And why we need to stop using the phrase work life balance
By Keely Childers Heany
There’s a new trend for moms to find balance with work and it’s pretty simple. Because there’s no such thing as balance. When you give one more, the other gets less. So we’re switching priorities. We’re cutting back from work to make more time for family. And families today are starting to focus on less stuff, smaller homes, and quality over quantity.
While the trend since the 80’s had been swinging toward women working outside the home, dual family incomes, two cars, today’s moms are of a different generation with different ideals.
Millennials experienced the economic depression of 2008 (like everyone else of course). They’re not interested in owning a plastic McMansion or living outside their means for financial and moral reasons. This generation is more about experiencing life, not achievement through material possessions. Some even cut back to owning one car or (gasp) using public transportation.
I am stuck in between and identify with both Gen X and Millennials (those of us born between 1975-82). We’ve been called The Lucky Ones or Generation Catalano (a reference to MTV’s My So Called Life). Dubbed “a strange micro-generation that has both a healthy portion of Gen X grunge cynicism, and a dash of the unbridled optimism of Millennials.”
I like nice things. I enjoy nice vacations. I worked really hard for 12 years to build my career and achieve my dreams. And then I became a mom: a totally different kind of dream come true. So I worked even harder for another quarter of a decade, until I almost burned out. And I had a wakeup call about my priorities.
I started to do some research to understand why I was feeling like such the odd mom out working my butt off (yet simultaneously getting fatter because I had no time to exercise and like craft beer too much). None of my closest mom friends worked, full time at least. A young coworker, a Millennial with mom friends, didn’t know any moms who worked full time either. I was pretty shocked at what I discovered.
Millennial moms have started to reverse a trend that had been in motion since the 80s.
During the 80’s and 90’s, women worked hard with their power suits and cut their hair short like men, striving to break glass ceilings. But the tide is changing. Rising from a modern-era low in 1999 where 23% of mothers did not work outside the home, this number rose to 29% in 2012, according to PewResearch and continues to climb.
Not only do moms who choose to work have an uphill battle to climb when it comes to equality in the workplace (and I’m not just talking about the 77 cents on the dollar debate), but societal perceptions layer on the guilt.
As I clicked on this article “The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap” and began reading, I kept thinking in the back of my head, I know what it is… Women have to take care of families and can’t climb the leadership ladder to the highest paying positions, or if we do, get knocked down/beat down/burnt out for various reasons. It’s a double-edged sword on all accounts. There’s judgment by working and non-working women and men (if you work you’re not giving your child enough, if you work and have a child you’re not giving your work enough). Some women face companies unwilling to acknowledge flexible work hours can get the same work done, or internal jealousy from coworkers over flexible schedules. There’s stress on the marriage and home life due to pressure at work and trying to run the household, the list goes on. And here’s the BIG one–mom guilt–either way.
“It appears that there’s just a very high cost of temporal flexibility [i.e. the caregiver- or ‘mom tax’] in certain occupations.”
I’ve spoken to so many women who left their careers to fulfill their heart’s desire to be the best mothers they could be instead of giving their all to their careers. And I’ve also seen those who have struggled to get back into the workforce. They’ve had to reinvent themselves, perhaps why women own so many small businesses. Either way, the cost of motherhood/caregiving is impactful, individually and nationally.
Society’s changing perception: What more do you want from us?
When I was about 6 months pregnant I received a promotion that put me at the helm of Susquehanna Style magazine, not just as editor, but as associate publisher I was managing the entire product, staff, sales, events, online, circulation and social media, all the way down to the fetching the coffee and toilet paper. It was a huge promotion; I had worked hard to earn it and I was excited. But I’ll never forget a friend’s husband saying to me while I was still pregnant and sharing the news of the big new job, “Your number one job is being a mom.” It cut like a knife. Needless to say, his wife, one of my closet friends, stayed home. And she shared her own struggles. Of not feeling like she contributed anything, not feeling like she had her own money to spend or feeling guilty for spending the money he worked hard to earn while she stayed home. (I know, we’re all saying to ourselves, “But you contribute so much, you just don’t get a paycheck being a stay-at-home mom!”) That term just needs to go away; it’s really an insult. We’re all moms. We all take care of our homes and our families. End of story.
Or is it? Many moms like me are finding ways to work from home in between preschool for example. Some do creative work at times where the 9-to-5 doesn’t matter, others do online work or social media, freelance or contract work. They work. They just don’t go to an office. So they’re not “stay-at-home moms.” Even traditional “stay-at-home moms” don’t stay at home all the time for goodness sake! It’s just degrading. Stop.
“In 1977, 66% of Americans agreed with the following statement: ‘It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.’ By 1994, 63% disagreed with the statement—almost a complete flip,” according the Chicago Tribune’s Heidi Stevens.
And then the Millennials came along and started the downward trend. In 2000, only 58% of respondents disagreed with the General Social Survey’s statement that it is better for a woman to stay home.
Stevens’ research attributes the decline in support of working women or “stalled revolution” to “economic prosperity in the ’90s; a movement away from organized campaigns for better work-family policies; a rise in cultural conservatism; and the emergence of a more intensive, anxious parenting style to ensure kids have what it takes to succeed in an increasingly competitive world.”
Yeah, there’s that. The pressure to be Pinterest perfect parents, crafters, cleaners, organizers and cooks. Will she know five languages by the time she’s five? Are time outs causing our children to feel abandoned? (Schedule time to read “No Drama Discipline” seriously, it’s helping me tremendously. More on that soon.)
Making it work
Throughout my career that started as a PR professional and freelance writer and led to leading a local lifestyle magazine as editor-in-chief and associate publisher, I’ve worked partially from home for over ten years. It was not until I had a child that it ever became an issue.
Without grandparents nearby to help, and not wanting to have my daughter in daycare 40-plus hours a week, working a flexible schedule, from home, is important to me.
But working from home with a child or children is a whole different story. Here’s mine: As a newborn, working from home changed very little. The baby sleeps more than anything; work barely disrupted. Age 6 months to 1 year, treacherous–the baby cannot yet walk or change play settings on their own, needs tons of redirection, and is prone to falling, frequently–especially when mom happens to be on the phone, for work nonetheless. This doesn’t stop at toddler, or ever, so I hear, but at least later in life they can walk without falling and understand the concept of mommy shutting her office door without an earth-shattering meltdown.
It became an issue on several levels. Productivity: I’ve gotten up during the process of writing this no less than 15 times to fix a failed princess outfit, get snacks, let the dog out, you get the point. Distractions.
Then came the stigma of knowing I lose productivity and trying to prove to my coworkers that I am still working hard, just all hours of the evening and wee hours of the morning instead of their normal 9-to-5. Plus there’s the public and professional perception.
On one hand, I get nice notes from other women saying “I don’t know how you do it all” praising my seeming ability to juggle motherhood and business with cooking, crafting, as I try to share the reality of it all–failures, struggles and picture perfect moments too of course, via social media, often jokingly using the hashtags #workingmomproblems and #worklifebalance.
But the truth is, behind it all, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I may have actually had one, I’m just not sure what the movie version should have looked like if I did, but it was pretty ugly. I cried a lot. I yelled a lot when I was super stressed (and that was a lot). I felt like a failure. A failure as a mom, a failure as a leader, a failure as a wife. And in that order. I realized I needed to do some reorganizing of priorities. I realized I had to put my marriage first; without that, there is no foundation for the family. I realized our daughter comes second. And bittersweet as it was for me and agonizingly cathartic, work had to come third.
Work life balance
As for me, the part time shift (and that’s 32 hours a week instead of 40-60) is going, well, it’s going.
Day one: I had everything scheduled down to 15 minute increments with alarms in my iphone: edit, write, proof, schedule shoots, take a shower (Moms: You know this is a serious line item on the schedule or it might not happen). The key was stopping work to do the other things I had scheduled with my daughter which were working on her Spanish and French, arts and crafts. And working on my blog, www.huntingandgathering.co, an outlet for sharing recipes and ideas I’ve collected for other busy folks out there. I’ve had the domain for over 4 years, and finally launched it February 1.
The problem was, the first part time was deadline week for my job, and going to print the next week with the February issue of Susquehanna Style.
So the “part time” hours didn’t quite work out. But that’s okay. I still love my job and it will take time to adjust to not being such a work-a-holic.
It’s a transition. Just like it took be over a decade to work on perfecting my craft at my career, it’s going to take time to adjust to being a better mom, wife and patient person who lives in the present moment. Because in the end, that was my goal in all of this work life balancing shenanigans, which we all know is not possible. We just do the best we can, and that’s all we can do.