Tag Archives: Parenting

Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: Work Life Balance

Mothers have this awesome, profound impact on their offspring.  We are all quick to think about the effect our own mother had on us, but it is a little harder to ponder the impact we may be having on our own children.  Being all things to all people doesn’t seem to be an affliction that men suffer from, although I do know more and more who are involved in their children’s lives to a deeper level than past generations would have ever believed.  Being all things to all people is an affliction that keeps many a woman up at night.

 

When my younger son hit the right age for Pop Warner football, he really wanted to join.  I believe in giving my kids the opportunity to try out a variety of activities, but I was already aware that this particular activity considered itself more of a vocation than a passing interest and had a large time and effort expectation of parents and players.  I was also working about 14 miles from home, full time at this stage.  I had to say no, please pick a different sport.

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I thought of this again recently because I just read an article that more and more students are opting for sports through exclusive clubs at a fairly early age.  These clubs do offer the children a great opportunity to excel, but at what overall cost?  First there is usually a sizable financial commitment, then there is the time involved, etc.

 

Work-life balance is a phrase that hasn’t come up much in the past couple of years while businesses find ways to cut costs that often mean more strain on their staff.  Oddly, in times of stress work-life balance is a more worthy discussion because the actual balance is sorely lacking.  Add in the family needs aspect and it really gets intense.

 

Back to my example, my son still feels slighted because his older brother played a season of Pee Wee football in our old town and he couldn’t play until high school.  I feel sad that he has not found a way to reconcile this disappointment, but otherwise my feelings are a throw-back to prior generations.  I have a short list of activities that I didn’t get to do as a child because participation would have required too much general family sacrifice.  Parents wanted their children to be happy and to have broader and better experiences than the parents themselves, but not to the point of disrupting family life.  Now we seem to think that we should move heaven and earth to give our child these experiences.

 

But sometimes life will put blocks in the way of your hopes and dreams, so perhaps it is better to learn about compromise when the stakes are about a sport and not a livelihood.

 

We have to work so hard and so regularly for balance because it is elusive and takes concentration.  Children can learn that part of balance is making choices.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: Being Truly Present

being presentWork, extended family, the overloaded schedule of everyone in the household – they should bring back that commercial where the woman shouts, ‘Calgon, take me away!’ because we can all relate.  We don’t have the power to add time to our day and so very many things eat at the time that we do have.

 

So, when we are making dinner and going through backpacks and moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer and suddenly hear, ‘Mommy, listen (look) at this!’, we turn but we don’t see, we don’t hear.  We nod and mumble ‘great job’.  And keep plowing through the endless tasks.

 

When I was in my teens, my mom had gone back to college and was also working part time.  Her attention was captured by these new experiences.  I took to inserting wildly imaginative comments in my attempts to get her feedback on things, which gauged her actual engagement in our conversation.  ‘Hmmm, in a minute’ told me that she was not with me, not truly present.

 

I vowed to be always fully present for my kids, not realizing at the time what a Sisyphean task I was setting for myself.  At least this vow helped me to retain the deep sense of frustration that I felt when I could not engage her.  It reminded me that these moments come when they come and cannot be planned, and should not be squandered if at all possible.

 

We have cute sayings and plaques and boards on Pinterest, memes all over social media that attempt to remind us that these moments when our children want our attention are fleeting.  But all the to-dos of life are so insistent and constant and never ending that it is easy to forget because our child is there day after day, changing so imperceptibly that we can only tell in retrospect.

 

Take a moment and breathe, let your mind settle a bit.  Open a door back down a darker corridor of memory, into a moment when you were the child with the cool thing that you just had to share with mom.  Secure the feeling from that moment.  Draw it up when your child interrupts the obligations of that day, sigh and take a moment to be truly present.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: Parent or Friend?

parent or friendWhen my older son was about 12 we had a conversation that started because he said, “mom, you are my friend”.  At that stage in my own development, I had already had the opportunity to have a fulfilling friendship with my own mother that certainly turned back into a parent-child dynamic at any point that she felt was necessary.  (The best car turning radiuses have nothing on mothers who need to make a point, let me tell you.)   But my friendship with my mother, which we both cherished and I felt was a great example of her abilities, did not start until I was well into my 20s for good reason.

 

I explained to my son that while it was very much a goal of mine to become his friend, along with being his mom, our relationship was not at that stage yet.  He persisted in telling me that I was his friend and I persisted in telling him that wasn’t appropriate at that stage of his development.  I don’t recall how the conversation ended, but it probably drifted on to other topics as most parent child conversations tend to do.  I know that we had a lot going on in our lives at that point, so the fact that we had this conversation while at home and not on the way to somewhere is rather remarkable.

 

Looking back now, I still agree with my stance that friendship had to wait, but I would like to nudge my younger self to ask him why he started the conversation in the first place along with sticking to my guns.  I know that my brain was running a mile a minute; sifting through to-do lists and rating priorities and just working to keep up with all the facets of the working parent’s life, so I will forgive myself as a look back.  But I missed a chance for a deeper connection, a look behind the curtain into the inner workings of my son’s mind.  (We have made enough of these connections over the course of his life that now we are friends and enjoy many interesting discussions on a broad range of topics – but it is the mother’s curse to be pricked by the regrets at times.)

 

I just called my son and clearly this was just a passing kid thought for him since he only has recollection that I’ve brought up this incident in other conversations.  We cycled through a few interesting topics and then rang off.  I think that we are both pleased that I met my goal to ultimately develop a friendship with him.  I am also confident that I made the right decision back in those earlier days to put being a parent first.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: Modern Parenting

Every generation of parents (which can include many generations of adults due to the longevity of our ‘child-rearing’ age span) seems to adhere to a similar style.  Or set of styles, ranges of options.  We are all seeking the right thing, that magical perfect parent mode.  We naturally look to the experts of the era when our children are small to set the tone for us.

 

My generation was raised by mostly stay-at-home moms (called homemakers at that time) and fathers who had work/bread-winner as their main focus and varying degrees of parental participation.  Play-dates, quality time, helicopter parents and other ideas weren’t anywhere on the horizon.  Parents wanted their children to have more advantages than the parents had experienced and Dr. Benjamin Spock’s books were on many shelves, but cognitive development + physical development hadn’t really been fleshed out as of yet.

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Personal fulfillment was growing in popularity at that point and the ‘me’ generation was in full swing.

 

By the time that I had my kids, staying at home was more of a conscious choice, indeed it was somewhat implied that this choice was preferred by those who couldn’t cut it in the working world.  I relished the opportunity to spend time getting to know my kids and going through their early growth because I had such a great experience as a child myself when my mom made it clear that curiosity is a gift.  Dr. T. Berry Brazelton was the expert of note at that time.

 

Parents now have so many experts from family to friends to blogs to magazines and books and the past…  It is no wonder to me that I heard a statistic on the radio from a recent survey – 17% of parents admitted that they look forward to going to work so that they can get sanctioned time away from the kids.

 

So I just have a question, how do you know that something is right for you at work?  Do you have a process to help you to decide?  Sometimes the process works and sometimes it doesn’t so you learn and move on.  There are things that you know well and other things that you want to learn and still more that you don’t know at all.

 

The same holds true for raising your kids.  You know your kids, you know your hopes for your kids.  You therefore know more than you think that you do about the best thing for them.  Make sure that they know that you love them in the midst of all the busy, busy days.  Make sure that you really hear them when they are talking.  No other generation figured out what the magical perfect parent mode was either and I think that most of us have turned out ok.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: Sick Days

Kids seem to be petri dishes for illnesses.  My first year working full time in an office was part of a stressful year for our family, which of course made my kids even more susceptible to every germ that came along.  I was so very thankful that my mom lived nearby and could come over to administer to whichever one was sick and let me go in to work.  It was frustrating to leave this nurturing task to someone else (even a loving and willing grandma), but I was very concerned that I did not want to get a label as being unreliable at work.

sick child

I know plenty of couples who try to split up these parenting duties, and I know others where this responsibility falls fully on the wife.  (I’m sure there are some families where the husband takes on this duty, I just don’t personally know any.)  And then there are other single mothers like me who have to cobble together some sort of safety net for the inevitable sick days.  Does a parent ever end the year with any left-over sick days?

Even if a parent finds support for those hours at work, what happens once the parent comes home in the evening?  I love my children and I find a lot to enjoy about being a parent, but I never cared much for the night duty.  My boys will tell you that I don’t do nurturing between say midnight and 5 am – I never have been much for it.  I’ll get up and do what needs to be done, but it won’t include much in the way of loving words or hugs.

It is a boon to have an understanding boss – you can perhaps adjust your hours to be able to balance both work and the extra child care needs.  You won’t get a glare if you aren’t particularly sharp in a meeting after being up in the night, rather an ironic smile.  You can finagle a late start or an early end to your work day, as long as it isn’t too often and you keep up with your tasks.

When I was growing up, home sick from school meant staying in bed where I could read or color or play with my toys, but no TV.  I had the same rule for my boys which these days would have to be no electronic device, I suppose.  The idea being that if the illness prevented attendance at school, it also prevented entertainment, except what could be created by the child.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: Gaps in Attention

At the start there is so much wonder in this new little human being that literally grew into being as our body nurtured his or hers.  For nine months two are one and constantly together, we are aware either in awe, love, terror, or various other emotions that this little person depends on us entirely.  And then from the moment of birth this little person starts working to separate from us and carve out their own space in the world.

 

Anxiety becomes a constant companion as a mother, but it was expected and we each make peace with the understanding that our child will develop as he or she deems necessary, with our guidance.  We expect, at least in a misty someday sort of way, that our child will have experiences that won’t include us as they reach school age.  We know realistically that there will be moments, short spans of time, when we will be distracted by bits and pieces of life’s complexities even with the baby near at hand.

 

But somehow it doesn’t come into consideration that we will separate from the child by going off to work, by earning a living.  Until that first missed milestone, shared with a caregiver – yikes.  It is natural for the child to separate from us, but how do we reconcile separation because of our own activities?  This is touchy territory for each mother personally and under the watchful public eye.

 

My mom was a stay-at-home mom who saw parenting as one of the most important undertakings she would take on.  But she was infused with a curiosity about life in general that corralled her into many activities throughout my childhood that excluded my siblings and me.  It became a family joke to describe the lengths that one of us would go to in trying to win her attention before her response was more than, ‘hmm in a minute’.

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I started out as a stay-at-home mom myself and found it frustratingly difficult to fulfill the self-vow to always immediately give my child my full attention when asked.  They sometimes had such bad timing, just as I was resolving a problem with a provider on the phone, or trying to finish dinner, or, or, or.  And then when I started to work outside the house, whew, my attention was stretched almost to the point of shattering so many times.  I did take on a more benign neglect perspective at times, for sanity’s sake.

 

My relationship with my mom developed into a complex, deep appreciation for each other as people in addition to mother-daughter.  Perhaps I would not have such perseverance had I been able to easily capture her attention in my developing years.  Asking my now young adult children what sticks out from their childhood, moments of parental inattention don’t come up.

 

I consider myself terribly lucky as a parent.  I loved staying at home, when I did go to work I was able to find a job that didn’t take me away too much longer than the school day and at first didn’t remove me mentally.  Now I am working on moving my relationship with my sons onto a similar plane as my adult relationship with my mother.  And thankful that I only started working long hours and putting too much mental energy into my job after they were already pretty well launched.  I try to focus on that when my mind turns to certain painful moments where I was absent in some way in their lives.

 

Parenting and working, they are both about figuring out the right amount and the right kind of attention to pay at the right time.  If we could divine that, it’s all so easy.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: I Don’t Get the ‘Mommy Wars’

mommy warsI can’t remember exactly when we started to hear about the mommy wars, maybe 30 or so years ago?  It was probably somewhere shortly after the feminist movement really took off in the 1970s and seems to fire up for a little while each decade or so.

 

We haven’t heard much about this issue until the rash of stories in the press about Malissa Mayer now of Yahoo and her new motherhood.  She only took two weeks of maternity leave; she has a nursery (and presumably a nanny or two) in the room next to her office so that she can work whatever hours strike her fancy, and so on.  Suddenly the mommy wars are raging once again.

 

I have spent some time in each trench, as it were.  I was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom while my boys were young and couldn’t have been happier.  I didn’t understand those mothers that would off-handedly say that they would be bored to tears without the mental stimulation of an outside job.  Maybe I was too dull witted.  Then circumstances required that I go to work full time.  I didn’t understand the remarks that working moms deliberately left their children in programs right up to the last minute because they were selfish.  Maybe I was too selfish.

 

It is in our nature to make comparisons between our choices and those of the people around us in similar circumstances or life stages.  Illusory superiority, or the belief that we each better than average, is perhaps one underlying explanation for the mommy wars – we must believe that we made the best choice.  The flip side of illusory superiority is that nagging fear that we don’t measure up in some elemental way.

 

Why do we tear ourselves and each other up about this when we could learn so much from each other instead?  Is this the female version of males’ ‘mine is bigger than yours’?  Or is this the media making much ado about a non-issue?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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