Working Mothers Accept Your Apology
To everyone who is getting a taste of juggling work and kids for the first time: We working mothers accept your apology.
I’m going to be brutally honest here, and I anticipate some of you might eve call me a few choice names after this, but I am used to it and can take it. After all, I am a confident, strong female executive in the business world, so this is nothing new. Working mothers have been criticized for years because of their responsibility to tend to things at home or to a sick child, or other “non-work-related” emergencies or unforeseen circumstances.
I suspect that many of you are forced to work from the comforts of your homes now that we are dealing with this global pandemic. Working from home successfully is something that requires discipline, the understanding of the others under your roof, and your coworkers. It requires dedicated space, dedicated time, and a dedicated mind. That’s a tall order when personal and professional lives collide.
For years, I have worked from home. I have done this as an employee of big companies and small, as a contractor and as my own boss. I have done it as a mom. It is not for the faint of heart. The constant juggle of the personal and professional and requires an innate ability to set and maintain boundaries and to be outspoken at times. Everyone around you will definitely not be on your side 24/7, no matter how amazing you are.
I re-entered the workforce full-time when my oldest child was 14 and my other kids ranged in age from 8-12. Let me say at the outset that I worked hard at my job. I have never nor will I ever be that person who hides her personal life from her friends and (when appropriate) her coworkers. I’m not going to lie about not being able to take a 7pm meeting because I have Back to School Night. I’m also not ever going to use an excuse that my responsibilities as a mother would any way impede my ability to get the job done. You get the picture.
Many, many times in my career, I have been made to feel like I was somehow “less than” because of an instance where I had to tend to something urgent that was non-work related and had to do with my children. My most recent “working for someone else” role, before creating my firm, I was working on a project with someone from another department who didn’t know I was indeed a badass communication strategist. He judged me instantly on one line of a Microsoft Teams message which read: “I will be 2 minutes late to our call as I am on hold with the nurse at my daughter’s school.” That sealed my fate with this guy. I admit, not the ideal time to have this happen, but a necessity nonetheless. By the way, I ended up being maybe 45 seconds late. I was being respectful of his time, alerting him to use an extra two minutes to jump on our call if needed. I got on the call and he berated me for handling personal matters during work time. Now, mind you, I had not missed a deadline. I had not screwed up our project. This guy had no children to deal with. He had no clue the kind of organization it took in my life to get to the point where I competently and professionally held my position. Funny thing is—he would have applauded me if I had MADE UP a reason for being late instead of telling the truth.
We are afraid to be real. We have got to stop this practice of shaming each other for having families. Sometimes things come up. Show some grace and trust your coworkers that they intend to fulfill their work obligations and they will tell you if they cannot.
How many of you have been interrupted once during the time you’ve been working from home? Who’s had an errant sound come across on a conference call? I am 100% sure you didn’t plan it that way. Working mothers have been juggling these things for years. Now, I am not saying that fathers haven’t either, but there has been a stigma surrounding working mothers. You know what I am talking about. We have been treated unfairly and we are doing our best and are capable. Please recognize that. We are valuable assets to any company. Our ability to silence the noise and take an overall “get it done” approach comes from years of juggling it all. Hire us, promote us, refer us.
After this virus is gone and our mandated work from home policies are a thing of the past, I challenge you to trust that your coworkers are doing the best they can to completely focus on the task at hand. We are limiting ourselves and the opportunity we have to make real connections with people through this time if we don’t take a step back and consider these things.
Here are some tips for better work-from-home culture in your company:
1) TRUST THAT EVERYONE IS TRYING THEIR BEST TO DO A GOOD JOB. This is number one. Just because you are all working from home now does not mean that your coworkers don’t care about the quality of their work.
2) DON’T ASSUME OTHERS ARE DISTRACTED BY THE SAME THINGS BY WHICH YOU ARE DISTRACTED. As a mother of 4, you could set a screaming baby next to me for 10 minutes and it would not faze me. Been there, done that. We all build up noise tolerance. Don’t assume your coworkers are subject to the things that derail your productivity.
3) ALLOW COWORKERS SOME FLEXIBILITY WITH “WORK TIMES”. Many people do not have a set-up that is ideal for focusing while kids and animals are demanding attention. Be flexible. Set deadlines that end at midnight, etc.
4) ENCOURAGE HONEST DISCUSSION ABOUT WHAT IS WORKING AND WHAT ISN’T AND HOW YOUR POLICY NEEDS TO ADAPT. Shame free, guilt free discussions, people. Nothing that will be used against anyone going forward once this is over. I highly doubt that your team was hired with the understanding that xyz would be required in the wake of a global pandemic, so get over yourself if you are guilty of shaming others.
5) SHOW SOME GRACE. BE KIND. Pretty self-explanatory. Just take a breath and put things into perspective.
When all of this is a distant memory, I have one ask of you. Please remember your struggles and those of your colleagues when your toddler needed to be tended to and you had 10 seconds to dial into a zoom call. For many working mothers, this is the reality of the everyday workweek. While we do our very best to fit into a traditional corporate structure at all times, sometimes distractions and things that need our attention for a bit do come up. I’m hoping that common experience leads to understanding and it’s the bright side to all of this. In the meantime, stay sane as best you can and enjoy the people around you.