Reworking Parents

They'll learn it from watching you.
Recent Tweets @reworkingparent

 Many experts on the future of work want to de-parent and de-gender the flexibility conversation. Let’s save a place to have a productive conversation about working parenthood. 

A few months ago, I went to a conference on the future of work.  One of the speakers was described as a energy guru. During his talk, he shared his thoughts about how to schedule work during optimal times, when your energy is at its peak. He provided very specific instructions on how much sleep to get and when to get up, when to create and when to do busy work.  By following his guidelines, he asserts, you are poised to be your most innovative and creative, and you can dominate your field. As a coach to parents and a mother of two kids under five, I couldn’t really relate to his message.  I don’t have much control over my sleep, though I do have a fantastic coffee machine. I approached him afterward and asked him how he would modify his advice for working parents of young kids. After doing a quick scan of the room, looking at the young professionals and seasoned workplace experts, he said: “Yeah, you’re not my audience.” 

I got the message. As a working parent of young kids, I am often thought of as the third rail of the work-life conversation. While we are all thinking about how to implement flexibility and work differently, working parents have unique challenges and we know it. The mid-twenty and early-thirty year olds are at the start up phase of their career. They are more comfortable working long hours when things get busy at work, and taking off time for themselves when things are slower.  Then there is the “opt-out” or “opt-in” generation. These fifty-plus year olds have either risen to the top of their fields by working long hours and outsourcing child care, or stayed at home to raise kids. The latter is the opt-out generation and they want back in.

Then there’s my generation.

We are trying to manage work and life during our thirties and forties. In her seminal work Passages, Gail Sheehy loosely refers to this age as the “deadline decade.” At this age, we begin realize we don’t have all the time in the world and we want to accelerate things. We want to be successful professionals, have kids and be engaged parents. We have built strong professional track records, but we haven’t reached our targets yet. We push to clarify our goals, and find ways to grow professionally. If that weren’t stressful enough in this culture of overwork, throw in a couple of babies. 

We are the conflicted middle sibling of the workplace discussion.  We are trying to understand and follow the paths our predecessors took so we can reach our professional aspirations. We are inspired by the younger generations of professionals who are creating new career paths in a new economy. We are focused on professional advancement, while being active parents. And we’re doing it in a society that provides us with minimal support to do so.  

Many of the experts who write about flexibility and work-life try to shift the focus away from parents. After all, in an age of no clocks and no walls, we are all exhausted. Parents shouldn’t feel so special. Recently Bridgid Schulte published Overwhelmed, a great account of why we are all feeling this way. In an interview with the Atlantic she says, “these are hardly “Mommy” issues, these are human issues, how we work and live, the pressures to spend so much time at work, or living up to crazy ideals, is affecting all of us. “

Schulte, and many others, don’t want to want to make this topic just about moms, in part because because they worry that message will limit the scope of their work. I agree, it’s not just about mommies, but is about care giving, and parents of young children are often in the toughest spot.    While I’m as eager as the next guy to get everyone, men and women, people without children and people with eight of them into the conversation about flexibility, I can’t pretend it doesn’t hit my peers and clients harder than most. We work at least two jobs.

As challenging, jarring and exhausting as this second job has been for me at times, parenting remains the best, most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I’ve built skills quickly, and I approach every new challenge with enthusiasm and positivity. But my second job doesn’t pay, and I still want to maintain my professional identity.

Between presentations, pediatrician appointments and the solid five hour night sleep, we need to talk about how we can productively and positively integrate our roles as parents and professionals. We need to stop reading long form articles and cautionary tales about how to live our lives. Some of those publications have made a lot of money playing to our anxieties about working and parenting. 

Instead, we need to have a new conversation, one that allows us to build on what we are learning at our two jobs, and let’s us demonstrate our strengths. I don’t believe the great work cultures and flexibility conversation is all about working parents. I do believe that by mobilizing and opening up the conversation, we have more power than we think we do. We can help change the culture of work to one that relies on trust, transparency and accountability.  We have a personal investment in this issue, and as such can be change agents and project sponsors for the flexibility effort in hundreds of organizations. 

For more advice on how to get ahead at work while being an engaged parent, click here

Yes, the image is via

@PamSlim “The new world of work is built on three ideas: the first is that the economy and jobs are not ever going to be totally stable again, no matter how much we long for it. Uncertainty, change and market fluctuations are part of our new reality. The second is that due to the Internet, we now have so many new ways to work, which will give us increased flexibility and more opportunities. The third idea about the new world of work is that by force or by choice, people will end up working in a lot more different configurations, like employee, freelancer, business owner, and non-profit professional.

Our opportunity is to develop a new skill set, and approach to our work, that will keep us fully engaged and employed for our whole professional career. We need to develop flexibility, and a cohesive story about how all of our work ties together. And we need a much broader personal network, who will help us to get a job, or get customers. The good news is that all the tools are at our fingertips, we just need to learn how to use them.”

Pamela Slim on Boldly Living Today 

SuperMom “all work, all mom all the time” between Moneyman and Bossman.

She comes with: 

"CALM & FRAZZLED HEADS
Switch between mommy alter egos: 
calm / relaxed and frazzled / crazy

BABY (little angel or mini monster)
Grows bigger with food and milk, gives off gas. Comes with an anti-boo-boo bonnet

MOMMY BAG
Magical handbag holds work homework & diversions to calm mischievous mini people

CELL PHONE
Lifeline between school / daycare, home and the office. Also handy for gabbing and gossiping

SUPER LONG TO-DO LIST
Mother of All Lists, brings relative order to chaos

GROCERIES (aka Pre-Cuisine)
Nutritious items used in tasty meals that mysteriously appear on the table each evening

WORK & CASUAL SHOES
Puts foot down with authority, with work heels or comfortable mothering shoes”

In this NYT piece, @Caliyost shares an important suggestion about asking for flexibility— leave out the explanation.  The work-life flex conversation is not about parenting, caring for relatives, or going back to school. It is about respecting employees right to create boundaries around personal lives without judgement.

Anne Marie Slaughter compares working mothers to marathon runners, pointing out the great sacrifice and commitment demonstrated by both.  I reject the premise. We ask employees to give their all at work. As long as they are committed, available for productive in-office time and produce quality work, what they do with their time is irrelevant.    

My highly talented & competent colleague wanted to leave at 6 for dance class on Tuesdays, our boss was unhappy about it.   As long as there were no pressing deadlines or meetings, why not? I wish I got to go to her recital. 

Dance Class via Louisville.com

The days of having a one-word answer to describe your career are ending. These authors offer ideas about personal branding in an age of hybrid careers. 

Melissa Harris-Perry on risky living

(via brooklynmutt)

Understanding the candidates as fathers and as leaders. 

chandhiya:

Time-consuming commutes, office distractions, rising gas prices, plus family and personal commitments keep many of us longing to working from home. According to a Ipsos/Reuters poll from this year, about one in five global workers telecommute frequently and nearly 10 percent work from home…

I’ve found that the first part of learning to say NO is learning to accept that offers and opportunities are merely an indication that you’re on the right path- not that you’ve arrived at a final destination you can never find again.