Today’s post is by Lynn Mandinec, Business Manager at Ryan Estis & Associates. Lynn works closely with REA clients to design the right program and curriculum to deliver high-impact event and training experiences.
When it comes to making decisions about work and parenting, there’s no right answer. No cure-all or perfect solution that fits for every family. Every parent has to do what works for them.
As a mom of three and a working professional, I’ve had a long journey grappling with the question of working versus staying at home with my kids. In my experience, my desire to work or not work has completely changed from year to year. It’s been a constantly changing evolution for me, and I think that’s true for a lot of moms.
So, while I can’t share my fool-proof tips for a balanced work life, I can share my own journey.
I started working for a great company right out of college, and I worked there for 20 years. Through my career there, I came up through the ranks, became a top producer, worked in the #1 sales office, and was always one of the top 2-3 sales pros out of a group of 40. I was good at my job, made a great commission, and as icing on the cake, I had a company car and excellent benefits. I was really hitting my stride professionally.
I didn’t have kids yet, but I was already making decisions based on the children I wanted to have later. I said no to promotions in cities where I wouldn’t want to raise a family.
When I was 34, I had my first child. As soon as I had my daughter, my priorities changed. My most important job wasn’t being a sales performer. It was being a mom. I have always been a very competitive, driven worker, but it was getting harder to devote the time and energy needed to perform at a high level at work. That was hard for me to handle.
Two years later, I had twins. All three of my kids were in daycare full-time, and the guilt of being away from my kids from 7:30am to 6pm was devastating. Then, the conversations started with neighbors and friends: “How does it feel to have someone else take care of your kids? How do you do it?”
That’s when I realized that the decision to be a working mother or a stay-at-home mom is as controversial as religion or politics.
Over the course of a year and a half, I tried to quit my job three different times. I happened to have a boss who was extremely understanding. He kept giving me new flexible options: what about 20 hours a week? What about one day a week? But, no matter what new situation I tried, I still couldn’t dedicate as much as I wanted to my job. The third time I quit, it was for real. I couldn’t bear to tell people that I had quit (I am not a quitter), so I told people that I had retired.
A year after ending my job, my identity had completely shifted. I was no longer running major strategy meetings with Fortune 500 companies. Instead, my most important decision of the day was what we were going to eat for dinner. I tried to fill the “work” void by volunteering — the first thing I did after retiring was sign up to be PTA President! But, I realized that not working wasn’t working for me, either. I’d been trying to find who I was (successful professional or mother), but I realized that I wasn’t just one or the other. I was both.
My re-entry into the workforce was all about compromise. I knew that this time around, my work had to fit with my family. I remembered why I’d retired in the first place, and I knew that in order to be happy, I wanted to contribute to the company at the level I needed to. My expectations of myself were the same: I wanted to be able to deliver a high level of value to my employer.
Now, I work from home. I talk to clients from my kitchen. I’m at home when my kids get off the school bus. I coach my daughter’s 6th grade volleyball team after school. And my work life doesn’t skip a beat: I answer emails at 7am and 10pm and often on weekends. I seamlessly meet clients’ needs and knock out new projects. I am boosted by the thrill of working with interesting people and helping smart companies improve.
Here’s what I’ve learned from this journey: My employer is as lucky to have me as I am to have the job. Working mothers shouldn’t be afraid to have frank conversations with their employers about flexibility. Don’t be ashamed to start the conversation about what you need to be a successful employee. My employer and I have an understanding: I will give you the same 110% – and I won’t let you down. Ever. In return, please respect my family commitments and understand that they still come first. I may need a few hours here and there to help my son skip rope on his pogo stick at the talent show or to chaperone my daughter’s class overnight – but I will “bring it” every day and contribute to the best of my ability, without fail.
I’ve learned to check in often with myself, my spouse, my family and my employer to gauge where we stand. When I first retired, I thought in absolutes: I was ending my job, it was over, and things would always be that way. Now I’ve learned to embrace the gray areas and the unexpected. My perspective and priorities have changed before, and I’m fully prepared for them to change again.
But most of all, I’ve learned that there isn’t one right answer that works for everyone. Forget the hype. I have friends that have told me they could never stay home with their kids all day and others that say they could never have someone else raising their children. And I support them. Both of them. Just because you don’t think you could handle playing Legos all day doesn’t make you a bad mom.
The decision to stop working and stay at home with kids isn’t easy. The decision to be a working mother isn’t easy, either. The choice is personal. I have to do what works best for my family. I think that is the most we can ask of ourselves. As employers work to become more flexible and adapt to support the family needs of their workforce, I think they will find talent very willing and able to contribute — even if it is markedly different than the traditional way we’ve thought about organizing ourselves and our teams to accomplish work.
That is a win for everyone.
Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.
Ryan Estis is a Keynote Speaker & Management Consultant blogging about business performance.