I Had No Idea
by Sandra Crawford Williamson
They say that you don’t understand what it’s like to be a parent until you actually become a parent. I wholeheartedly agree. Before I had children, I had NO idea what it was like to be a mother, especially a working mother. When I had children and joined the ranks of working parents across the country, to say my eyes were opened would be an understatement. Not only did I have to step up my game to keep all of the plates spinning, I also became painfully aware how misunderstanding and unaccommodating I may have been with the working mothers in my offices earlier in my career. I’ve felt terrible about how I didn’t understand and didn’t take into consideration the time constraints and responsibilities that they were balancing in their schedules.
In what ways was I not accommodating? Expecting these women to come to early breakfast meetings. Calling last minute 4:30PM meetings. Expecting everyone to want to travel. Looking to see everyone attend those client happy hour and dinner meetings. Viewing leaving early for a child’s soccer game or dance recital as sign of weakness and even questioning their dedication to projects and careers when they did. I had a “no pets, no plants” rule to help me climb the corporate ladder, so the pressures these parents of little people faced were foreign to me. I was just clueless. Not mean or uncaring…..clueless.
I was blind to the fact that these women spent their early mornings getting their children up, dressed, fed, packed, and off to school. I didn’t realize that calling last minute meetings at 4:30 in the afternoon created a real
inconvenience for these women who needed to pick up their children from school and childcare. And that doesn’t even touch on the things I had no idea they were missing DURING the day…..the lunches with a parent, Valentine’s Day parties, field trips, etc. The bottom line is that it just didn’t occur to me that these working mothers could be as equally devoted to their projects at work as they were to their families at home. But until I was blessed to become one of their ranks, I saw it as an either or.
Let’s be clear! There is nothing weak or negative about going to your child’s games, lunches, parties, recitals, etc. Now I am one of those multi-tasking plate spinning working moms that has to think about packing lunches, childcare, school projects, how each child gets to his after- school activity, etc., etc., etc. It is cray cray! And the guilt? Well, you may have heard me speak about that one. The sting never quite goes away from missing parties, field trips, and volunteer days for work. And my passion for my work, career, and projects has NOT decreased! In fact, I believe working mothers are some of the best team members because they are focused, master multi-taskers, and understand the value of time.
Sooooo, what steps can we take to be more accommodating, understanding, and actually supportive of working mothers?
Have a set time for the end of the workday. Let’s be sure people can be out of the office by 5:30. Honestly, 4:30 would be even better. We shouldn’t have to be worried about whether or not we can pick up our kids from school and childcare on time. When we know that our day will end at a set time, we can put our complete focus on our work in the office. And these team members are very conscientious. The work WILL get done and it will be amazing. Be mindful of the times we set meetings and give advanced notice. If early or late meetings are necessary, let’s communicate well in advance so we can ensure that children and their schedules are sorted out. If advanced notice isn’t possible, don’t be surprised or disappointed if someone cannot attend or have to leave early. Let them call into the meeting while they are on the road, in the car pool line, or nursing a sick little guy.
Keep in mind the “second shift.” Second shift is what I call my time after the children have gone to bed. I can work on projects from home during this second shift without distractions. Consider if there are some tasks or projects that we can work on outside of the office. With technology these days, it is easier to work in any location. We can set aside an hour or two or three in the evenings to take care of these projects. This time can help counterbalance the times when we need to leave the office early to be present for our families.
Be understanding when business travel is involved. For parents, traveling for business can be difficult because of the time spent away from home. Don’t expect everyone, parent or not, to love to travel. And don’t see it as a sign of weakness when someone says they don’t want to go on a business trip. In my case, I LOVE travel. But now when I have to travel for business, I try to take red-eyes and pack all of my meetings into one day. This way I can get in and out quickly and minimize my time away from home.
Set your company culture to value and reward results, not face time or time in the chair. In today’s high tech, fast moving, virtual world, in many industries, team members can be just as effective working remotely some or part of the time. By establishing a clear company culture that rewards results, we allow team members to do what is good for their families AND the company, without them conflicting. The days should be gone where we feel that to get ahead we have to be the first person in the office and can’t leave until our boss does.
At 4word, our work model is all about results and flexibility. Our team members balance work and families on a daily basis. We celebrate the ability to be present with our children while working hard to support professional Christian women. Open communication and accountability ensure that every task is accomplished while respecting team member’s responsibilities and commitments to attend her daughters’ dance recitals, help her son with his spelling homework, and be present with her daughter as she fights a terrible illness. Any company or organization can adopt this mindset. It’s about showing respect and understanding towards team members with outside responsibilities as they continue to work hard in the office. I often go back to Micah 6:8 when thinking about how to interact with my team members: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
And let’s not be mistaken. This stuff isn’t just for the working moms. Men are parents too. And they often deal with the same but different pressure than women. Society has put pressure on men to be the strong breadwinner in the family. But dads also want to be at the recitals, practices, and help coach Little League. Don’t forget that everyone can have family obligations outside of the office…moms, dads, stepparents, grandparents, etc.
And by the way, non-parents have things they are focused on outside of their job so give them the same opportunities to focus on them. Parents don’t want special treatment. The key here is flexibility. Let’s strive to be flexible with EVERYONE so they can meet the expectations of their lives outside of work. Study after study shows that firms have better results, happier and healthier employees, and receive lots more loyalty when we offer flexible opportunities. When we are cooperative, understanding, and make an effort to be accommodating, we are reminded we are all on the same team. This cooperation will bring mutual respect and positive productivity in the office.
While I had no idea then, I do now! And this clearer understanding has made me better at my job.