One of the reasons being a working mom is tough is because society expects you to be able to stay on top of your career, run the household and raise your children properly without batting an eyelash. It’s especially harder for career-driven women who become new moms — one study in the United States found that women with college degrees were the most surprised by the demands of motherhood, saying that “being a parent was harder than they expected.”
But while your career and family life will inevitably overlap, there’s no need to make it more difficult for yourself. Just acknowledge the fact that you need help.
This is what Sirsha Chatterjee, a senior manager for Ernst & Young, a professional services firm, found when she posted a working mom dilemma on her LinkedIn account a couple of months ago. She had to take an important conference call in the morning, but she also needed to get her young child ready for school. Unfortunately, her husband had gone traveling and was not around to lend a hand. She had no extra help.
“We talk a lot about work-life balance. I believe it’s more about prioritizing competing interests. But today I have an interesting work challenge (gender neutral for working parents) — but I have a plan, and I’m not worried. Just curious, would you solve this?” she wrote on her LinkedIn page.
She then enumerated the circumstances of her dilemma: “1. Traveling spouse; 2. [Kindergartner] wakes up at 6:50 a.m. and scrambles to get on the school bus at 7:30 a.m; 3. Global technical committee call starts at 7:00 a.m. (worldwide leadership participants); 4. All of the above are inflexible beyond my control (especially [kindergartner’s] cooperation).”
Working parents offered their sound and practical advice, and many of it involved asking for help from other people.
A single dad wrote, “Wake up kiddos early to get them ready for school. Invite a senior member of your team to attend [the committee call] and have them take notes. Advise leadership team you need 15 minutes to attend to a personal matter and your associate can capture any questions."
One mom suggested hiring morning help for days when Sirsha’s spouse would be traveling, while another suggested outsourcing the help. “It takes a village. I would see if you can have a neighbor or friend help out if possible. If not, then develop a sitter network,” the user wrote, before mentioning a U.S.-based website where you can book nannies. “Kudos to you for rocking it though. You’re showing him how it’s done and he will be a better man for it.”
One mom approached the problem differently and suggested Sirsha talk to her child. “Try speaking to them in a language they understand. They are better than many of us will like to believe.”
While Sirsha mentioned she already had a plan to solve her problem, she thanked her network for their “very good ideas,” and wrote, “You’re right. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.”
As to how she handled that hectic morning, Sirsha says, “[I] managed pretty well with some planning and coaxing — some days it’s just about getting the job done (versus doing it well).”
Sirsha is right. Working moms feel the pressure (even if they don’t like to admit it) to do a good job every time, to show others that they have it all together. It eventually becomes overwhelming.
The people surrounding them — their partners, friends, employers, and colleagues — need to step up and be the support system they need. As one piece of advice goes, “It takes a village.” Working moms shouldn’t feel that they are alone. They should be comfortable to ask for help, and those they ask should be willing (and able) to give it.