Hey busy working mom, you might be thinking, I just can’t do it anymore! I’m not an effective mom and I’m not an effective worker right now. Something has to give. If only I could work less, I could be a better mom. But wait. Before jumping ship, look again at why you feel this way. Our guess is you might have based this on some flawed assumptions:
1. If I spend more time on the family, it’s good for them and me
2. Caring for the family is primarily my responsibility, not my husband’s
3. My family and children will always come before work and even before myself
4. If I leave my job or cut back my work I will have less stress
5. I will be “taken care of” even if I sacrifice my career.
These are assumptions, not facts. As a result, analyze them and see whether or not they are really true:
- If I spend more time on the family, it’s good for them and me. FALSE. Time is not a proxy for quality. Just like how many people who work late hours to put in “face time” are not the most productive workers, many people who stay home to look after their families are not the most effective parents. Helicopter parenting actually disables children’s development anyway! When you focus on quantity, you spend time doing unnecessary things and sub-optimizing your creative energies. Son forgot his soccer uniform? If you rush in to “save him” by driving it over, what does he learn? That his uniform is more important than whatever you were doing. That he doesn’t have consequences or a need to take responsibility. Or when you intervene each time the baby cries, pushing your husband out of the way, you teach him that he is a less capable parent. To what end? Disabling him from sharing the workload so you can set yourself up for more work? That doesn’t make you some wonderful parenting expert, it shows you don’t know how to manage. As Sandberg says, let him put the diaper on the baby’s head – At the end of the day, it won’t happen more than once! When you sacrifice all your time for others’ needs, you communicate that your time is unimportant. That you don’t matter. Instead, in our research, we found women who figured out how to integrate parenting with the rest of their life, shed the unnecessary, delegate, and be ok with doing some things less well. For one family, it was accepting that store-bought birthday cakes were equally appreciated. For another, it was backing off the number of after-school activities. For another it was having the kids fix their own breakfasts and pack their own lunches to build capability. There are a myriad of ways to get what really matters done without throwing more of your time at it; just reframe the underlying principle to what matters is that I do what is important, focus on maximizing results and invest my energy accordingly.
- The family is primarily my priority and responsibility, not my husband’s. FALSE. You are both responsible for raising the children and you both need to figure out how. The woman is not automatically the default provider, it is a partnership. As long as you continue to be the stopgap, you disable your spouse, children, and the daycare system from being the quality it needs to be. In our interviews, many women shared care of their children equally with their spouses. One takes the morning shift with the children so her spouse can get a jump on the work day, giving her the freedom to work late while he does the dinner and bath routine. One female manager recently asked her team why only the women in the office needed time off to take their children to the doctor. She expected the men on her team to do this as well and she would push back on the women’s requests unless their husbands shared this task equally. Now we are talking! Ask yourself if your husband would sacrifice his career for the family? Is he willing to take time off, too? If not, then you need to really wonder why you think this is your role. Once you reframe the assumption to We are both responsible for our family, you can work together to figure out how both of you can work and have a life. Plus, having your husband step up allows him to learn parenting and build a stronger relationship with your children.
- Family is my priority over my career and taking care of myself. FALSE. It is your life and you come first. Of course, family is one of your priorities, just as it is for your husband. The difference is most women have bought into the assumption that family is “supposed to be” their primary and exclusive priority, so they invest the majority of their time caring for everyone else and feel it is selfish to prioritize themselves. Men don’t feel this way. They know they need to earn a living so they can take care of themselves. Single women who have no choice but to work get this, too. For both of these groups, family is still their priority (and they would be very offended if you suggested it wasn’t!) But almost everyone we surveyed also felt a strong need to have a purpose outside of taking care of their family. It is a key factor in mental health and wellbeing. When you reframe the assumption to my family and career are both better off when I take care of myself, when you put on the oxygen mask first, you will be more effective overall.
- If I leave my job or cut back my work I will have less stress. FALSE. Cutting your income and possibly some of the meaning out of your life will simply replace one pressure for another. What we found in our research was that after an initial fun break period, most women who left their busy careers got bored, missed their vocation, and found taking care of family equally stressful. They simply replaced the stress of work with the stress of home – without the income, which added even more stress. Stress is everywhere: Your husband has been stressed by the addition of the family as well. Let’s reframe it to I will have stress regardless of my situation. I need to figure out how to manage it.
- You will be rewarded for sacrificing your career by being “taken care of”. Earning a living is a long-term investment in YOU. Divorce, layoffs, and death are real risks that affect many women and leave them financially weak and in a bad position for looking after the family. Investing in your husband’s (or your children’s) careers doesn’t usually pay off because you have no claim to it later. The statistics are quite staggering and it is naïve to think it can’t happen to you. Very few families “pay” Mom to stay at home; even investment in retirement savings in her name or her own personal savings is generally overlooked. Time away is expensive, on many levels, but many women don’t objectively think through the math. For example, one woman hated for her stove to be dirty. She hired a housekeeper, but the housekeeper used the wrong cleaner and damaged her stove. Her conclusion? No one can clean as well as me. When she inevitably approached burnout from “doing it all”, she considered quitting her job. Let’s look at this situation another way: How many stoves could she have bought with the lifetime of earnings she would be giving up? How many of these little tasks will be remembered 20 years from now when she can’t pay her mortgage? If we reframe this assumption to I have responsibility for earning a living so I can take care of myself and my family, now we can evaluate these other tasks in proper perspective, compared with our responsibility to ourselves.
This is probably counter to what everyone around you is saying. You are probably getting bombarded with “oh, you are such a good mother” and “of course, children come first” rhetoric right now. But remember, your husband is a good father and he loves his children, too, and nobody is pressuring him to give up his work and his passions. Yes, you working an exciting job is going to mean he has to step up at home and you both are going to need to INVEST in some help. (Just like getting your degree was an investment in your career, getting sufficient help right now is also an investment that will pay off in spades down the road. And it doesn’t feel like it, but it is temporary. You will not need this level of help forever.)
Also, think about this; keeping your husband from doing his share with the family and forcing him to be the primary breadwinner limits his ability to develop the same relationship with family as you and also puts an inordinate amount of pressure on his ability to make money versus take risks and/or follow his passions at work. Together, you can figure it out, though. Your combined incomes will help get you BOTH the support you need so you can BOTH follow your vocation.
So, you’ve thought through these five assumptions and still want to step back? If so, think of this downshift as a sabbatical. Reframe it as a temporary opportunity to accomplish other goals with the intention that you will go back. This way, you take the break with consciousness, keeping up your network and skills, as well as building your personal savings and financial security to minimize the long-term impact.
When this brief and intense family period passes for you, I want for you to have no regrets about having sacrificed yourself unnecessarily. You are important and you are allowed to follow your career without guilt. Your family will actually be better off. It will be stressful and it will be rewarding. Everything can work out if you internalize that belief system, allow yourself a little imperfection, and partner with your spouse to get through the crunch.
© Kelly Watson