I have never been a ‘kids person.’ I did not babysit as a teen. I never dreamt of becoming a camp counselor for my summer job nor did I have any interest in coaching a gaggle of youth. I’m fairly positive that I didn’t even fawn over the first wave of babies my friends welcomed in our 20s.
So, when I became a parent for the first time in 2011, I was fully freaked out. How was I supposed to be responsible for raising a human (two humans actually, because the second and final one came along in 2015)?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my first decade of parenthood is that I have so much more to learn from my children than they will ever learn from me. They are curious, kind, and optimistic. They feel their feelings in a big way and have not succumbed to shame and self-doubt. They are excellent at speaking their truth and voicing their own needs. They could probably use some work on their boundaries (who needs privacy in the shower, anyway?), but, if there’s any force that can teach us to be the best, most unapologetic versions of ourselves, it is our children.
I’ve long believed “work-life balance” to be some epic gaslighting that perpetuates the most harmful – that is, patriarchal, white-centric, heteronormative – aspects of work culture. When I made space for my work and my life as a parent to co-exist, I opened myself up to a blended reality I never thought possible.
Here are five lessons where letting my kids teach me made me a better human and, thus, better at my work:
There are so many things in the world that my children are not afraid of — perhaps they haven’t yet learned to be. They don’t hesitate to let their curiosity take the wheel and while sometimes there are lessons to be learned — like how high is high enough to climb this tree before mom gets worried. To them, it is always worth learning more about the world.
Similarly, there will always be more to learn as those of us in the nonprofit sector cast a critical eye toward philanthropy and the systems of charitable giving. While unsettling, we need to sit with the reality that what we thought was true yesterday might not be true tomorrow. The fundraising world that we move through today operates much differently than it did for generations before us. We’ve started to unlearn what doesn’t work and how the entrenched power dynamics maintain a harmful reality that is, in fact, unable to redistribute wealth in the way that we may have intended.
And yet, we cannot truly have empathy and understanding without a lived experience. We must open our minds to different perspectives and ways of fundraising, so that we may have more empathy for those around us and bring our organizations’ dreams to fruition.
Fall down, get back up, try again.
It was heartbreaking to watch both my kids wipe out on their journey to riding a two-wheel bicycle.
As working professional adults, we are also going to wipe out sometimes, and sometimes that is going to hurt like hell — that’s what happens when we are learning (or unlearning) something new. Just like our amateur cyclists, we need to get right back on that bike.
Community-Centric Fundraising is a movement, and movements advance when we all decide to try it in our respective corners of the world. I have shared my failures in CCF here and continue to hear about ways in which other members of our community used my failures to inform their next steps.
Savor the joyful moments.
After weekend soccer games, my partner and I take our kids for ice cream. The only thing that exists in that moment is the ice cream — not how hot the day was, not who accidentally kicked them instead of the ball, not how they lost this game. The moment is about cold, sweet, melting ice cream.
As you know, our work is often hard. So when the joy arrives, sit in it. Scream from the mountain tops. Because soon enough, the ice cream will melt, and the work will get hard again. Take a shower, wash the grass stains out of your jersey, and get some rest. Tomorrow is another match.
Sometimes, we have to try the things that scare us. Things that feel risky. Things that might get us in trouble. Things that might require unlikely partners.
Some days after school, my family stops at the park playground to burn some energy. I am always fascinated at how my kids can not only meet, but undertake epic play with other children that they have never met. Scaling the play structure, spinning until they fly off the merry-go-round, or concocting a game where Ninja Warrior meets the Floor is Lava; they play on the edge.
Community-Centric Fundraising demands our bravery and requires a level of risk-taking we may not have ever tried before in our paid work. Taking risks and succeeding is exhilarating. Taking risks and failing – well that’s painful, but how can we grow if we never try anything but what makes us feel safe? We may not be as physically swift as a typical ninja, but our agility is tested — and growing — regularly.
Make time for rest.
As an adult, I have learned to worship the naptime. I question my children’s sanity every time they insist on skipping theirs. I know how a missed nap works out: screaming, exhausted toddlers who can’t even get a full sentence out between sobs. Kids literally cannot control their bodies without enough rest.
If we are going to do the hard work of Community-Centric Fundraising, we have to commit to a practice of self- and community-care. We need to be both mentally and physically prepared for the journey of transforming fundraising.
Choosing to be a parent is one of the hardest choices (with the most lasting consequences) I have ever made. I never could have imagined this chapter of my life and how being a mama could make me a better leader and colleague. Everyday, we encourage our children to explore, to be kinder humans, feel joy, and learn from mistakes. Yet it is a major oversight to assume we know more than they do.
So every day, I work to keep my heart open to whatever next lesson they have in store for me. This is a vulnerability I bring to my clients and my CCF practice. Holding this space to learn from my children has shown me a much simpler version of the world where all the things I dream of feel possible.
Rachel D’Souza-Siebert (she/her) is the Founder+Principal of Gladiator Consulting in St. Louis, Missouri. Through Gladiator, Rachel has combined her knowledge of organizational culture and fund development with her deep personal commitment to centering community, seeking justice and creating belonging for those who have been disenfranchised or targeted by institutions, systems, and policy.
Born to parents who immigrated to the U.S. from India, Rachel has always been passionate about bridging differences and celebrating what’s possible when we collaborate from a mindset of abundance, learning, and risk-taking. Rachel loves cooking, snuggling her kids, and Instagram.
Tip Rachel — PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org; Venmo: @RD-Siebert0620; CashApp: $GladiatorRDS