Upcoming virtual Working Mothers Group

Finding our Roles Amidst the Haze and Expectation. What Insights does Liv Offer?
Kristina Karlsson

Over a year ago, I became entranced by a painting of a young woman hanging in my local café. It was by a local artist, Pascale Garlinge. The young woman looks out of the frame into the distance. Her gaze is strong, and humbly defiant. My strongest association with that painting, as I sat there day after day wondering whether I could buy it, was that she was comfortable with the person she was becoming. ‘Liv’ was her name, as Pascale later told me. Liv has long, blonde, windswept hair entangled with forget-me-nots. “Keep unearthing her”, Liv seemed to be telling my real self, “You have seen her. She is there. Keep going.”

After further reflection with my colleague and friend, Liz Brnjak, about what I identified in Liv, I realised that my younger self would not have been so drawn to that painting. “In fact”, I said, “the painting that I would probably have identified with years ago as a young mother, would be something like Vermeer’s The Milkmaid.”

This famous painting may be familiar to you. The young woman in it is described by the New York Times art critic, Karen Rosenberg, as a painting of a “young woman of sturdy build and inscrutable disposition. She wears a crisp linen cap, a blue apron and work sleeves pushed up to reveal thick forearms. Half of her face is in shadow, making it impossible to tell whether her downcast eyes and pursed lips express wistfulness or concentration.”

The two paintings are like chalk and cheese. And yet, they are both part of me and represent important, and valid, stages of experience from the roles that I have taken up in my life.

Roles are not something that we can see. Rather, they are observed by how we behave in a context – in our home, with our family, in a workplace etc. Roles are a lived experience. We all have an idea of what a particular role could or should be – we keep those ideas in our mind, as do others. The idea of the role that we have in our minds – the ‘role-idea’[1] – influences our behaviour. We learn what those roles should be like from our ‘role models’, whether from those who cared for us when we were small, to those who manage and lead us in relation to our work role. And sometimes others’ expectations of how we take up our role, combined with our own experience of that role can mean that we feel stagnant, unfulfilled or ineffective.[2]

As a milkmaid-like figure I felt purposeful yet confined, self-controlled rather than self-possessed, and wistful yet ambitious. Liv represents how I feel and how I want to be in the world now. This change has been due to a long period of deep learning and self-growth. What paintings or images resonate with you at this stage of your life with the roles that you hold as mother, worker? How have they changed over time? Why might that be?

If you are a working mother, you can explore these and other questions using methods to understand your roles and your experiences in a series of reflective workshops run by me and Liz Brnjak here in Melbourne later this year. Through various methods we will help mothers of all ages and life stages think about the intersections of their roles as mothers and workers. Our aim is to also help participants gain new insights and practical outcomes to manage the workplace dynamics and barriers that they may face. It will also be an occasion to hear about the experiences of others and to build new connections.

To express your interest in attending please email administrator@grouprelations.org.au for more information.

[1] The concept of ‘role-idea’ and role analysis is from the work of Bruce Reed and John Bazalgette, ‘Organizational Role Analysis at the Grubb Institute of Behavioural Studies: origins and development’, in John Newton, Susan Long, and Burkard Sievers (Eds.) (2006). Coaching in Depth: The Organizational Role Analysis Approach. Karnac: London and New York.

[2] Irving Borwick, ‘Organizational Role Analysis: managing strategic change in business settings’, in John Newton, Susan Long, and Burkard Sievers (Eds.) (2006). Coaching in Depth: The Organizational Role Analysis Approach. Karnac: London and New York.


Introduction to Working Mothers’ Group
Liz Brnjak

Being a mother makes us real. It activates rawness in our being that has probably never been exposed before. We spend so much of our lives as mothers putting on ‘a face’ each day to go to work, to meet the expectations of other people in society and to avoid conflict with our loved ones.  Being sleep deprived, having our bodies used as a machine to feed the life of another and not being able to attend to our own needs leaves little room for the construction of a false self – although we usually try, or at least we did. In this state, we are raw. We are who we are in all the glamour and awkwardness. Our emotions are real therefore the way we interact is very human and this can make other people uncomfortable.

The idea of this group came from two very real and accomplished working mothers. Kris has a background in law, leadership and organisational dynamics. Liz has a background in psychology, leadership and organisational dynamics, and we both experienced the struggles working women face each day. With our facilitation, GRA’s Working Mothers’ group is a way for working women to connect at a deeper level and explore the personal, organisational and societal structures that surround the issues relevant to working women. Please watch our first video and follow our blog on the Group Relations Australia website, Facebook and LinkedIn.


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