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I actually don’t want to belabor this point, because there are entire sections of bookstores on this topic. This is just meant to be a short blog post. I’m not out here trying to solve the problems of the world. Plus, I don’t like to get political here. I just like to work with parents and take care of babies; discussing the inequality around pay scale or maternity leave is a whole different ball of wax.
But a few observations:
Not a big fan of the “women can have it all” narrative: Almost no one says “Wouldn’t it be great if men can have it all?” Feels unequal.
A lot of success as a working mom comes from cultural fit with where you work: Not a lot of people fully understand what “the culture” of a business means. Businesses are designed to make money (usually), or do some other thing (raise money, etc.). To the people that come to run these businesses, a term like “culture” is fluffy. I actually have a friend who went on a job interview once and said “Culture is like pornography,” as in “You know it when you see it.” (That’s a legal definition sometimes given for porn.) If you’re wondering, my friend didn’t get that job — but he’s onto something. In fact, that same friend wrote two articles I think are important here. First: mission and vision (of a company) do lead to profits.
As a working mom, that’s crucial. You need to work at a place that respects the idea of a working mom. If you work at a place that only cares about hours, productivity, KPIs, “the numbers,” etc… they will never respect a working mom and you’ll feel awful at both ends of the spectrum. You will think you’re not doing well at work and also not providing for your newborn. That’s total burnout and depression and no one wants to go through that.
The second concept here is about work-life balance. Unfortunately that’s a buzzword to many people, but it doesn’t have to be. Navigate around until you work at a place that understands what the term means. Work-life balance is about how work is tracked. If you have 10-12 tasks in a given week and it takes you 25 hours to do them, you should be able to leave in 25 hours. It might take someone else 45 hours. Remember: people are different. But if the company loves “seat time” and wants to see everyone sitting at desks for 40+ hours/week, well, that’s a problem. Working moms don’t fit in so well there.
I know this isn’t easy: Above I said “navigate around until…” but of course I know not every working mom has that luxury. In fact (one more article from my friend), we have a stigma around job-hopping in America. (And we probably have a stigma around “the working mom,” but I don’t want to get political.) Sometimes you need to stay at a job because your family needs the income and it’s the best you got right then. In that case, you need to talk to your boss and other supervisors. Be transparent. Have conversations. Explain that you want to do a good job and be seen as a strong, contributing professional — but you also have a kid you need to develop and help grow. Some bosses will get it. Others will not. If you have one who doesn’t get it, just try your best — but eventually you’ll need to leave.
Work with your partner: Whether or not you’re currently together, this is crucial.
Have a schedule: This is also crucial. I’m not one for the “life hacks” and all that, but the only way to be a really good working mom on both sides of the spectrum is to have a solid schedule and do your best to stick to it.
Realize millions have gone through this: You’re not alone in the challenges and sometimes depression. You have lots of people to talk to, including probably many in your direct friend circle. If there’s any moment in history in which “being female” can truly be seen as a sisterhood, it’s probably working moms discussing the challenges therein. Learn and grow from your network. It’s valuable, especially in the moments you feel you’re screwing up both sides.