In my last blog I talked about the stress felt by every working mom during the summer – which is the majority of moms. Fully 77% of women who have kids over the age of 3 work, and most of those jobs continue during the summer. So how do we handle the tug-of-war that inevitably comes when our kids are having a great time, and we want to join them?
I’m very aware that I’m the only mom my kids will ever have. I want to do a good job of being the mom my kids need at all times – but especially during the summer when they have more downtime and no homework. I want to take my kids to the park, and have all day Monopoly marathons, and explore the new bike trail that we’ve never seen the end of. I want to sit quietly with my 12-year-old daughter by the pool while her brother wears himself out splashing with his friends, and talk with her about how she might handle the ‘mean girls’ at school next year. I want to listen – without my eyes glazing over – while my 9-year-old son tries yet again to explain to me the differences between Marvel and DC comic book heroes.
As with many of you, the summer is also our time for reunions and get-togethers with far-flung family. In our case, for my kids to spend a lot of time with their cousins who live out of the country and return to the USA for about 4 weeks each summer – we tend to transfer the whole family circus to a cabin we all share in the mountains, and all the adults try to get work done on their laptops while 4 banshees whoop around us.
It’s a balancing act. There’s much we want to do with our kids, but so much we feel like we have to do at work. Do not rely on wishful thinking that it will all work out: as much as possible, plan for what you will need to do in order to accomplish what you need to do. Strategically that means you may need to make some adjustments at the office if you work away from the home. However, that could create a misperception with your male colleagues. In the survey for my book, For Women Only in the Workplace: What You Need to Know about How Men Think at Work, 80% of the men agreed they had a visceral fear that their working world might stop spinning if they and everyone around them weren’t being productive all the time. When summer rolls around, they need to see that even if you are making adjustments to when and where you work, you are still ‘all-in’ and they can count on you to share the weight of the work-world they feel every day.
Interestingly, in many cases your bosses at work may be a big ally – but only if you plan ahead, and are strategic and intentional. After all, the summer is often time when work is interrupted because so many people have vacations. Who knows – maybe your boss is wondering how he’s going to pay salaries with less productivity coming in and would welcome the idea of you working a 2-day week for less pay? There are so many different options, but the key is to brainstorm good solutions (i.e. a win-win for both you and your boss or company) based on a realistic assessment of what needs to happen. As a boss myself, I really respect and appreciate someone who comes to me and says “Summer will be complicated, and I think it is best for me to accept that I’ll do better for you if I’m not constantly trying to juggle this and that and be in the office inconsistent hours. So here’s my solution: I’ll be fully present Monday through Wednesday, but I’d like to work from home Thursdays, and take Fridays off completely. Here’s how I’m going to get my work done on Thursdays, and here’s how my pay might be adjusted for my 4-day workweek…” Make sure you look at your boss’s interests, not just your own, and show him or her a plan for how you are going to get your work done, while officially carving out more time for your home-life reality if you need it.
One of the things often hardest for working moms is to assess with clear eyes just how much time they will actually need away from their kids in order to get their work done. Even if you work from home, book the babysitter who can drive the kids to the park, or book the art camp for those hours, rather than assuming you’ll be able to get the work done at home. Your kids will be far more traumatized to have you there but not really there (‘honey, I can’t play right now, I have to get this report out’). But if you can do an honest assessment and use those hours productively, you’ll be able to get the work done and then be fully there for your kids once those hours are done.
In my next blog I’ll share a few practical suggestions I think will help you achieve the life balance between work and carefree kids during the summer months. I’d love to hear your ideas: specifically what are some interesting time and place work arrangements you have made to balance kids and work in the summer?