive without really being given a chance for success.
I am an educator, so my aim is to share my knowledge with parents and teachers about how to use positive communication and emotional engagement to create lifelong changes in behaviour. Many parents I support have reached breaking point – people have even lost their jobs as they had to collect their kids from school all the time! Families get into negative cycles of behaviour and they just cannot see a way out.
My work schedule is different from week to week. I have no set work days, rather I just try to work around my children. I have dinner with my children, read them stories and then tuck them up in bed before I head out to work. I want to be available for my children, but it is so important to me that I also have a career that is meaningful, fulfilling and had purpose.
Have your career goals changed since you had children?
I think most people would say that their career goals shift, as we are just not the same people we were before having children. Our priorities change and other things take precedence in our lives.
I won’t ever go back to teaching now. I have made the break and created a successful career out of the classroom. I used to aspire to be a Principal, but the pressures on teachers and leaders in education these days are just immense. So many of my old colleagues are desperate to get out, as the more experience you have, the more that is expected of you with no reward for it. I am so glad that I don’t have to deal with that pressure.
Even though I run my Consultancy from home, I still strive to always have a professional edge. Things like not taking phone calls when the kids are around, making the effort to look semi-together when out in my community and trying to maintain that level of respect as an expert in my field. Some days that really is tough.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when returning to work after having children?
One of the conditions of adopting a child in Victoria is that the primary carer cannot work for 12 months after placement, so I always knew that my career would be taking a back seat for a few years. It was during this period at home that I had the time and brain space to start creating my business model and start to turn my idea into a reality.
Like all working parents, I am tired. A lot of my consulting is done in the evenings and after a challenging day with my own tribe it is sometimes difficult to put on my game face and be upbeat and positive for other families. I often get home quite late and this can then affect my energy to engage positively with my own children. I have to remind myself that it won’t be like this forever, and to try to enjoy the moments being with my children without thinking about clients and work.
Do you agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s idea that women need to ‘sit at the table’ and ‘lean in’? If so, how do you implement her ideas yourself?
I A B S O L U T E L E Y agree with the idea that women need to ‘sit at the table and lean in’. I am always one of those people that sits right at the front, confident to share my ideas, thoughts and opinions. In all honesty this has caused conflict at times. I am always surprised by other women’s ability to judge, exclude or feel threatened by other women.
The whole competitiveness of motherhood just floors me. We are constantly comparing our children, our lives, our hair and outfits to other women. Some mums tell me that the playground at school pick-up reminds them of being back in high school. I am dreading having to endure this.
In the education sector motherhood and family time is very respected and valued. Female teachers are entitled to 7 years family leave to take time away from their job to create and enjoy their families. Their job is held for them all of that time- no questions asked. However, there are still inequalities as male teachers are not provided with the same leave entitlements.
So many of the families that I work with – both men and women – are constantly judged for wanting to leave on time to get home to see their children. It is frowned upon if you leave early, or ask to take time off so that you can attend events with your children. Big corporate companies still have a long way to go in terms of being supportive to both mums and dads, and placing a value on the importance of raising a family, as well as contributing to the workplace.
Do you believe we can ‘have it all’?
I truly believe that ‘having it all’ varies for everyone. Personal and family happiness looks and feels different depending on what you value as important. To me ‘having it all’ is a beautiful family where everyone is healthy and happy (most of the time), an incredible human by your side loving you and supporting you unconditionally, a place to call home, enough money to survive and live a comfortable life, friends to share the ups and downs and fun times of life with, a comfy bed to rest your weary bones in at the end of the night, and a chilled bottle of vino in the fridge…that’s all I need to be living the dream…my dream… and having it all.
I think if you spend all your time focusing on trying to have it all – you miss so many opportunities along the way to just value and enjoy all that you already have. We live in a society where we are constantly wanting more and more, a new car, a super-sized TV, a bigger house.
The most amazing thing about this is that children actually need very little to be happy. When I travelled through some of the poorest parts of Africa I was in awe of the happiness that just radiated out of the children’s faces. Their clothes were often too big or too small, they were covered in dirt, but their smiles just beamed – and they were always singing!
It breaks my heart to hear and see family’s not enjoying spending time with their children. I think we have a different experience behind us though, in that we fought so damn hard to have these children in our lives, we aren’t going to spend a minute complaining about it. Don’t get me wrong – there are definitely days when they drive me bonkers, but I know that it is all part of family life. So many people these days seem to take their children and their precious family life for granted. Life is so busy with work and the constant pressures to have it all- we sometimes lose sight of everything we have right in front of us.
How do you achieve balance between parenting and your career?
Being organised and flexible is very important. This has been a challenge for me as I am a bit of a routine girl – I like to know when and where things are happening, but this is getting easier with practice.
What do you enjoy the most about being a working parent?
Without a shadow of doubt, it is the fact that I am doing a job that I created and made my very own. I was never going to be a mama that stayed at home. Everybody is different and I need the stimulation from other adults and to feel nurtured and satisfied as an individual and as a woman, not just as a mother or wife.
I also love that I will be available to both of my children during the day, right up until they go to school. It is wonderful knowing that I will be able to work around them if I need to, do school drop-offs and pick-ups and attend any of their events. Our children are so blessed to have two parents who are able to work their own hours and be available for our family.
What aspect of being a working parent do you find the most difficult?
Without a doubt the thing I struggle with the most is switching off! When you run a business from home and don’t have set working days, things are sometimes a bit all over the place. I work a lot of late nights and at times find myself so exhausted for my own children. I find it difficult to tell people they have to wait as I can hear the desperation in parent’s voices when I speak to them. At the end of the day I am only one woman and I also have two young children who need an energetic and happy mama too. Over time I have learnt be more careful with scheduling clients to try and keep some kind of balance in my own life. Once my children are in school full time I will have more time to dedicate to my clients, but for now I have to set my own pace and be comfortable with that.
What is one piece of advice you would give to mothers wanting to lean in?
I would say to ask yourself if this is the life you dreamed of for yourself and your family. And if not – what are you going to do about it?
Surround yourself with people who are on your team and who give you a lift up rather than pushing you down.
Speak up. Believe that what you have to say is valuable and worthwhile.
Be kind and supportive of other women, no matter what they choose in life.
Have respect and understanding that what makes someone else happy, may not be the same for you.
You only get one chance at life. Our children only get one childhood.
I can only dream that my children will look back and remember that their mama was not only there for them, but that she also valued herself and placed an importance on her career and creating an inner happiness.
If I achieve that, then I think I will be pretty damn proud of myself.
Reese McMillan is a mum of two living in a small close-knit town outside…19 February, 2017