Preston O'Brien | Another Mother Her Way
I’ve been hearing Preston O'Brien's name for ages, mostly because of her incredible eye and aesthetic. First, because she worked in luxury jewelry design when I was getting engaged, then because she was getting a Masters from New York School of Interior Design when I was dabbling in design as a hobby. We were meant to be friends had she and I not been two ships passing in New York. Nothing has made me feel more connected to her than when we recently spoke about her move to Dubai for her husband’s work. What was intended to be a 6-month adventure is now turning three years. Preston has a deep perspective and openness about the self-doubt that co-exists with her confidence in the decision to focus this time on now raising her son, Winston, abroad. She has a soft-spoken voice, authenticity and little gems of wisdom in speaking that I'm thrilled comes through in her take, below, on allowing herself this time to be present in the double adventure in parenting and life away from home.
Q HOW DID YOU CHANGE AFTER BECOMING A MOTHER?
I feel like I have become more confident and calm. Confident in the decisions I make for our family and calm with those decisions. Balancing life as an expat with multiple families to juggle and friendships to preserve all while trying to embrace living abroad made me a little crazy and stressed. It hasn’t gotten easier (or less stressful), quite the opposite in fact, but I’m more confident in our decisions around travel, laying out our itinerary, knowing our limitations and putting our son’s needs above everyone else’s. Yes, I still feel pulled and put pressure on myself to do it all because I want him to have relationships with our family and friends, but I know there is time for that. This is a new and different mentality that I am embracing, which has filled me with a sense of peace with the situation and ability to focus on the health and well-being of my son and myself unlike ever before. One of my mom’s favorite sayings is “when in doubt, stand still” and, after becoming a mother, I’m able to stand still and be more comfortable with the choices I make.
Q WHAT CHOICES DID YOU MAKE TO ACCOMMODATE MOTHERHOOD? WOULD YOU MAKE THEM AGAIN?
I’m in a unique situation living in Dubai, across the world from family and friends, so for me, the choice to stop pursuing my career was both easy and tough. On one hand, it was easy because there are so many women in my same boat here, and most importantly I wanted to be able to prioritize family (our family of 3 and extended one back home in the U.S.), which would have been much more challenging if I was trying to establish a career in Dubai. By choosing not to work, it allowed me the flexibility and ability to spend extended periods of time in the states and take full advantage of the time when visitors come to us. On the other hand, it was hard because being an expat puts an even more intense emphasis on working or not working as part of your identity here and I often felt like I needed to defend my answer. Choosing to put work on hold made me feel more isolated, and self-doubt had an opening to creep in (did I make the right decision? will my son understand and respect me? will I be able to continue my career or will I be too far “behind”?). I absolutely think I made the right decision and would make it again, but with any choice, there are always pros and cons. For me, the pros won hands down.
Q DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A MOTHER IN 3 WORDS. WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?
Patient, Playful, Perceptive.
I would like to be a mother who can tune out life’s distractions and never-ending to do’s and be in the moment with my son. I want to be able to be present in those precious minutes that are all too fleeting and always be ready and excited to play, read books and expand his imagination. I hope I’m always able to stop and laugh, even when the moment may call for the exact opposite reaction; which is where patience comes in. I never want him to feel like he’s not deserving of my full attention even if that means I’m going to have to practice my resolve when the “whys” start! I know my greatest strength is the love I can give my son and I hope he feels that love with everything I do.
Q HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF MOTHERHOOD?
I think this is one of the harder things to accomplish, yet one of the most important. Don’t get me wrong, I try to (and do) take care of myself outside of motherhood, but it is not without the feeling of guiltiness. There isn’t a Pilates class I schedule, a manicure I make, or a lunch date I plan where I don’t question whether I can (or should) “fit” it into the day. So much of our time as mothers is consumed with scheduling, working around children’s naptimes, mealtimes, playtimes (not to mention taking into account my husband’s schedule) that I sometimes feel uncomfortable for scheduling “me time” into a day that already feels too short, to begin with. That said, I know it is crucial and is so important to get those little breaks because my smile is even bigger when I walk in the door and see my son again.
Q EVERY MOTHER NEEDS HELP TO FIND BALANCE. WHAT DOES YOUR VILLAGE LOOK LIKE?
I feel like I have two sets of villages: an emotional and physical one, both of which are equally important. Our live-in nanny is my physical rock in Dubai, as are a few close friends who just get expat life. My parents, family, and friends in the U.S. are my emotional support team around the clock. Although our family isn’t here for the day-to-day things (and boy do they wish they were!), it makes it that much more special when they are around. I feel incredibly lucky how hands-on and supportive they are. My mom loves to change diapers (or help in any way she can), and I gladly let her! And of course, I cannot forget (nor do I), my husband, who is both my emotional and physical support day in and day out.
Q WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IMPROVING ABOUT YOURSELF AS A WOMAN & A MOTHER?
Gosh, how much time do you have!? I have always been a “yes” person, often biting off more than I could chew, but getting it done and not having anyone be the wiser for it. I need to improve my ability to say “no” and not beat myself up over it. I don’t need to do it all anymore, I just need to choose, and then do it well. Right now, that is raising a son and trying to create a life for us far from home. Which brings me to my second improvement, I would like to practice the art of being in the “now.” Since moving to Dubai and bringing another human into this world, I find myself looking to the future – the future, as in, when he starts nursery, when we move home, when we can finally settle down, put wallpaper up (I am a designer after all!), plant some roots and be closer to family and friends. I feel like I need to work on focusing on where we are now and appreciate why this is also a very special experience for our family. It is all too easy, especially in today’s digital age, to always be looking for the next best thing and I want to raise a son who can value living in the moment with what he has, which is all the love in the world.