How She Does It | Anke Julia Sanders

Summer moved on, and the way it goes you can’t tag along. And that’s OK.

The beginning of Summer marked an important milestone for our family: it contained J’s first day at daycare. As I briefly discussed on June’s interview with Richard, Jason is three and, up until May, due to the pandemic extravaganza, social distancing, lock-down and all that jazz, he had been kept at home. We were only able to juggle life as two remote working senior professionals in the Consulting industry, thanks to the ultra precious full-time support coming from both our Grandmothers. Yes: it takes two loving Grandmothers to tango with a super energetic toddler. Until the need for an intervention arises.

Last Month I discussed a lot of logistics. Those running noses which turned out to ignite J’s three major sick responses in only a couple of months. Let’s just say it’s a bad era to have bronchitis while trying to convince everyone it’s not (bloody) COVID. But logistics aside, which yet again served to remind us how resilient we are as people and as a family, I got to reflect a lot on the past three Months. Especially on the event which led to J’s entering daycare.

On a random Saturday morning, amidst a second consequent nationwide lock-down and during our exclusive Mother and Son bonding time, Jason posed a million dollar question: Mom, do other children like me exist out there?

During those nanoseconds where, as a Mother actively working on your consciousness, you try to look cool and not thunderstruck, to respond and not react, while appearing intrigued yet not triggered, you instantly go about digging into your brain to figure out where yet another bizarre question could possibly have come from, and how best to handle it.

It didn’t take me long to reminisce the times we walked around the neighborhood in the last year: always a handful of Adults, hardly any Children. Our short visits to the only Playground left unlocked in our municipality included tons of swing time, chasing birds, counting stray dogs, but no sightings of other children. The last time we had seen our younger cousin was back when he was a baby. Children around his age were, actually, nowhere to be found in his life for the past 1,5 year or so. The question was so legit, it instantly got creepy.

At the same time, I took the question in as a signal. I don’t believe in randomness. I am all in for serendipity. I go out there looking for signs and, in most cases, I find them. If this is not a call for change, I don’t know what is. I’m no Child Psychology Major, but the core theme at play here (connection and belonging) is too big to ignore. How deep could the psychological impact of this unprecedented confinement prove to be on our three year old? Because you can’t filter out questions like the one Jason posed thinking of them as non-essential.

It was a call for action. Luckily for us, right across the road, there exists a Family Child Care Home situated amidst an all-around garden that we could see from the balcony. A place of good reputation, shut down due to the lock-down. Of course they exist Jason! See that nice garden over there? This is where Children your age can be found. They are shut down right now but, as soon as they open up, we could pay them a visit and play. Would you like that?

Things are never easy when Change is upon you. However excited J was to explore “the place where other Children like him exist”, a handful of adjustments were needed in all fronts. New sensations for him to tackle: being around the auras of other children, working his way into a group, discovering social boundaries and alliances, missing out on his consistent napping, eating food not prepared at home. New blind spots for me to face: ease out my controlling side and move out of the way for him to gain the room he needs to grow. Oh, and stack up the medicine cabinet.

The only constant is Change. When Jason gets curious, we, as his parents, are called in to explore ways of being creative. And it is this last bit of my reflection which naturally leads me to my friend Anke Julia Sanders: a person who is unique to me in all possible ways. Anke is the only friend I have who lives in Texas. She is the only person I know who shares the exact same Academic and Professional passion I hold for Learning. She the person I look up to in following through my aspiration to deepen my research in Adult & Lifelong Learning. She is a bad-ass Working Mom of two children and three animals, and this is her story.

Dr. Anke Julia Sanders, Learning & Development Professional

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a Learning and Development professional with a PhD in Educational Psychology (Human Development, Culture, and Learning Science), wife and mom of a 6-year old girl and a 5-month old boy.

I came to the US as an international student in 2007, and immigrated in 2010 after marrying my husband. We met in Austin, Texas where I went to grad school. I started a small educational consulting business focusing primarily on small instructional design projects for digital solutions, as well as German language and culture training, translations, and worked closely with first year college students who struggled with learning. Over the years, my client base grew and I decided to leave academia – I was teaching both in-person as well as virtually at several universities – to fully embrace a corporate journey.

We currently live in Houston, Texas, with our 2 cats and a Saint Bernard (we lived in Denver for 5 years, so, yes, she misses the mountains and the snow). It sounds cliché, but I am truly passionate about learning: encouraging curiosity, critical thinking, fostering a growth mindset – I want every human being on this planet to embrace learning, meet challenges with an open mind, while spreading positivity and kindness.

Stemming from your personal experience, what is the toughest part of being a Mom, and how do you manage it?

That’s a loaded question. For me the toughest part is simply not knowing if I’m doing a good job, if I am doing it “right.” Some days, I feel great about what and how I am raising my kids, then I think about how I could do it differently, not necessarily ‘better’ but different. With my daughter each year has held unique challenges, also in the way I handled parenting. Before COVID, there was quite a bit of guilt associated with being a working mom. I stayed home with my first for her first 2.5 years and I loved it. I worked from home (about 20-25hrs/week) and I was also able to still keep up my athletic lifestyle as an active weightlifter and fanatic of the sport of fitness. I think the balance was just right for that period of my life. Living in Denver at the time also had its perks. The mountains had a calming effect. So whenever I felt overwhelmed, I went for a walk around the lake or simply enjoyed looking at the mountain range.

Then we moved to Houston, my business started picking up, and we were able to afford sending our daughter to day care. At that point in time, I knew she needed more structure, develop social skills, and make friends; yet, I still felt guilty. Sometimes I’d drop her off at 6am and picked er up at 6pm. But, I love what I do, and I wanted to grow professionally. I realized, however, that I felt like I was robbing my daughter of a bilingual identity.

She was bilingual until she started day care. But with no German-speaking day care anywhere close, and my exhaustion switching back and forth and ‘making her use her German,’ I eventually gave in… It has been tough for me to witness her ‘lose her linguistic German identity.’ Only since COVID, with her being home with me more, seeing me working both in German and English, and now with teaching her little brother German has she begun to have an interest in German again. I hope it will get easier.

Yet, there are always new and different aspects about parenting that are tough. I try my best to manage them, try to remain open and aware about the changes these hurdles might bring. I think, parenting is this strange concept: You have a certain idea of how it should work, you read all these books, talk with other parents, try to do it, try to do it well, but in the end there is no textbook-way, every experience is different.

Who is (are) your go-to person(s) when you need support as a Mother? What type of support are you mostly in need of?

Of course, my husband. He will always jump in if I need him to help out. Also, I do not usually seek help, but I know my husband’s family is there if we really need them. My family is, too, but they are thousands of miles away, so it’s hard. Due to COVID and the US travel ban, my family hasn’t even been able to come here to meet the baby. Also, there are cultural differences. I would do some things differently if I was in Germany, so it is more of a quest for me to balance and figure out the best way to handle something. I sometimes feel overburdened and I think it is a result of American culture and the expectations that are placed not only on mothers but working mothers in the US in general. This is loaded, too.

I just recently read an article about parenting challenges during and ‘after’ COVID. It resonated with me, in that I have periods during which I truly feel invincible, I got it all under control, even my house is shiny and the fridge is stacked with clean options. Then, there are weeks in which I feel like I am on autopilot, and well, I realize we are having mac and cheese for the 5th time in a row. Then, I get stressed; I am scared I am not living up to my standards, or the societal standards. I fear I am not modeling proper choices. Maybe a solution would be to show my children that imperfection is normal, and that it is ok to sometimes not be ok.

What’s the No1 Skill (or Ability, or Knowledge) you have found handy in your role as a Mom?

Curiosity and Creativity: seeing things through the eyes of a child, simply dare to explore an idea and run with it without being afraid to fail. When you watch a child learn anything, from holding a fork to using language, they don’t usually care if they fail, eventually they figure it out because they just don’t give up. It’s empowering to see the world through the eyes of a child.

On the flip-side, I also found some of my job skills handy with my children. For example, I want my children to be critical thinkers. Once my daughter learned the basics of making choices, and how it relates to consequences, I began to trigger her to explore her reasoning. I hope I am able to teach my children, to take a step back, look at a problem or situation from different angles, reflect. This way they can grow from their experiences, explore the underlying factors, understand motivation, and consequences of choice and to ultimately find solutions. I hope I am instilling this in my children so that they can develop a strong sense of perseverance and growth mindset.

What advice do you have for a new Mom?

I am having a hard time with this myself, but ditch perfection. Trust yourself, your abilities, and don’t compare your situation to others’. Focus on what makes sense in your world and be kind. This day and age is asking a lot of us. It’s up to us to reframe the way we think and act.

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