Recently I was asked to be on a panel at work to share my experiences about how to manage your career while having a young family. It’s a workshop run by the ODLC and Family Care Office at U of T and I think it’s supposed to help others answer the question “How do you do it?”. I think what I say is supposed to help people with families do better at work. And frankly, I wonder if maybe should share what I ought to have done rather than what I HAVE done!
You see, the reality is that I don’t do it all. I really don’t have it together. Most of the time I think I’m doing a bad job at work (okay, maybe I’m a bit tough on myself, let’s just say… it’s not good enough… yet) and I definitely feel that I’m not a good enough mother, manager, wife, daughter, sister, friend (yes, in that order, sorry friends). Better mother than wife, better wife than friend… and so on. (Yes… better manager than wife, you caught that, eh?)
I suppose I could share my learnings from the experiences of not quite doing it, but trying really hard to. This therefore a summary of what I’m going to present to my colleagues with young families for the workshop at the University of Toronto Mississauga in February:
#1: Your Health is #1
Everything else is #2, and I mean everything. Without your health, without self care, you can only do so much for so long. I had a very massive breakdown earlier this year. It was a physical, mental, spiritual, everything breakdown. I could not get out of bed and I could not take care of my family. It was frightening to say the least, but… and I can say it now… it was preventable and I should have seen it coming. Now I know, my health has to come first.
Put on your oxygen mask. Get your sleep, because sleep is NOT over-rated! Make time for yourself to breathe, re-calibrate, self-reflect, rest, laugh…
#2: Make It Easier
That means: make it easier for yourself whenever you can. Make it easier for others to make it easier for you. So, for example, if you find certain times of the day rough to manage, find the help, plan or prepare for it, reduce your expectations, reduce others expectations, delegate…
In the case of childcare, figure out what works for you now. Some people have family in town, others have wonderful neighbours. We’ve used nannies, we’ve helped out neighbours and they’ve helped us out, we’ve put the kids in daycare and then Bill quit his job to be a stay-at-home-Dad. Do what works for you and your family. Finances have a part to play in this too, but see #3.
Work with your boss to adjust your schedule, swap responsibilities, manage expectations… If you know you can make it up in the future, then allow yourself to shift your focus to your family for a bit. Forgive yourself.
#3: Remember: Everything Changes
Remember that everything changes. The chaos, the feeling of being out of control, the empty-headedness, the poocanoes, the 2 o’clock afternoon sleepies (ooh, I miss napping), the need for childcare, the flash of anger at everything, the frustration of not getting things done, the night-time peeing, the temper tantrums, the never-ending “mommy, mommy, mommy”… but also… the little arms choking you around the neck, the cuddles in the middle of the night, the bedtime stories, the flying leap into your arms, the kisses, the songs… All of it. There are many stages and you just make each stage work. You plan for the next change and you manage through the one you’re in.
Someone reminded me that most people walk down the aisle potty-trained, so don’t get too upset that your kid is the only 4-year old at daycare having accidents.
Kids grow up. They grow up fast. Soon, it will be all in the past. (Sorry, too much Dr. Seuss!)
#4: Don’t Lose Yourself
For many years, I completely lost myself in being a mother and making work work. Other than my full-time job at work and then my other full-time job when I got home, I lost me. I didn’t have a sense of who I was or what I loved (other than my children, who, to be frank, at moments felt like obligations rather than people that I adored.) I didn’t do sports, I didn’t read books, I didn’t go out with friends to have long intellectual philosophical debates, I didn’t try new restaurants, I didn’t watch weird movies with my husband and critique them to death, I didn’t sing songs at the top of my lungs, I didn’t wander through bookstores, I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t. And. It. Was. Killing. Me. Only I didn’t know it.
I think I was hanging out by a thread through my 3 am blogging and watching of crappy TV. I’ve since found friends who can commiserate about similar things or who tell me that I’m doing okay and, of course, Kung Fu. The stretches and stances have built strength and stamina. The meditation has a calming affect (I’m not even sure I’m doing it right)… all I know is I feel more balanced. I found me!
#5: Remember the Love
This one is self-explanatory. Remember how much people love you. They do. They just don’t always have the opportunity, headspace, time, energy to tell you or show you (sometimes they will Facebook you). But they do love you. So when you need a reminder, just reach out and get reminded. Maybe tell them first how much you love them if you need to. Just remember the love. It’s all about the love.
#6: Make Decisions with Integrity
Keep in mind that you may not be at your best when sleep-deprived or stressed about picking up kids after work from daycare.
Try to make values-based decisions. That is to say, don’t make rash decisions, don’t react impulsively and don’t take anything personally. I think the biggest mistakes I’ve made it have happened because I let things feel personal. You’re not a different person because you have kids, you just have to take into consideration a lot more other issues. Not everyone is going to understand. If you are lucky enough to work at an organization that is family-friendly like U of T, that’s great, but the reality is still that we (by having kids) unequivocally do make things tougher for other colleagues who don’t have the same responsibilities. So, understand that. Make up for it when you can. (By the way, family responsibilities are not always just about having children, but include taking care of relatives or elderly parents.)
I would add that working with people who share your values is the ideal situation. So, if you feel that you are in a place that isn’t ever going to align with your values, goals and integrity, you may want to start thinking about making a change.
#7: Strategically Pick What You Will Let Slide and Forgive Yourself
Some people will be able to Lean In. If you can, good on you! Go for it, make your millions and do great things! For the rest of us, we will have to choose our battles and let the others slide.
- My hair – I need a low maintenance hair cut
- The kids’ Chinese – they aren’t bilingual… yet, maybe one day
- Christmas cards to friends – sorry, I’m thinking of you but…
- Showers on weekends – yup, don’t stand too close to me on Sundays
#8: Consolidate and Find the Flow
Go with the flow, not against it. If you can find people going in the same direction, hitch a ride. Don’t go it alone. If you something can be done by someone else because it’s convenient for them, let them help. Don’t be a hero. If the hard work you’ve done in the past allows you to ride the waves a bit without paddling so hard, rest awhile. Reap what you sow and thank your past self as you gather more energy for the future.
When you find the flow, it’s great, because it takes a lot less of your energy and makes things easier for you (see #2). Give yourself head space, you’re going to need it!
#9: Be the Best You Can Be and Be Proud
At the end of the day, we are all human. We are all flawed, but we all have a best we can do. So do it. Then be proud of it.
So there you have it. My 9 points of advice. Hope it helps!