I spend a lot of time talking to working mums. Or should I say I spend countless hours trying to schedule interviews with working mums, and very occasionally succeeding. The beauty of interviewing working parents (in lieu of snatched conversation between toddler toilet trips or mediating kiddy squabbles) is that I get to ask the questions that would otherwise be deemed too nosey. That intrusiveness, plus my inhabitance in the working parent demographic for 3 kids worth of years, means I have learned a few worthwhile things along the way…..
The juggle is real – and your friends with kids are experiencing it too
Let’s not mince words here, the parenting and working combo is a juggle #thejuggleisreal. Doubly so if you are a mother that is doing the domestic work and child care solo on top of paid work. We have all had that discussion where both partners have a full on work day booked in and then a child makes a projectile contribution to the day. We have all got to that point where there are just not enough hours in the day and you feel at the end of our rope. Even that family that looks like they always have it together and breeze through life in Instagram-worthy style, they are juggling and scrambling and dropping some balls. Their mum lost her shit getting the kids into their designer threads.
We need to talk about our work and family balance more
One of the best and most unexpected things to come from the podcast is what happens when I give someone a safe space to talk about something that is otherwise kept under wraps. More than once the recording process has been compared to a therapy session, a chance to talk about the working and parenting juggle, a discussion which is generally taboo for fear that you are perceived as not capable or being put in the ‘too hard basket’ at work.
But you shouldn’t wait for a pint-sized chick with a microphone to come and ask those curly questions. The more we start these conversations, the more OK it becomes to talk about, the more empowered people feel to start conversations about changes within their own family units.
We need to rethink our idea of ‘flexible work’
Overwhelmingly when people talk about their flexible work arrangements, it is our work value being expressed in ‘number of hours at work’, where the longer the hours = the more valuable the employee. This metric means that by being at work less (working part-time, or taking time off for kids appointments or events) we are seen as being less valuable, achieving less, and being less committed. If we are trying to work fewer hours we are seen to be slacking off or taking advantage. Quite frankly this metric serves to further the careers of those not toeing the childcare line…..currently, that is mostly men.
But a different metric to assess value is how productive we are, or what we are achieving in our work. Research is showing that employees (men and women) that may be at work fewer hours, but have a greater sense of balance and having the time to look after all their life responsibilities, are more content, more productive at work and easier to retain in the workplace. Some suggest that in reality, people working 4 days get more done than those working 5 days, that compressed intense passages of work can be more productive than long passages of time that are easily squandered. We all need to challenge our perception of flexible work as ‘working less’ and move towards seeing it as ‘a better fit for the same work’.
Guilt – What is it good for?
Ahh, mother guilt. This one comes up pretty often in my interviews as you can imagine! I could write pages about mother guilt but I think for me it comes down to this: Is guilt serving you well? What benefits do you get from it?
Have you seen the movie Inside Out? Hahaha, of course you have! Remember how we learn that Fear plays a role in keeping Riley safe, Disgust keeps her safe from social disaster, and Anger ensures she is getting her fair share. But when they take over the controls? Effing disaster! Mother guilt helps keeps you in check, making sure you are doing a good job at this parenting gig with that nagging thought of ‘am I a good parent?’. But when it takes over the controls the person who comes out of it second best is you.
Being vulnerable is not your enemy
Although your instinct is to run a mile from looking like you are struggling, being vulnerable is not your enemy and doesn’t mean we are failing. How do you feel about your friends when they allow you to see that they are struggling with work being just too much this week and the kids going rogue? Do you judge them as failing (hint: no!) or do you realize she is overwhelmed just like you are sometimes, you really just want to help her out and make things better for her, and you secretly feel a bit privileged that she was open with you. Bonus: as a result, your bond is stronger for it.
Isolation is not your friend
We need people around us. We need people who are in our corner. But when you are working and looking after the offspring the time to connect with people and feel less alone seems to be one of the areas that fall through the cracks. Adulting needs to be a collaboration and not a solo show. With advances in technology and social media you can be connected to your village even when you cannot physically be with them, keeping the connection alive so when you do get together you can pick up like there wasn’t a 6-month break.
Burning the midnight oil is more common than you think
This comes up time and time again: mothers staying up after the kids bedtime just to chill, revel in a bit of silence and some time to take back some control of how you spend your brain power (and yes, Netflix is a worthy recipient of that brain power). I can’t say don’t do it, this blog post is proudly brought to you by the unsociable hours #potcallingthekettleback, but not getting enough sleep doesn’t bode well for a switched on employee or a non-yelling mummy. Try to set a limit on the nocturnal action or make sure there are some early nights thrown in the mix.
No one’s house is ALWAYS as clean as it is when you visit
No comment here, just putting it out there. There is a reason why my kids ask if we are having visitors when I am tidying up.