‘I’m Sorry’: the Working Mom’s Mantra
I’m sorry. These are words that I know all too well and I say far too often in my life. Not because I have done so many things wrong that I need to apologize for, but because I can’t do everything. There is not enough time in the day to do it all for my kids, my employer, my husband, my friends, and myself. I’m sorry I was so slow to respond to your email; I’m sorry I can’t be there for mom’s breakfast day at school; I’m sorry I was late to pick you up; I’m sorry that I have to reschedule again…and so on and so on. I am a working mom, and this is all I can do.
“Nobody understands the concept of the balancing act quite like a working mom. Balancing is an everyday struggle.”
Now, I am not trying to start a discussion on what is harder, being a working mom or a stay-at-home mom. Quite frankly, I don’t really care. Being a mom in itself is mentally and physically challenging no matter what. For me, being a working mom adds another element that I don’t seem to handle well. I know there are plenty of amazing moms out there that can handle it all just fine. In fact, they totally kick ass and really seem to be able to do it all, and do it all with a smile. That however, is not me. In my opinion, these people must be superhuman, and I truly admire their bad ass skillset. But me, my mind is constantly all over the place. When I’m at work, I’m worrying about my kids and what needs to be done at home, and when I’m at home, I’m worrying about what needs to be done at work. I’m never able to just focus on or enjoy what I’m doing at the moment. That is a sad realization. And then, what about everything else? What about all the other normal life stuff like sports, homework, birthday parties, oil changes, new clothes, field trip money, paying bills…Where is the time for all that? Where is the money for that? Where is the “Balance”? I just can’t seem to figure this out.
Before I had children, I had always hoped that when the time came, I could stay at home with them. However, my current life situation doesn’t allow that. I had to work to help keep the family from drowning in the costs of bringing up the first child; then the second child; and now three! Kids are expensive, child care is expensive, life is expensive. I’m sure I don’t have to explain that to anyone.
Early in my career, I tried so hard to find a work/life balance with the company I was employed with for 10 years. I thought that by busting my ass, proving myself, and doing good work would have been enough proof that I could do the flex schedule and still handle the work load…that I could do it all. Instead, they decided that I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t “happy enough” (literally, this is what they said to me). No shit I’m not happy. I am drowning in life with three kids, finances, family illness, my own health issues, and an unsupportive and a toxic work environment. Could you cut me a little slack? I mean, I’ve been here for a decade. Come to find out that loyalty and good performance don’t mean anything anymore. So, their solution was to eliminate me and to hire someone younger and single that didn’t have the outside of work commitments such as children. Supportive, right? But this isn’t what I am here to talk about. That was in the past, and I can’t change how that turned out. The issue here is balance.
It is really hard for me to accept the fact that “unbalance” seems to be the new “balance”. Some of us struggle with less supportive home situations, including single parents with no partner to help out. Others of us have far less than encouraging (or downright asinine) employers like I did. But finding balance is work in itself. It seems we are constantly seeking it, finding it, losing it, and then searching for it all over again. When does the cycle end? Maybe it never does.
I truly don’t think that my less-than-ideal situation with my previous employer is all that unique. This balancing thing is a problem for a lot of working moms and dads. Employers don’t seem to really understand the struggle of wanting/needing to work as well as the need to still have the flexibility to do what you need for your children and family. Sure, you think you do because it is different for you. If you are a top executive or CEO, you can go to breakfast at school with your child or leave anytime you want to be a field trip volunteer. You can do whatever you want. In your mind, your company is flexible and encourages work/life balance, but open your eyes and take a look around. Are you really encouraging and promoting this at all levels of your organization? It is the folks that are stuck somewhere in the middle or the bottom that sacrifice everything. They see you take the time off to do all the things that they want to do with their own kids themselves and become resentful. Resentful and disgruntled employees are not good for anyone. Being “family friendly” as a lot of companies are starting to claim to be, doesn’t just mean the top executives. It needs to trickle all the way down, in my opinion.
So what is the answer? As an employer, how can you keep your employees happy and healthy so they can be more productive? As an employee, how do you manage the stress at work as well as at home? Those are the million dollar questions. I’ve discovered a couple things that can helpful if you are lucky enough to be able to implement them in your life. Having control over your own schedule and/or flexibility at work is a must. We are all adults, right? How about putting a little trust in your employees to manage their own responsibilities? If you don’t trust them, why do they work for you? Seems like that could be a bigger issue. Having a supportive employer that is compassionate and not completely self-centered also helps, but let’s face it, the majority of people don’t have the luxury of controlling who we work for, at least not all the time. So, what do you do? How do you fix this? I don’t know. All I know that it is a problem.
For me, either I can completely change my line of work and go into business for myself, OR apologize time and time again to my kids for never being there; to my employer for my sometimes subpar performance and distraction; and to my spouse for my less than positive attitude due to the stress of trying to balance it all. Since the first option is pretty unrealistic, I’ll have to make the best of it and go with number 2.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on November 11, 2016.