Excerpt: Suzy Welch's "10-10-10"

Gwen missed them too, but how much? Weeks passed with her mind seesawing in debate. Had she really chosen stay-at-home motherhood, she wondered, or had she fallen into it by not choosing otherwise? In the middle of this quandary, Gwen's sister mentioned 10-10-10 to her, suggesting she might use it the next time she felt stuck. That happened a few days later. "I was cleaning the refrigerator, my hands and face covered with cold water and detergent, everything melting all over the place, and Sammy was crying his head off. I just lost it," Gwen told me. "For once and for all, I needed to decide if I should keep being a full-time mom."

Gwen soothed Sammy and put him down for a nap, 10-10-10 finished with the refrigerator, and poured herself a cup of coffee. Then, with an hour to spare before her daughter arrived home from school, she sat in her kitchen and started to 10-10-10.

Her very first emotion, as the process unfolded, was dread. "Short term, if I stayed home, I knew I was looking at a lot of diapers and spit-up, with my brain not really in high gear," she told me. "I was looking at a bit of boredom, and a lot of wondering about what might have been." As for the long-term, ten-year scenario, "I knew the kids would basically be on their way out the door by that time," Gwen said. "They would be gone, and so would my career." But a different kind of revelation began to emerge as Gwen considered the ten-month scenario. "Suddenly, as I sat there thinking about it, I became conscious of how much I cared about the time in between the first and last 10s," she said. "When Sammy makes his first goal, Emma has her first flute recital, and Alex learns to shave, I'll be there. I realized I was giving up one dream, but I was getting a reality I couldn't walk away from in return."

Another mother might have landed at a different conclusion that day in the kitchen, but for Gwen, 10-10-10 crystallized her priorities. Her decision didn't mean she would jump for joy every time the baby cried; it didn't mean that she would delight in the hours spent waiting for ice hockey practice to end. It simply meant she had made a values-driven choice that she could—and wanted to— live by.

No wonder Gwen was smiling when she first tracked me down. Her ambivalence was gone—and in its place, the peace of mind that comes with intentionality. But for the sake of full disclosure, you need to know right here and now that every 10-10-10 process doesn't end so neatly. Sometimes the solution you arrive at will be an outright surprise, as the process can surface values, agendas, fears, and dreams you've never confronted before, or it can send you down paths you've long avoided in order to keep our world under control. Some 10-10-10 solutions can even be deeply challenging, as they "require" you to come clean with others about what you truly believe and how you want to live. The truth is, transformation doesn't always come easily.

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