Working Women

It’s hard to talk to women about technology without also getting into a discussion about being a working woman. It’s certainly not necessary to both work and embrace technology (I was shocked—in a good way—at the number of active online communities of moms that I discovered on maternity leave), but considering that women now make up over 50% of the workforce (at, sadly, somewhere around 50% of the cost of our male counterparts) it’s a relevant topic.

I’m lucky to work for a family-friendly employer. So family-friendly, in fact, that Working Mother magazine named us one of the Top 25 Women-Owned Businesses in the nation. Holler!

Around the time of that award, they asked the women in our office to submit an application to be a Working Mother cover mom. I didn’t win, but it did get me to think about why I work instead of staying at home.

Why do I work?
Because being a working mom makes me a better mom.  Working feels right to me in the same way that staying home feels right to other moms. There was a time when I worried that liking my job—that looking forward to going to work at the end of my maternity leave—meant I was a bad mother. But, when I was fussing over the decision of staying home vs. working, a friend told me this, “In the first week or two, you’ll know. Your gut will either tell you that you need to stay home, or that it’s okay to stay at work.”

She was right. While the transition of the first week was hard emotionally (does anyone enjoy dropping their kid off at daycare the first time?!), I could feel in my gut that working was what I wanted to do. My friend’s gut told her the opposite, and she has since reduced her work schedule to 2 days a week. But, isn’t that’s really what it’s all about: being able to make the choice that feels best for you, and for your family?

I enjoy the time I have with my daughter before and after work, and she gets my full attention. There are certainly days when I come home tired and worn out, but most days I come home and can’t wait to hear everything that she did at “baby school” and tell her all about my day, and sit on the floor and read some books and eat dinner together. I certainly have less time with her than I would if I stayed home with her all day, but the time that we do have is so enjoyable and so focused. I feel like being able to have my own space at work means that I look forward to hanging out with my family at night.

What makes my job meaningful?

Doing work that I love, and working for—and with—people that I respect. I enjoy what I do for a living. I know and respect the owners of my company. I don’t feel like an anonymous cog in a machine; I can see the results of the efforts I put forward, and it feels really good. I love the feeling of looking at a completed project and knowing that I helped make it happen.

How do I handle work/life balance?
First, I’m extremely lucky to have a workplace that is supportive of working parents, and a husband that shares equally in the parenting and housework load. He is self-employed and saves my butt on most days by doing daycare dropoff and pickup. And we divvy up the other tasks too—like, if he cooks, I do dishes. If I give Trixie a bath, he does stories and bed time.

Second, I make conscious decisions about how to spend my time. When I am with my family, I make an effort to be 100% with them, and when I am working I try to be 100% in work mode. In a world where I can work from home, where anyone can contact me almost anywhere, anytime via phone, text message, IM or email, it’s easy to be “sort of” working all the time. Alternately, it’s just as easy to use part of your workday getting a bit of online shopping done, or sending an email to your friends or relatives.  The result of all this flexibility can be that your family—and your work—get half your effort and attention all the time.

I work in an office that is extremely permissive and flexible—we are all trusted as adults to do our job and manage our time appropriately. The key is to use the flexibility in a way that makes you more efficient, not less so.

Growing up, my parents never let us watch TV while we did our homework. I find that I follow a similar rule for myself in trying to keep myself focused and efficient in my work/life balance. If I work at home at night, I do it only after my daughter is in bed, and I don’t watch TV or do anything else at the same time (if I do, I find it makes me about half as productive, and who wants to work twice as long?). I could check my email before breakfast, but I don’t—because I want my family to get my full attention before we all head off to start our day. At the dinner table, there’s no TV, no books, no cell phones. Just our family, talking to each other and catching up. Conversely, when I’m in work mode (whether I’m at the office or working from home) I make an effort to focus on that.

One of the greatest challenges of my life?
Slowly coming to the realization that I can’t have it all. By that I mean learning that I can’t have a clean house, a harmonious marriage, a super-successful career, a perfect body and be an ideal mother at all times. So, I can either frustrate myself trying to achieve perfection, or I can stop amidst the imperfections and enjoy the beauty in the small moments. Because they go by fast. So, when I get home from a long day at work, I have a choice: I can either stress out about the million things on my to-do list, or I can stop worrying about how dirty the kitchen floor is for a few minutes and enjoy a tea party with my daughter. I’ve learned that the kitchen floor can get cleaned up later.