5 Mothers On Negotiating Flexibility
Much of the grey area between motherhood and ambition that we explore on Mother Untitled includes women who are taking a career pause, transitioning or growing a freelance/consulting practice or building their own small business to afford them control and flexibility. But there are a significant number of women who are committed to their current workplace or industry and want to craft space for themselves, as mothers, within that construct. I asked five women I respect to share their experience asking for and managing flexibility in their work place. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, I'm not sharing the names of contributors on this one but their honest take is so worth it.
Mother to one, New York, NY, Industry: Advertising
I am beyond lucky as I have been at my agency for a very long time - almost 10 years - so we all know each other well enough to trust each other that when it comes to it, no one will ever let each other down. The best advice I was given when I went back to work was, "they have more than survived without you so don't allow yourself to get sucked back into everything and anything". That advice encouraged me to set clear boundaries and to stick to them. I was also told that I would be my own worst enemy when it came to my boundaries so again, I had to not get in my own way and live the life that was right for work and home. I negotiated 4 days a week, Fridays off and they are fully off so I don't feel like I'm compromising the time with my son. I rush home at 5.30 every other day but I'm happy to work after 7 when my son is asleep. My advice would be - work out what works for you, ask for it and stick to it. You have to be in control of what works for your family and compromise only when it works for you. Be strict but not unbending.
Mother to two, Boston, MA, Industry: Bio-Tech
When I asked to go part time I was lucky in that my boss was amazing and it wasn't even a negotiation. It’s nice to have a few days at the office where I can use my brain and feel useful for reasons not related to being Mommy. I'm also lucky to have the rest of the week home with my kids because I’m painfully aware of how fast time is flying by. However, the balance can be challenging. Sometimes it's trying to get 5 days of work done in 3, which is tough when you have to leave at 5 pm to get the kids at school. There's also the guilt for not being present 100% of the time for my kids or at work. I try to take solace in the fact that my kids love school, and then on our "mommy days", as my daughter calls them, I can enjoy (most of the time!) just hanging out with them without feeling like we always need to go places to interact with other kids. I've come to terms with the fact that at this point, it's more important to me to be home part time with my kids than being full time at work, and I realize how lucky I am to have that option.
Mother to one, New York, NY, Industry: Media
When I was leaving my 12 week old to go back to work (a powerful women's magazine who raved about their support of women but did not reflect it in their maternity policy), I wanted to find something I was more passionate about - I almost wanted to lean in more. I felt as though if I had to leave I wanted to work somewhere I was proud of and do work that I was interested in to justify not being there in the day to day to raise my son. I also felt I was coming back to work a different person, a mother. And the role I was coming back to didn't know me that way so it was almost a new meeting. We did not work out. I found that it's not really where you work but who you work for. Someone who knows you're doing your best - working as much or as little as you need depending on the moment and truly supportive of wanting to create balance. Women supporting women is the only workplace I'm into as a mother.
After that, the biggest thing is maintaining boundaries and consistency. I do not accept a meeting scheduled before 10 am unless it's absolutely impossible to have it. Also, showing that my work doesn't change based on the hours has been invaluable in keeping this flexibility going.
Mother to one, New York, NY, Industry: Advertising
So this is a huge topic that I am in the middle of navigating and it is harder than I could have ever imagined. I completely indulged in motherhood for 10 months and enjoyed it so much more than I could have imagined. So much so that I asked for 4 more months off (the standing policy is 6 months) - which was overall well received and granted. I then went back to the same high pressured job I had before I had my son. Most things were the same, except I was changed in every way imaginable.
Being a distracted or stressed out mother is my biggest fear. I want to be completely present when I am with my son and when that started to slip I knew I needed to make a change. I first broached the subject of balance about 6 weeks ago (8 weeks back into working) when the hours and workload had gotten overwhelming (leaving on time wasn't hard - it was the constant communication and the need to work at night to keep up). I felt like a lot of this was due to company inefficiencies and infrastructure issues. I broached it by taking them on the journey of how I was feeling but put the company needs at the heart of the conversation so it felt two way. I currently don't go into the office on Fridays but I still have to hide behind 'working from home' so that my team doesn't completely freak out.
However, in that conversation, my (male) boss' response was 'well we can talk about reducing responsibility and salary for balance'. This is the crux of everything wrong with my industry and this topic as a whole. You need to work for people who truly believe in growing and looking after successful women. For me, it was shocking how acute the issue is and very obvious why women drop off the ladder at our stage - because companies and people haven't caught up with the fact that new Mums are actually at their best and that balance isn't a nice to have. The narrative also has to be changed so that it's less about working more and more about working smarter.
Mother to two, New York, NY, Industry: Education
I was a classroom teacher and that isn't really something you can do part time. I had a very difficult time deciding on whether I would return to the classroom or not after my oldest was born. Ultimately, I knew I wanted to be home and made the difficult trek to my bosses office to break the news. I initially tried to negotiate a part time teaching job but she wasn't having it. I was completely shocked and over the moon when she asked if I would consider coming back part time to work in the admissions office. It seemed like the perfect bridge to still stay involved in the education world but also be able to have time at home with my new baby. From there I was able to grow the position into a little more time and responsibility. I found the biggest challenge to be still taking the part time work as seriously as I would take full-time work. All of a sudden I had a person that I loved more than anything and was responsible for and nothing in the world seemed more important than that. It was hard to justify leaving him to go anywhere, never mind a job but I knew that if I wanted to maintain a professional life in the long-term I needed to make it a priority.
If you've had an experience - good, bad, or ugly - of asking for or offering flexibility in your work, can you share what worked or didn't? We'd love to hear! xo
Background Image for Cover via Free People