“Parenting is a lot like folding a fitted bed sheet. No-one knows how.”
It was Mother’s Day last weekend and hundreds of mums were wakened by the sound of pots banging and toast burning as kids attempted a breakfast in bed surprise. Or maybe your fur baby decided that 6am was the best time to greet you with a wet nose, a friendly paw and demands for a walk. Parenting is a lot like building partnerships. There is a life cycle of experiences that are both familiar and unique and you’ll definitely do better if you have some help.
Here’s our view of the milestones along the way.
Just a twinkle
You look at others with partnerships and smile. It seems like such a good idea. They’re having fun and look like they’re cruising through it all with some great results. The idea goes from just a twinkle in the eye to some concrete goals in the strategic plan. Let’s do this!
When you’re pregnant you are inundated with ‘how to’ books and strangers offering unsolicited advice. I got fed up with women in the elevator asking if they could feel my expanding tummy and decided to ask one if I could feel her boobs in return. The stunned look on her face meant I never got a second request. As you get ready to be a parent you are acutely aware of how much you don’t know. We search for books, videos, instructions manuals and advice from experts. It’s surprising to see how few non-profits ask for help when they embark on partnerships. There’s a commendable optimism, in the spirit of TV’s Top Gear team- how hard could it be? But partnerships aren’t like philanthropy, grants or community fundraising any more than parenting is like babysitting next door’s dog. You need to seek some specialist advice and get yourself properly ready.
The work begins
In parenting the real work begins when you leave the hospital and drive home gingerly at 20km per hour. There’s nothing like hands on experience to learn quickly. As my local maternity nurse once told me about breastfeeding, ‘if you do something every 3 hours, 8 times a day you do get better at it’. You also find that it’s unlike anything else you’ve tried before. Yes, the first few times you try partnership prospecting you’ll be awkward, it will feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable. But keep at it, because somewhere along the line you’ll stop feeling dread about making that call or you’ll walk confidently into that board meeting without second guessing yourself. Of course, others make it look easy. I remember the woman in my community health group who always showed up with perfect hair and painted nails when I had barely managed to find a comb after being up all night. Just remember that each journey is unique and you need to find your own rhythm.
Hitting your stride
You’ll find that partnerships are testing you but you’re learning fast and discovering skills you forgot you had. The great thing about working in partnerships is how you get to dig deep into all the skills in your personal armoury- creativity, project management, negotiation, relationship psychology and team building. It’s more fun than any other role in a non-profit and it will test your versatility. In one day as a parent you could be nurse, educator, dragon slayer, chef and storyteller. In partnerships you could create a campaign, negotiate a contract, cajole a CEO and inspire an audience. You’re not perfect but you’re hitting your stride and building your confidence by just showing up every day.
Rewards and resilience
I cried when my kids graduated from primary school and I’ll have the tissues ready when they complete their university degrees. I was also white-knuckled with fear in my daughter’s first driving lesson as her competence was in inverse proportion to her appetite for speed. But there is a payoff and a huge sense of pride once you’ve reached some major milestones. Partnerships will test and build your resilience along the journey. Just when you thought things were cruising, your key contact will leave or the corporate partner will change direction. Just like parenting, you will have some nights awake at 2am wondering whether it’s a car crash. But the rewards are always worth the effort if you’ve put in the investment of time and attention. And at the end you’ll say, ‘let’s do it all over again’.