A few months ago I attended a training course at work about leadership and management style. During one presentation the trainer reintroduced me to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.
Maslow (1943, 1954) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.
(Source: Simply Psychology)
It struck me immediately, as I was sitting in the classroom, that this model could offer me a way of navigating a way through my divorce.
Marriage can be hard, and it can be incredibly rewarding. It involves give and take, it requires commitment and at times self-sacrifice. To be honest, I felt at times that I poured myself out so much that I lost touch with who I was beneath it.
But even now, looking back at those most painful of moments, and comparing it with the hierarchy of needs pyramid, I can still see that I was at the top of the pyramid, in self-actualisation.
Level 1, physiological needs—I had air and water, food and shelter, sleep (though disturbed) and clothing. I lived comfortably in a house in Anstruther. We had everything we needed to live a comfortable, middle-class life.
Level 2, safety needs—I had personal security and employment. Sure, I had some health concerns but I felt safe and secure.
Level 3, love and belonging—Even in the midst of the hardest times in our marriage, I still felt a sense of belonging and commitment. I knew that I was committed to Jane because I had stood in the church before friends and family and God and I had made a vow to belong to her forever. That promise kept me going, kept me believing that we could work things out. And I had some amazing friends, not nearby, but certainly at the end of the phone or on Skype or email or text message.
Level 4, esteem—At work I felt I had the respect of colleagues. I had status (assistant web manager) and recognition. I had a certain degree of freedom across all areas of my life. I could choose when to take on more church work, I was free to choose when to visit friends or family.
Level 5, self-actualisation—And at the top of the pyramid, I was actively trying to become the best person that I could be. Standing on the foundations of a comfortable home, a secure job, a long-term relationship that had produced three beautiful children, and a job that gave me a position and place in the world that I was happy with, I was seeking to become the best person I could be. I was trying to improve my health, trying to draw closer to Jane and my children, trying to better myself through reading and side projects.
I felt privileged and although not always entirely happy, I felt confident that we could work things out and get through this.
And then… it was all over. Through a lot of heartache and tears, I finally agreed to a divorce. Leaving the children was the hardest thing I have ever done. It broke my heart.
When I agreed to a divorce, Jane and I discussed the next move. What happens next? I was determined to make the process as easy and create as few disruptions in the lives of my three children as possible. So I agreed to move out,
And in the real-life game of snakes and ladders that I found myself in, I took a snake from the top of the pyramid right to the bottom: from self-actualisation to physiological needs.
Where on earth am I going to live?! was the message screaming in my head. I felt utter panic at answering that question.
None of the levels above physiological seemed to matter more than the simple need to secure the absolute basics: where do I sleep, where do I eat? Thankfully I still had a job, and that job and my previous experience led me to my current position as a halls of residence warden. That gave me immediate relief of my physiological needs.
But more than that it also gave me a sense of security, a sense of belonging and connection. I had another community to belong to, and build, encourage and be encouraged by, and it gave me sense of self-esteem and recognition. Somehow, I had clawed myself back up to level four.
When I moved out of my home and started to create a home for myself in the warden’s flat, I said to myself that I would do this for 3–5 years. I have just started my third year, and I have found myself considering what is next?
I’m enjoying the warden work—although it doesn’t leave much time for myself. I have enjoyed being a part of this ever changing and dynamic community of people learning together and learning how to live together.
I’ve been enjoying getting deeper into work as an agile project manager and business analyst—I’d certainly like to journey further down that road. I think I’m good at it—the scrum master role is one of servant leadership, and that’s very much how I think and live.
I find myself considering the future with a certain degree of uncertainty and fear but also hope and possibility. I would like to work in an agile role, I would like to create a new home where my children will feel comfortable and belong. I would like, eventually, to step confidently onto the top tier of the pyramid once again. There are a lot of questions to answer before I get there but that is certainly my goal.
As we used to say in my office: it’ll be alright in the end… and if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end. But this model, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, has been a useful tool for me to orientate myself and help chart a way forward.
If he had still been alive and healthy, I wonder what I would have bought him for this birthday…
Dad loved watching Scottish rugby (he would have been very animated watching today’s six nations match against France). He loved motor sports—bikes or cars, it didn’t really matter, although he had practical, hands-on experience of bike racing when he was younger.
At one point he was very much into building models of motorbikes, and his early love of steam railways led to him collecting 00-gauge Hornby models with a long-term plan of converting the old wash-house built next to our house into a room for his model railway.
He sang and acted, he played bagpipes, and he used to enjoy sitting on the edge of my bed listening to Queen, especially “Radio Ga Ga”.
I wonder what he’d have been into now had he not died at the age of 52.
During the week I’m busy. I usually rise around 05:45, say morning prayer, have breakfast (usually porridge… what can I say, I’m Scottish), get myself together and head in to the office early. In the evening I return to my flat and get stuck in to hall life and other little projects that I have on the go right now (writing, illustrating, music, reading).
Most weekends I have my three children over, and I love it. I love them. I love being with them. I feel whole again. They have such energy, such life, such wild imaginations and we spend hours riffing off each other’s silliness with word play and rhyming (earlier today we had “stranger danger with the lone ranger”, and “I am Gimli, son of Glóin, son of… George?!”).
Some weekends they come over on Friday evening, still in their school uniforms, bouncing with energy, irritable with tiredness, overflowing with cuddles. A few hours later, they are asleep in bed, and I’m either asleep too or I spend a quiet evening in the lounge enjoying the emotional glow of having my boys with me again.
Saturday is usually filled with all sorts of activities. Reuben enjoys lying beneath his duvet on the bedroom floor with his tablet, watching cartoons on Netflix or Minecraft tutorials on YouTube. Joshua and Isaac migrate from the sofa to my PC and back to variously play computer games on my PC (mostly LEGO, although they’ve recently got into the multiplayer Ballistic Tanks and Dirt 3 rally) or their tablets. Usually at some point the LEGO comes out. Yesterday Reuben presented me with a packet of Papercraft models he’d received for his birthday asking for some help to build them. Translation: Dad, could you please build all of these for me while I watch?
This morning I heard Isaac (who will be six next week) exclaim, “Look at me! I’m doing elf parkour!” while playing LEGO The Hobbit.
Sometimes we’ll go out, though by the weekend they are often ready for a quiet day in, especially if the weather is foul. (Me too!) Yesterday we went out shopping for new winter hats and gloves, and they then spent a couple of hours (and most of the heat from the flat) traipsing in and out to play in the snow.
By Sunday lunchtime I generally begin to feel melancholic and heavy as I begin to anticipate the loss that I will feel when they have to go home. It’s unusual for me not to shed a tear after they are driven away. Not always immediately, but certainly at some point.
On some occasions Joshua (mostly) has simply refused to leave and has curled himself up in a ball on the sofa in a sulk and has stopped responding to any encouragement to leave, or simply repeats “I don’t want to go!” Sometimes I’ve just let him stay for a few more hours and we’ve enjoyed a fabulously fun afternoon, just the two of us, before cooking dinner and driving him back to Anstruther in the evening.
This is the hardest part of the separation for me. I’m sure I’ve said this before—I’ve certainly mentioned it in conversations more than once. I can accept that Jane doesn’t want to be with me: I’ve broken up with girls in the past. But it hurts to not live with my children.
I’ve often wondered what other people think about me because I moved out. It wasn’t easy. I think it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. On the day I moved out, my brother at times had to physically carry me. I’ve never experienced grief like it—my father’s death nineteen years ago was a walk in the park (well, in the cemetery, at least) compared with this. I would have happily stayed with them but it’s less socially acceptable for a mother to move away from her children than a father.
During the week, where I can, I nip over to Anstruther after work to see them for an hour or two, in a house from which my memory is slowly being erased. It’s not enough, but it’s better than nothing and it keeps me going until the weekend when we can enjoy another few days of silliness and laughter and cuddles together.
This weekend, for some reason, the WiFi went off in my flat. So it was a good opportunity to introduce them to the wonders of setting up a portable WiFi hotspot using my smartphone (4G, thankfully). And then watching them gobble up about half a month’s bandwidth allowance in two days between them on their tablets.
We also started to play around with Microsoft Kodu, which is designed to introduce children to computer programming.
Using nothing more than an Xbox games controller (and/or keyboard and mouse) Kodu allows you to easily create games within a simple point-and-click environment. It was amazing to see Isaac get into it and think through how to build his world and program the controller with the basic framework of when X, do Y, e.g. when I press A on the gamepad, fire a missile; when I bump into a rock, make it explode; or when I press the right trigger on the gamepad, make my character grow to four times his normal size. Their experience with Minecraft: Pocket Edition has done wonders for their creativity and problem-solving skills.
And so… to my usual Sunday evening routine. Over the next few hours I will sink back into the silence of the flat, enjoy the warmth of the memories of another fun weekend with my children, and look forward to the next one. And prepare for my week ahead.