Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Woman's Balance

I read an article this morning on Linkedin wherein I found the contents somewhat repetitive of other similar articles I'd read elsewhere.  The article titled I'm Not Balancing Work and Life, and I Feel Great, pretty much tried to give the impression that when you do what you love and you have a family that lets you do it, there is no such thing as a struggle for balance because it inherently exists.  The argument is simply that doing what makes you happy is all the balance you need, and as long as the kids are taken care of, what's the big deal?

The comments as you can imagine were far more interesting than the article.  Many calling out exactly the issue with this argument for the general populace, which is simply put, not everyone can afford to offload their kids and not think twice about it.

I've read other articles by high ranking female executives who talk frankly how they are both in a flexible work arrangement where they set their own hours, and who have the financial means to buy the support they need at home.  They either have a full time live in nanny, and/or a spouse that either has similar flexibilities / finances OR who is willing to support the primary worker by sacrificing their own career to stay at home with the children.  In all cases, the word balance comes with a steep price tag.  Balance in any of those reports only calls out how affluent you are and how fortunate it is to be able to "buy" flexibility when you need it.  And in all cases too, it's critical not to overlook what I like to call the "Quota Quotient".  The ratio of female executives and CEO's as compared to male executives is still a product of inequality in the workforce.  Any woman who has made it to the top of the career ladder must still prove that they are worthy of being there for their skills and actual value rather than the fact that their gender satisfies a company's male to female ratios in support of their diverse work culture policies.  This naturally translates to a need then that they have to reinforce that their work dedication is no different in absolutely any way to that of their male counterparts.  If it's harder for them in any way shape or form, it's riskier and it's perceived as a blatant lack of dedication or loyalty to the company and it's profitable outcomes.  We want so much to believe that feminism has been a blanket success, and in the face of providing the "other side" any ammunition to to the contrary, well, we'll opt every time to prove that we can have and do it all, the way our fore-mothers fought for our rights to have it that way.  Especially if the perception of our current status is that we've already won the battle.

I have similarly found a level of balance that makes me happy...but here is the key...I'm happy with it most of the time.  There is no such thing as equally weighted balance, and I make sacrifices every day in my career to facilitate more time with my child.  I was fortunate enough to be able to hire a nanny when I first returned to work after maternity leave, AND was fortunate enough to change my work arrangements in such a way that I was able to work from home full time when I returned to work.  This meant I really got to extend my time with my child beyond my sanctioned maternity leave, and enjoyed that much more "parenting" time, without putting my job at risk.  When the nanny moved on, and we started our child in preschool, again, it was disruptive and I struggled (still do most days) with the choice to work rather than raise and take care of her full time.  I was still fortunate enough to be able to work from home, and so, I'm not losing 2 hours or more every day with a commute, and that 2 hours more I can spend with my child each and every day.  When my systems shuts off at 4 pm, it doesn't go back on until 7:30 am the next morning.  If I have evening calls with Asia, it's done after my child is in bed, and very rarely before.  On the rarest occasions when things have to overlap and work infringes on my time with my child, my husband has to step in and do it alone, but more often than not, she's sitting on my lap colouring and drawing while I listen to the conference call on mute.  Again, I have more flexibility than your average Jane, and I know I'd struggle immensely managing my family priorities if I had just the 2 hour commute to deal with even.

A complicating factor however is my husband's job.  While he's very much a hands on dad, and spends as much time as possible with us doing the family thing, there isn't the same appreciation for familial responsibilities with his job.  His commute is a total of 3 hours every single day.  It significantly reduces his time with the family, AND means that I am the one who takes every single sick day, who takes the burden of most of the child rearing responsibilities and who absorbs the daily tasks of meal preparations, dishes and house cleaning.  We're not financially free enough to afford a housekeeper or other types of domestic help.  And our child was sick for over a year.  This meant my career really took the back seat and it meant that I worked during naps and every spare singular moment on those sick days so that I could avoid losing my job due to excessive absences.  The company I work for is more awesome than most at providing the kinds of flexibility that made this possible, but it took them a lot of years to recognize and acknowledge the lesson.  And it also means that it's hard to reignite my career trajectory, now that my child is healthier and there's more room in my life to prioritize work.  As they say, the damage may have been done.  For someone at the top of the career ladder, this is likely less of a concern weighing on the sleepy mind of a mother who is trying to balance the priorities of work and her family.

So here's my message for let's say, new mom's who are returning to work for the first time, and facing the fact that they'll have to leave their children in the hands of potentially strangers, for care between the hours of 7 til 6, Monday to Friday.  Find as much flexibility as you physically can in your job without jeopardizing the fact that you have one.  Remember to choose caregivers you trust and keep a hawk eye on the care they are giving your child.  TALK to your children every single day about their day, no matter how young they are, so that they open up and actually tell you what happened.  Eventually, their vocabularies will catch up, and you'll know more than you probably ever wanted to.  Remember that you working, is as much about making your family a priority and providing for them as staying home would be.  AND, remember that you are more capable than you think you are.  Balance for average working moms is really about the quality of the time you are spending with your kids.  So involve them in your chores, and make the work to up keep the house feel more like fun.  Get your itty bitty's helping with dinner preparation, or let them paint at the table while you do dishes.  Let the living room be less tidy than the dining room, and play with them while you have your tea and watch the news.  Make baths fun, and crash at 9pm.  Take them grocery shopping, and find a babysitter once every couple of months to watch the kids while you and the spouse do something grown up - like getting beer and wings at a restaurant and watching a grown up movie, you know, at the actual theatre.  Work is work, and it's important.  But remember it's a tool to buy you more time with your kids.  Prioritize it this way, and you'll see some semblance of a balance, in a ratio that works better for you.

AND DON'T READ the articles by women executives thinking they've figured out some magic math that affords them better balance than you can achieve.  The only thing they figured out was how to prioritize work so they could afford more support at home with the kids.

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