Strength in Numbers: Make Your Family Part of Your Team
You’ve assembled a crack team for your kids — now see how much your kids can help you.
Part six in a six-part series, Creative Parenting for the Working Mom, from Reinventing the Working Mom®
Welcome to the sixth and final installment of Creative Parenting for the Working Mom, a series full of helpful suggestions aimed at showing professional women how they can balance career and motherhood. How they can “have it all.” In article four, Working Moms Can’t Do It Alone: Teamwork Is Everything, I talked about how to build a team before you even get pregnant. In article five, The Power of Two — A Working Mom’s Partner, I discussed having a supportive partner. Now let’s fill out the rest of your team — the people in your children’s lives, and your family itself. It takes a whole community to raise a child.
Your Child’s Team
Team building is where moms’ groups and mothers’ forums are crucial — for recommendations. You’ll need a good pediatrician, one that listens, gives clear and detailed explanations, and doesn’t mind lots of questions. Keep your own written records of your children’s symptoms or health issues for their file; if the doctor ever wants to consult a specialist, they’ll have plenty of material.
Your kids need mentors that aren’t you: this means coaches, scout leaders, music teachers or, if you’re religious, people from your church, synagogue, or mosque. Again, ask your friends for their own experiences and recommendations. Make sure these mentors know that you are an active participant in your children’s lives; they’ll know they can talk to you if they notice any difference in their attitude or performance.
Both you and your children will need social interaction, so scope out the area playgrounds, public pools, and skate parks (my son’s favorite) for positive vibes while you’re still pregnant. We know that exposure to nature has long-term effects on health, grades, social skills, general happiness, and on and on, but today’s children spend too much time inside. The sooner your kids understand that spending time outdoors with others is safe and fun, the better off they’ll be. Get to know the parents of your kids’ friends; you might have amicable play dates, or you might have a supportive network of life-long friends for comparing notes or even taking vacations together. Either way, you win.
(Make sure your kids know that Mommy and Daddy have a life too. Matthew is great about watching Chloe for short periods if we need a break or a moment of quiet. You’re all family; you’ll need to help each other.)
Your Family’s Team
Speaking of which, the most important team for you and your children will be the rest of the family. If you’re lucky enough to have extended family in the area, take advantage of this valuable resource. Before Wilson’s parents passed away at 84 and 93, we would stay Friday to Sunday every weekend. The kids loved to be around adults who listened to everything and were never, ever in a hurry. My kids visit my mother every weekend, and their uncle cooks for them twice a week so Wilson and I can take a walk, run errands, and have some adult time. But remember, if they don’t have children themselves, they’ll never know how much you need their help, so reach out. This isn’t burdening them; your kids can only benefit from having a close extended family.
My non-American friends say that America has lost its family values, and certainly in China, everything is about family; parents work while grandparents raise the children. But maybe it’s more that America has prioritized personal independence over these kinds of family relationships. Learning to be independent is crucial for any child, and there is always a balance to be found. But family members leaning on each other is how we all survive…and thrive.
Take a stop-think-reflect moment here. Stop. Take a deep breath and go to a quiet place. Think. How much help do you need? How often do you need it? How can you help your family, now or in the future? At some point, they’ll need you too — what are the expectations all around? Reflect. How will this affect your family relationships? Can you reach a balance that is good for everyone? And take your time. My son had some unexpected wisdom the other day, when he said, “Rushing is the slowest way possible.” Words to live by.
Wilson and I also want to avoid the mistakes our parents made. In their time, money was the most important family value, and we have siblings on both sides who are materialistic to the point of cruelty. Our parents did their best, but we have the luxury of being able to earn a little less and spend even less than that. We use the time we would be working or shopping to make more family dinners or take more outings together. If anything, he and I are proof that two children from dysfunctional families can create a happy functional one. And we know that when they get older, the kids will never notice they never had a luxury car, but they will remember going to the park, going fishing, planting vegetables in the garden…
Communication is Everything
I spent a lot of time in Part 5 talking about the importance of communication, but let’s face it — this cannot be said enough. It’s amazing how many people still struggle with the basics. Saying I love you. Saying I’m feeling bad. Saying It hurts me when… There is no relationship — of any kind — without communication. These days as the kids are getting older, Wilson and I are talking about how to rekindle our romance. Stop. Take a quiet walk together and (gently) say what we’re feeling. Think. What’s working? What’s missing? What could we do differently? Reflect. The same way we want our kids to grow, we want to keep growing as a couple. How do we go about it?
Have your kids start communicating as soon as possible, even before they know they’re doing it. The other day, Matthew kept insisting he was sick, and woke up with a terrible stomachache. Before I developed my stop-think-reflect habit, I would have rearranged my work schedule to stay home with him, or set up a doctor’s appointment and hauled him along. Instead, I decided to talk to him…and to listen.
Stop. Give him the same quiet, calming space I take when I need to solve a problem. Think. What is bothering him, and how can I get him to talk about it? Reflect. What is going on in his world right now, and how is he dealing with it? Is this a symptom of a bigger problem?
First, I told him if he were really sick, we would go to the doctor in the morning. But he would have to give up scootering for a week. He had to think about that. In the meantime, I filled the tub and gave him a soak in eucalyptus and sea salt, and we began talking. When he was calm, he started thinking. “Mommy, there are lots of kids in my class now, and there is only a plastic divider between us.” (School in the time of Corona — our new normal.) I told him that his teacher is doing everything she can to keep him safe, and that we wouldn’t send him there unless we were sure it was okay. After his soak, he had chamomile tea, and then was all set to hop on the bus with his sister. Meanwhile, I explained the situation to the teacher and now Matthew is at a corner table — and much happier.
Compared to parenting, being a lawyer is easy. There are laws, regulations, and predictable outcomes. Parenting has none of that, and it’s worse during a pandemic. But Matthew now knows how to handle his anxiety, and I learned something else about communication — that listening is the most important part.
When you have a communication foundation, everything else falls into place — as long as those who love you know what you need. Be open, and you’ll find your partner will help. Be open, and you’ll find that the older child will watch the younger one, at least when you’re on a work call or need a five-minute break. Be open, and you’ll find your kids will be eager to do chores.
Well, okay, not exactly eager — but you can trade chores for privileges. Regardless, in the end they’ll feel more a part of the family. Learning to be helpful and to contribute around the house will make them feel important and grown up; it even works with conflict management.
My goal is to raise a son who will be a great father and husband, and Wilson is setting a wonderful example for Matthew. Matthew sees that Daddy does most of the housework and heavy lifting, but that we are equal partners in everything. My other goal is to raise a daughter who won’t settle for less in anyone she falls in love with. We both need to be examples to both our children — then we can function as a family.
We had a nanny for a few months who was wise beyond her years. She took care of Chloe for a few hours a day and then got a full-time position elsewhere, but by outlining this simple list of parenting guidelines, she left her mark.
· Wake up an hour before the kids do.
· Get yourselves together. Dressing carefully will give you a sense of control.
· Spend at least half an hour every day with the kids before going to work.
· Always tell them you’re proud of them and love them.
· Don’t use phones at dinner.
· Spend half an hour before bedtime asking about their day — again, without phones (we ask them about their high and low points of the day).
· Let them help with little chores around the house. It makes them feel important that they contribute to the family.
· Be your kids’ best friend but be a parent also. Set boundaries and rules that they can understand and respect.
· Let them know you love them unconditionally and they can tell you anything. Be patient and open, and just listen. Never rush them. Young kids don’t understand the concept of time, and the older ones don’t want to be rushed anyway.
It’s simple. It’s calming. And it’s a solid foundation. Wilson and I try to follow that list every day, and whenever I feel overwhelmed, it’s the first thing I think about. Kids do not need bigger or better toys; they need their parents’ time and guidance. They need to learn about life’s challenges early, so they can be successful teens and brilliant adults. We all want our children to grow up to be community leaders, but they have to learn to take care of themselves first.
We talked about redefining success in the workplace — but how about at home?
Stop. Find your quiet place. Think. What would make you feel like a successful parent? If your son goes to Harvard? Or if he comes home for every holiday. If your daughter becomes a plastic surgeon to the stars? Or if she works in a free medical clinic? Reflect. What do you really want for your children? For them to do what makes you happy…or what makes them happy?
What is your success?
My success is when my nine-year-old son can overcome his anxiety. When he can finish his bath, drink his tea, and head off to school, happy and content. My success is when my five-year old says, “Mommy, when you get older, I will take care of you.” My success is harvesting enormous vegetables from the garden, or the fact that my brother still comes over twice a week to cook for my kids. Or that Matthew works harder at scootering than anyone has ever worked at anything. Or that Chloe always, always dances as if no one is watching, even when she knows they are.
What is their success? For Wilson, it’s “balancing my work and my family. Making sure everyone gets the right amount of attention. Keeping our kids healthy, safe and loved.” For Matthew, it’s “achieving my goals, getting good grades, and scootering.” For Chloe it’s “hugging daddy and keeping the family safe.” And we all scored personal success this morning by putting whipped cream in our hot cocoas. (Self-care is crucial for the peaceful mind — and it’s fun, too.)
Stop. Think. Reflect. Always remember that in career terms, being a mom is not a setback, it’s a plus! My law school professor used to say that if you can make a meal out of leftovers, you have the analytical skills to be a lawyer. Moms know how to juggle and make sense of things better than anyone, and we can develop actionable parenting tools to be successful at home and at work. We can have careers and families and excel at both. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently. Being a mom is your secret weapon.
Future working moms: be bold. Be creative. Dare to be yourself at home and at work. Realize your worth, understand your value, and accept that you have the right to have a career and a child. If your company won’t cooperate, plenty of others will. If the system is broken, fix it. Having children is a miracle, and if it’s something you truly want, nothing or no one should make you change your mind. Make no apologies for bringing a child into the world; make no sacrifices in your career. Instead, celebrate yourself and your choices. It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. But you already have the tools you need, now it’s about taking that first step.
Are you ready?
Just joining us? Check out Part One: So, You’ve Decided to Have it All…, Part Two: Want to Be a Working Mom? Pick the Right Job, Part Three: It’s Not Just Your Job — Your Life is Scalable Too, Part Four: Working Moms Can’t Do It Alone: Teamwork Is Everything, and Part Five: The Power of Two—A Working Mom’s Partner.
Want to read the whole series? Get the Creative Parenting for the Working Mom e-book today, complete with worksheets, checklists, and practical tips, from Reinventing the Working Mom.® Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.