Recently, I read an article featuring a female executive, Lyft’s Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Nilka Thomas. This article outlined what her daily routine is like as a working mom with a one-year-old. The article was positive and upbeat and never seemed to suggest that she lacked a good work-life balance.
Many readers who commented on the article on social media did so with criticism. They pointed out the fact that she only spends an hour or two per day with her child since the rest of her schedule is completely consumed by work. What was there to celebrate, they asked, if her career choices had turned her into a bad mother?
The point of view that she is a bad mother is a bit extreme, in my opinion. To spend 1 hour in the morning preparing children for school or daycare, leaving for work, then returning in the evening to spend an hour or so on homework, dinner, etc. before the end of the day is the reality for most working mothers. It was the reality for my mother when she raised me, and for me and my children until a few years ago.
Every woman should be able to have a professional career and still be able to raise their children without having to choose between work and family. Sadly, many working moms have been forced to make this choice, myself included.
My oldest child had asthma and was frequently sick, which meant I often had to leave or call out of work to tend to him. I’ll never forget the day my supervisor called me into the office and presented me with a written warning about missing work. If I called out again, I’d be advanced to the next step toward being fired from my job.
I asked her, “Don’t you, and the company, think that family is important?” She said to me, “Yes, but we have a business to run and we need you here.”
I haven’t worked at that company for almost 4 years now. Lo and behold, they’re running just fine without me. But it’s become clear to me that my child, who’s now a teenager in a crucial phase of development, needs my affection, guidance, and attention more than ever.
The Challenge of Working From Home While Raising Children
Despite all that I missed at home, I learned lots from that company while working there. I gained skills that now help me work without supervision, technical and soft skills, and I learned lots about what is and isn’t important. During those years, I could only dream about working from home but they never allowed it. Believe me, I’d approached my boss with the idea multiple times.
Now that I’m able to, I can tell you that the real outcome of combining remote work with parenting does not align at all with stereotypical ideas about being a stay-at-home mom or a remote worker, for that matter.
For one, being away from the office has become less about working from a flexible location and more about being available for my family. In essence, I have become a quasi stay-at-home-mom.
I gave up on working in cafes or places outside of my home a long time ago. The thought was nice, but it’s turned out to be impractical because it adds more to my plate like having to find a suitable spot, lug around work equipment, manage potential interruptions from others, and overall it reduces my productivity and availability.
Two, studies suggest that children, especially under age five, benefit socially and emotionally when their mother is available to care for them, or they spend less than 10 hours per week in non-maternal care. Besides the potential developmental benefit, my kids have the advantage of being able to have me pop over to the school to see them or their teachers anytime, walking with them to the bus stop, and being more involved in their activities and daily lives.
Finally, I break the stereotypes by not having watched one daytime TV show in all the years I’ve worked from home, not having a perfectly clean house every day, and most of the time, having a schedule which is packed. Flexible, yes, but is there any free time in it? Barely.
Of course, there are ebbs and flows with the seasons, but I am never bored or able to finish everything I have to do. I need to stay very organized and when I don’t, important things can slip by me – things like remembering to pay bills, paying attention to my physical fitness, even eating lunch at times – and basically anything I can’t automate.
I have deadlines to meet at work, meetings, and pressure to meet quotas, too. In my line of work, I’m expected to generate revenue which means a lot of cold-calling, outbound marketing, and rejection. I do get to socialize with my colleagues virtually but sometimes, it would be nice to escape with them offsite for lunch or other activities. Since they’re all thousands of miles away, this isn’t possible.
Still, I know it’s necessary for me to take a break from my desk, and I do, but my breaks are often used to carry out an important task I learned about in my brick and mortar position:
Management-by-walking-around — or MBWA.
In my traditional job, it meant walking a call center floor to stay connected with, observe, and help my team.
At home, it means walking around to check the state of my abode and address tasks like laundry, washing dishes, preparing food (this is where I lack the most but luckily my husband helps with this), or doing things with my kids like handling school-related tasks, getting ready for extracurricular activities, etc.
The point is, working at home with kids in the mix is demanding.
I still need time for me. And I need people that can I relate to and blow off steam with.
Friendship With Other Women Is Key
Many married and single women with children have little to no friends. We’re busy, the friends we do have live far away, and our homes are our first priority. However, having friends is an essential part of our well being.
Healthwise, women thrive physically and age better as a result of friendships with other women. Healing benefits have been proven through medical studies that have shown that womens’ chances for surviving breast cancer decreases by 4 times when they don’t have many friends. Studies have also shown that friendships with other women promote the positive effects of oxytocin including stress relief and overall emotional health.
We can still love our long-distance friends, but it’s helpful to have local friends since it’s easier to make plans and meet up with them for more personalized experiences. This often means we need to seek out new friendships. This is not easy. For me, it helps to stay involved in structured family-focused activities. This ensures I’ll share similar interests with the women I meet, and it allows me to naturally build rapport and develop relationships with them over time.
When I first registered my youngest son in soccer, I used to take my laptop with me and work, glancing up only to watch him practice. Thankfully I’ve curbed my workaholic ways and now leave my laptop at home for most sessions. The result – I’ve met a couple of moms I chat and exercise with during practice. We talk about all kinds of things like growing up in the 90s compared to today, our kids’ favorite video games, problems they’re facing in school, shopping, and, literally whatever comes to mind.
Growing a new social circle is exciting. It also frees me from thinking about work for at least for a few hours a week.
In the past, all of the friends I had were people I met at work. They were spread throughout our metro area which made it hard to continue our friendships outside of working hours. While this was annoying, it was good in a way because as we know, spending too much time outside of work with colleagues can lead to drama.
On the other hand, the people I meet through community activities live close by which makes it easier to see them more frequently. I also don’t have to worry that any element of our friendship can potentially sour things back at the office.
All of this brings a sense of normalcy back to my life. What I do for my family and for my job is important, but because I barely ever need to leave the house doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t. I need to preserve my own identity and happiness.
It’s my duty and my pleasure to serve my family. My presence at home allows me to do it, and I must take care of me to do the best possible job.
To recap, from my experience, I can say that the best possible thing we can do to efficiently run a household and partake in business activities from home is to be organized. If you can follow a routine, great. If not, at least have a reasonable plan for work and home every day, and know what your priorities are.
Next, prioritize your health. While moms are busy worrying about everyone else, we have to take care of ourselves too. Otherwise, we can become ill, overtired and stressed. Without good health, all of our efforts are for naught.
Incorporating simple, good habits into my everyday life, like prayer or meditation, eating fruits and vegetables, taking a walk, or even a few minutes here and there to do absolutely nothing keeps me cheerful and motivated. You can try these things as well as others to keep life pleasant. Whatever is good for you that you enjoy, do it. This is so important.
Finally, besides the other relationships you nurture, don’t forget to stay connected with other women. They are a great reminder that everything you’re going through is absolutely normal, they can provide great tips and advice, and keep you young and vibrant. And if you think you can’t find the time for this or that it’s of little importance, remember: Your women friends need you, too.