Want to Be a Working Mom? Pick the Right Job.
These days, working moms have career options and considerations our mothers only dreamed of.
Part two in a six-part series, Creative Parenting for the Working Mom, from Reinventing the Working Mom®
Pick the right job? Sounds silly, right? After all, your career is your career. But it’s no secret that some jobs are more family friendly. You may continue your upward trajectory in the corporate world and leave the primary caregiving to your partner. You may find an equally fulfilling, more flexible profession. You may stay where you are but demand some consideration. There are no wrong answers. It’s never easy, but with the right tools, you can make it work. For working moms, success is all about strategy.
In the second installment of Creative Parenting for the Working Mom, we’ll talk about how you can leverage the family-friendly policies of other companies to your own advantage, and how to advocate for yourself at work. We’ll remind you of your value, and discuss how communication can make any transition smoother, and any relationship better. And we’ll show you how to prepare for the most important journey you’ll ever make.
Savvy companies now realize that attracting the best talent means accommodating women — all women. Managers finally see that in terms of budgeting, strategizing, prioritizing, delegating, long-term planning, and time management, there’s no one better than a working mom. An office, conference room, or boardroom filled with working mothers provides the diversity and perspective companies are now seeking.
Communication is Key
So why is it still so difficult? We’re part of the problem. Those without children cannot possibly grasp the challenges working mothers face every day. But we don’t complain. We don’t make waves. We duck our heads when we come in late from the pediatrician’s or leave in time for dinner. We feel our colleagues’ silent judgement, real and imagined. But what if those same colleagues knew what we went through every day?
My day begins at 5 a.m. and ends at 11 p.m. I do transactional legal work with my clients from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and again after the kids have gone to bed. I plan, shop for, and cook all the family meals; I pack lunches, set up the family schedule, manage family assets and expenses, and build family businesses. This doesn’t include taking my kids to the park every day, visiting my ailing mother every weekend, dealing with our downstairs tenant, and handling issues with my in-laws and my own family. Mothers are managers, caretakers, and peacemakers, and our work is never done. And that’s before we go to the office.
Valerie Jarret, former senior adviser to Barack Obama, was previously the commissioner of planning and development for the Mayor of Chicago. While in one meeting, she glanced at her watch so often the mayor asked her about it, and she explained that her five-year-old daughter was appearing in a school Halloween parade. His response? Why was she still sitting there? Why hadn’t she said anything? For Jarret, this was a valuable lesson. “If we don’t advocate for ourselves then [bosses] would never know,” she said. “[They] can’t read our minds.”
The Strategy: Speak Up
No one knows what your life is until you tell them. Tell your boss about an average day, what time your kids get home, and what time you eat dinner. Ask for flexible hours, and explain that you will be getting up X hours earlier and staying up Y hours later. The work will get done; from home is as good a place as any. Ask to work remotely one or two days a week, and offer to use a Time Tracker or some other productivity app. Explain (delicately) the medical necessity for pumping and why dedicated pumping rooms should be an office standard. You’ll be surprised at how accommodating people can be when they understand where you’re coming from.
The Strategy: Know Your Value
In the last installment, I passed on one of my most valuable tools: Stop. Think. Reflect. So, stop whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath. Find a quiet place to think about what you want and what’s missing from your life. Reflect on how it fits into the big picture, about what changes you’ll have to make and if those are changes are possible. Now apply those situations to your job.
What do you do at work? What do you contribute? How easily could you be replaced, and how many others can do your job? How easy would it be for them to accommodate you, and how much would they gain by doing so? Yes, you may have shifted your schedule around to do some work from home, and yes, you may hear grumbling from men or even childless women. But that’s background noise. Think about your contribution — don’t you deserve consideration? Make the decision to schedule your job around your child, and stick with it.
Don’t ever feel that working different hours gives you second-class status. Justine is the top earner in her sales division, while Mimi carries the heaviest caseload among her fellow social workers — male and female. Marilyn, a Spanish teacher, gets the biggest classes with the most problem students because the principal knows she can handle them. Danice was working 20-hour days on a crucial deal for her law firm, but when she left to have her second child, the senior partner had three men take over what she was doing alone. But all these women were afraid to move meetings, or ask for flexible hours, or request raises or promotions. Their focus had shifted toward family, after all; they didn’t deserve it. But isn’t work performance the defining factor here?
Women are used to shouldering burdens, at home and at work. Every day, I see men doing half as much as their female colleagues do, and they can’t stop bragging about how much they contribute to the company. Dare to be yourself. Be proud of working to advance your career and giving your children something to aspire to — you. Stop apologizing; stop sacrificing. It took me a while, but I stopped feeling guilty about the time I spend with my kids NOT thinking about work. In fact, now I revel in it. I know that if I can make a husband and two kids happy at home, I can meet any challenge at work. Anyone can have a job — and I can be replaced at the office. At home, I’m irreplaceable.
The Strategy: Create the Job You Want
So, how can we make things easier? First of all, some companies already are. Boasting its own Women in Leadership program, Ultimate Software offers 10-week maternity and adoption leave and 4-week paternity leave. Palo Alto Networks offers unlimited paid time off and sick leave, as well as flexible hours and opportunities to work remotely. Sterling-Rice Group offers benefits to employees caring for aging parents and financial aid for fertility treatments and adoption. The Motley Fool provides 16 weeks of paid paternity and maternity leave and gives discounts at local daycare centers. Many offer onsite pumping and/or relaxing rooms, and yoga, meditation, and tai chi classes. Other companies provide up to three years unpaid leave and a guaranteed job upon return.
Then there’s the WNBA. Besides offering rock-solid proof that women can leave their jobs to have children, then return to work and not miss a beat, the Women’s National Basketball Association has instituted mom-friendly policies that include housing and childcare stipends, dedicated nursing rooms, full salaries during maternity leave, and a host of other considerations that should be federal law.
And the pandemic “sports bubble” is teaching them what I have always known, that integrating your children into your work life benefits both of you. So, while children of elite athletes might sit on the sidelines or play in nearby league-provided jungle gyms, when I was doing market research on food halls, my nine-year-old son came with me and tasted-tested his way through the vendors. When I gave a speech on legal innovation in Prague, my daughter, then four, came up on stage to give me flowers. When your kids understand what you do and why you do it, they are much more accommodating about business trips or late nights. Even better, they are proud.
Does your company offer these benefits? Do they provide opportunities for your children to see what you do? Maybe not, but before you ask about job openings elsewhere, try to leverage your own employers to do their part. The examples above prove that companies that accommodate working mothers not only survive but also thrive. And it’s a trend that can only continue.
Five Tips to Prepare for Being a Working Mom:
Prepare your body: Start exercising and eating well as soon as you can; you’ll develop excellent habits you’ll keep the rest of your life (I now throw chia seeds in everything). Get your vitals checked and your bloodwork done, and make sure you have the vitamins you’ll need. If you’re a heavy coffee drinker, start cutting back now. And it’s never too early to seek out online forums, discussion groups, and support groups for working moms.
Prepare your finances: The US Department of Agriculture puts the cost of a middle-income family raising a child in 2015 at about $285,000. That’s without health problems or a college education. In other words, start managing your money today. Have at least eight months of expenses put away for emergencies, which will give you some flexibility about returning to work. Stick to a household budget; Kiplinger offers a great budget worksheet so you can plan your whole year.
Look into some safe, solid investing. The website www.Robinhood.com is great for me as a beginner investor because they provide information and articles, but there are plenty of others. Just concentrate on slow, steady growth. Never invest in anything you don’t understand, or any more than you can afford to lose. Any level of financial security gives you choices you wouldn’t otherwise have.
Prepare for your departure: Have a heart-to-heart with your employer. Together, figure out what and how many tasks you can do from home and when you could realistically return, even part-time. Ask about working remotely long term, and see how flexible your hours could be. Ask about a pumping room and the possibility of attending meetings from home as well, and explain that this may need adjusting as time goes on. Honest, open communication will prevent future frustration on both your parts.
Prepare for your transition: After a stop-think-reflect honest assessment of your finances, career prospects, and personality, have a frank and open discussion with your partner about who is staying home and who is returning to work. Stop. Go to a park or a beach, somewhere quiet, and talk. Think. Will either one of you miss the corporate culture, or going to an office? Has either one of you ever wanted to be a stay-at-home parent? Whose job pays better, and whose career is likely to keep growing. Reflect. Since life is unpredictable, if you are the one who stays home, keep your skills sharp. Have regular lunches and phone calls with former colleagues, and stay up-to-date with industry trends via webinars, books, and online courses.
Diane was a manager at a community bank before leaving to have the first of her three children. She and her partner decided it made more sense for her to stay home until the youngest was in school, that the cost of childcare outweighed any benefits she could glean from the office. Still, she kept working as a substitute teacher. Later, she had her former boss give her a branch manager position in her town so she could make it to all the kids’ games. “Staying home was priceless,” she says. “I was involved in their lives at the earliest ages, and helped them develop their values for life. But I was also ready to go back to work.”
Prepare for the unexpected (and understand you can’t prepare for everything): In Dr. Patti Fletcher’s book Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women who Break the Mold, she gives a shocking but brilliant example of family flexibility. A woman convinced her cardiac surgeon husband to stay home with the kids while she started her own business (in the 1970s (!)). But as her work and travel demands grew, she still insisted they eat dinner together as a family. Their solution? Their nanny put the children to bed in the afternoon, then her husband roused them before she got home. They all ate together at 9:30 p.m. This may not work for you, but it is a lesson about how communication and fluid thinking can solve almost every family problem.
Of course, you may want to leave your demanding life behind and opt for a simpler professional life, which brings us to Part Three: It’s Not Just Your Job — Your Life is Scalable Too, coming soon.
Just joining us? Check out Part One: So, You’ve Decided to Have it All…
Can’t wait for the next installment? Get the Creative Parenting for the Working Mom e-book today, complete with worksheets, checklists, and practical tips, from Reinventing the Working Mom.® Email email@example.com for information.