by: Neale Godfrey
If you are a working mother, you are not alone. In fact, you are part of the growing majority.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the 34.4 million families with children in 2014, 60.2 percent had two working parents. And, within single mother households, 69.4 percent of women go to work. A Pew Research study found that working mothers aren’t the only facet in the changing definition of the American family. “Less than half (46%) of U.S. kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. There is a marked change from 1960, when 73% of children fit that this description, and 1980, when 61% did.”
I happen to celebrate the fact that families don’t have to take on a strict definition, but that is not the topic of this article. This article focuses on women who are trying to both work and raise a family and how to help them to balance that challenge.
Let’s start by debunking the “Superwoman Syndrome,” which Psychology Dictionary defines as, “a term used for women who try to perform all of the roles of wage earner, home maker, mother and wife.” I was a single mom raising two small children and trying to be a bank president at the same time. I tried to play “Superwoman” and it didn’t work. I was always torn. I was filled with guilt. How could I decide between the board meeting and the lacrosse game? Baking cupcakes at 1:00am for the school party and then trying to get the chocolate frosting off my morning capital investment presentation never quite worked.
How come the workplace seems so structured and home seems so chaotic? Because there aren’t any four-year-olds running around the workplace. That is part of it. There’s no getting around it; home is a place with lots of loose ends, and that’s as it should be. The loose ends of home are creativity, exploration, and self-expression. Not everyone is working from the same “mission statement.” Your four-year-old’s mission statement, if he could express it, would be different from yours. Your fifteen-year-old’s mission statement – if she’s talking to you on any given day – would certainly be different.
Your company has one clear mission statement and a person who is clearly in charge, at each level. This is something to think about doing at home. You don’t need to set up a mini-dictatorship, but you do need to have one person who’ll do the overall thinking, who will have the master plan and understand how everyone fits into it. You need a CEO. And that CEO is you.
The other issue is that at work, if there is a recalcitrant employee who won’t carry their weight, you can fire them. You can’t fire your family. At work, we have overall goals and a clear strategy and tactics to achieve those goals. As much as you plan, at home, you never know if someone figured out that the meatloaf, which you made the night before, needed to be taken out of the fridge and heated in the oven, before you got home. And, as you dashed into your living room, you were greeted with 12 kids from the swimming team, who were invited over for a party that your kids forgot to tell you about. The cold meatloaf didn’t seem like the snacks they had in mind.
At home, we run on love. You sort of go by the theory that if you love me, you will know that I’m stressed at work, tired, and really trying to be a good Mom. So, help me out. Tell me before the kids arrive that you had invited them. You get the point.
Kids, spouses/partners, and frankly employees want to understand what you want and how to achieve it. You wouldn’t assume that your employee could “guess” that you were going into the big meeting tomorrow and needed a presentation. You would clearly articulate the goal, what was needed, who was responsible, and the timetable. You need to start that thought process at home. As CEO at home, you are actually encouraging your kids (and partner) to be part of the process to make your home run more smoothly. They don’t want to see you stressed out and angry. They know where that goes for them.
Make lists, explain what you think everyone should be doing and when. Hold a weekly family meeting to lay out the next week. Get a family calendar and put it in the kitchen. The kids have to tell you about what is coming up. Are there birthdays? Games? School activities? What do they need? Now everyone can be a part of the process and accountable for the success or breakdowns. At the next family meeting, you all can then discuss what went well and what didn’t, so you can all do better next time. Just like you do in the office.
Here is my best advice. You can find endless articles propounded by fearlessly efficient Home Dictators, setting up a kind of BradyBund of routines, rules, doctrines guaranteed to obliterate all personalities and individual foibles, and create a gleaming, sanitized paradise. Laughs are even scheduled in, between; soccer, piano lessons, kale chips, play dates, two Kombucha breaks, Pilates for preschoolers and meetings with the college entrance coach. The fact is that we all want to create a healthy life for our kids and at the same time have a meaningful career. What is the real effect? Chaos, which you must muddle through; you can’t really do anything about what is thrown at you. And, anyone who thinks you can is someone who’s never had any experience with real kids, real relationships, real work and real life.
In my heart, I’m with the muddlers. You can’t leave any of this to chance, especially with your kids. But, your best laid-out plans will change…and change…and change. Setup your master plan and just be happy to be among the muddlers.
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