Today, I’m participating in a blog carnival to celebrate the publication of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman by Liz O’Donnell, publisher of the award-winning blog Hello Ladies.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my second child, I made an elaborate Excel spreadsheet to see if my husband and I could afford for me to continue to work after she was born. With the astronomical cost of two kids in day care, would it make sense, financially, to continue my career, or would a break be in order until our kids were in elementary school? If I still worked, could we save money for retirement? Would we also be able to cover our living expenses without dipping into savings? I remember tallying up that spreadsheet with a great deal of trepidation. I wasn’t sold on trading in my professional life for the life of a full-time stay-at-home parent, and, thankfully, with some careful budgeting, continuing to work was possible.
I’ve been a working parent for six years now, and these years have been, by far, the most challenging of my career. From talking with friends who also juggle work and family and from reading Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman, it’s clear I am not alone. I’ve managed to make it work because of three important decisions:
- I work a four-day-a-week schedule, with a telecommuting component. The flexibility of this arrangement is priceless. I can take the kids to the doctor, make parent-teacher conferences, and volunteer in my son’s classroom. A drawback is that my portfolio of work has largely remained the same, which ensures that I have less time and get paid less to do the same amount of work I had been doing before. This means that I have a baseline stress level of red alert and that I check my work email on my days off, but, without this schedule, I’d have even less time for family and personal commitments.
- I made a network. We luckily placed our children in two different day care centers that were safe, nurturing, and supportive, with holidays set a year in advance, a gift to a working parent. Grandma and Nana are there when we need help, and dear friends and beloved babysitters have been key to carrying us through.
- I—and this one is the most significant—chose well when I married my husband. Oh, he may never be able to close the kitchen cabinet doors after he opens them, but he, without complaint, cooks dinner more often than me, goes grocery shopping, manages every Costco run, coaches soccer, shares school and day care pick-up and drop-off duties, pitches in to help with the laundry, takes care of the exterior of our house, distracts the kids so I can write, and on and on. He also completely supports my desire to have a career (as I do for him), and picks up the slack when I have big deadlines at work. He’s a hands-on, fully committed father, and I couldn’t do it without him.
Despite my three smart decisions, being a working parent doesn’t always go seamlessly, of course. (Remember this post?) But, I’m a believer that I am a better parent in many ways because I have a career. No matter what, I am always there for my children, and they see that Mommy, just as much as Daddy, is dedicated to our family. They see that I enjoy my work and that helps them understand responsibility and teamwork.
There’s a downside to the flexibility I have found at work. I’ve had the same role at my organization for 11 years. Eleven. That’s a long time in today’s workplace. I have looked at other opportunities, but no other job has matched the level of work-life balance I have now. So, I have stayed. I’ve “decelerated,” in the lingo of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman, and perhaps even “leaned out,” in the vernacular of the “Lean In” movement. And, I know that, even in my under-20 employee organization, the flexibility I have has been perceived, at times, negatively. Yet I haven’t hid being a working parent; in fact, I have been incredibly open about it. I have done so because I want my co-workers—who are all, interestingly, women, and primarily in their 20s and 30s, without children—to know the reality of what it means to have both a family and a career, so they can make the right choices for themselves.
Recently, a position opened up at my organization, and it was the first time in 11 years that a job more senior than my own was available. I was a logical candidate for the role, but decided, after much reflection, that I didn’t want it—the position was not the path I wanted to go down. Plus, the job is one of those 200% effort kind of roles. My life doesn’t match that right now; someday, it will but not right now. However, after explaining my decision to colleagues—three men between 70 and 88 years of age—I was disheartened that my choice was summed up in three words: “She’s a mom.” All they heard was that being a Mom wouldn’t work with taking on our organization’s top job. It’s not true, of course. Their sound-bite explanation of my very thoughtful decision strengthened my resolve to be a supportive leader to those women who are coming after me and to continue to push for work-life choices for everyone that provide the varying options we need.
I have a long wish list of things I want to change to make the lives of working parents easier. You’ve likely heard them all before:
I wish it wasn’t so hard or so expensive to find the resources we need to be successful at home and at work.
I wish good after school and day care programs were affordable for everyone.
I wish the school calendar was more respectful of the challenges of working parents.
Most of all, though, I wish we were all more understanding of one another’s choices. This parenting stuff is hard enough without judgment and guilt.
Oh, and one last thing about the “maid” part of the “Mogul, Mom, and Maid” mix: I am, as it seems most mothers are, the one responsible for doctors’ appointments, gifts, birthday parties, and holiday planning. I’m the one who buys the kids’ clothes (though my husband purchases their winter coats), packs the lunches, and arranges child care. I worry about the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of our house and I make the beds. It’s all part of my job in our family, though I have been known to ask for help (from my husband, my kids, and others) when I need it. That might be one of my most critical lessons learned from my years as a working parent: how and when to ask for help. Knowing how to do so makes me a better parent, colleague, and person. And, that, I imagine is the same for all of us.