Employment and Motherhoood: Are You Leaning In or Falling Over?
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In, says women should lean into their careers. Don’t pull out unless you have to. Go all out. But, in another book titled Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, author Katrina Alcorn says whoa, not so fast. Working mothers are suffering from trying to do it all; it is not uncommon for employed women to suffer from clinical depression, or have anxiety-related health problems. But staying home is no panacea either. Women who leave their careers to stay home are rarely able to re-enter the job market at a comparable level of salary and prestige. Moreover, having one partner unemployed is simply not a choice for a vast majority of families.
The purpose of this article is not to debate whether it’s better to pursue full or part-time employment, or to stay home. Rather, I want to offer some general advice about parenting and employment based on my own experiences as a full-time working mom, a part-time working mom, a full-time stay at home mom, and a student/mom. Just how does one achieve that perfect balance between “work” and “life”?
TEN TIPS FOR EMPLOYED MOMS
1) Did I say “perfect balance?” The first and foremost rule for all women, especially mothers who are employed, is to banish the word “perfect” from your vocabulary. There is no such thing as “perfect.” Think of balance as a teeter-totter with you standing in the middle, gently moving back and forth from one side to the other. Some days, or weeks, your weight leans more toward your work life, usually by necessity. Other days, or weeks, your weight leans the other way, toward family and friends. Unbalance is when the teeter-totter is stuck at one end—typically, the work end, or when you find yourself having more bad days than good days. This means something needs to change.
2) Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need at work. Negotiate and be creative! Come in with a proposal and be prepared to show how it can benefit both you and your employer. The recent change in maternity leave policy by Netflix signals changing attitudes in general about keeping valued employees happy. It certainly never hurts to ask.
3) If your partner isn’t pulling his or her weight, be very clear about what you need. Use those “I” statements (e.g. “I feel unsupported when you don’t clean up the kitchen after dinner”). Don’t suffer in silence while your anger builds up. This pattern is deadly for a marriage.
4) Teach your children how to help out at home. Just because your children have lots of activities and homework does not give them a blanket pass on household chores. Children age 6 are old enough to clear their dishes from the table. By age 8, children can sort laundry. As they get older, they can begin to pack lunches, do their own laundry, clean up in the kitchen, and so on. This teaches valuable skills like team work and time management. By the time they head to college they will thank you for teaching them independence.
5) It is essential to build time into your schedule for yourself. How do you make this happen, you ask? The best way is to schedule your time in the family calendar and then schedule other things around that time. It may be hard to convince yourself of this, but your need to go to yoga on Tuesday evenings is just as important as your child’s need to go to soccer practice.
6) If you are married, or have a partner, it is equally essential to build time into your schedule for your relationship. Go on dates, out of the house and away from your children, at least twice a month, no matter how tired you are, and at least once a month, make sure those dates are just with the two of you. I hear lots of reasons why this is so hard to do, but I can assure you, the cost of a babysitter and going out is way cheaper than the cost of a divorce. A marriage is like a tree—it might look okay on the outside, but if it doesn’t get enough sunlight and water, it starts to weaken on the inside. One day, when a really big wind blows, the tree falls over.
7) Getting back to the notion of perfect, give up trying to make life perfect for your children. This applies to birthday parties (they don’t have to be super big affairs every year); activities (extracurricular activities should be based on the ability of the family as a collective whole to manage everyone’s activities); clothes and electronic toys (are you working to have more money to spend on your kids for things they don’t really need?); and so on. Just love them unconditionally and everything else will fall into place.
8) Corollary to #7: Be compassionate with yourself and your spouse or partner about your parenting. No matter what you do, whether you are employed or not, you are going to screw up. I promise! Forgive yourself. You are doing the hardest job in the world.
9) If you feel guilty about being away from home all day, try to check that guilt at the front door. Your children need you to be their parent when they’re with you. That means you still have to enforce rules and call out bad behavior. It’s not always fun. That’s just the way it is.
10) If at all possible, hire someone to clean your house. I’m not kidding.