I was listening to an interview the other day with MaryEllen Tribby of workingmomsonly.com and she said something that caught my attention. She said that when women decide to have children we begin to devalue our worth. We are so afraid of losing our jobs or limiting our career progression that we don’t set boundaries and end up killing ourselves.
As a working mom who has put a tremendous amount of focus and emphasis on career, I more than understand the killing of one’s self to stay at the perceived top of your game. I was so afraid that my male counterparts would start to question my dedication to my career once I became a mom that I would work insane hours just to prove I was completely committed and they could count on me no matter what. (Even if there wasn’t enough legitimate work to fill those hours – the thought of being seen leaving the building at a decent hour was too much of a risk).
While I believe that the work culture of most corporations is broken – that’s another topic for another time – I had not really stopped to think about my contribution to the issue until I heard MaryEllen’s statement. It has been said numerous times that no one will value you if you don’t value yourself. What if you, as a working mom, valued yourself enough that others noticed your worth without having to run yourself into the ground? Here are a few ways that I think we can stake claim to our worth as working moms. And although I have listed these three things separately, they really do work in conjunction with each other.
1. Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries is very important to reclaiming or staking claim to your worth. You do not need to accept or volunteer for every project that comes up at work to demonstrate your value. Volunteering only for those projects that strategically advance your career or contribute to your personal development will keep you from getting overwhelmed with a ton of work outside of your core responsibilities allowing you to better manage the number of hours you are required to be at work.
A second way to set boundaries is to determine a target time to leave work every day and stick to it. If you follow that schedule on a consistent basis then people will begin to respect that you leave the office at a certain time. Now, if a critical request is made at the end of the day then you are going to have to figure out how to complete the request before you leave. If you are approached with a non-critical request, then politely explain that you will include it in your task list and let them know when to expect its completion. This will demonstrate to people that you can be counted on while still valuing your time.
Setting boundaries works outside of the work place as well. A lot of times we like to play the martyr by making people think we are the only ones who can pick up the dry cleaning, go to the grocery, feed the children, etc. We also feel like we need to accept every invitation to volunteer or participate in school and social activities to prove our worth as a mom/neighbor/spouse. WE ARE VALUABLE EVEN IF WE DON’T PARTICIPATE IN ANY OF THESE THINGS. WE DO NOT NEED TO PROVE OUR VALUE TO ANYONE BY TAKING ON EXTRAS IF THEY DON’T SERVE US. So, just like using discretion when volunteering for work projects, use discretion when looking at our responsibilities outside of work as well.
2. Don’t Balance Your Life, Blend It Instead
A balanced life implies that there are clear cut parts of our lives that are in an equal state with each other. I tend to believe that our lives are more of a blending of different parts that ebb and flow depending upon our current situation. For example, you may have to commit to a lot of extra hours at work in order to get through a tough business cycle, like budgeting season, or to complete a big project. But then there are other times that you can dial it back in order to take care of some things at home or put more focus on your family relationships.
The best way to blend your life is to prioritize and honor your calendar. Place absolutely everything on your calendar that is important to you and only keep one calendar. For years I kept a work calendar and a personal calendar. I think that just supports the false notion that you can find balance between the two. Having all of my important items in one place helps me blend work and home more effectively.
Occasionally you will have items in conflict with each other. Immediately decide which will take priority or how you can manage your schedule to accommodate both and then stick to your decision.
3. Stop Being Busy, Be Productive Instead
Prioritizing your calendar is a great way to help you stop being busy and start being productive instead. So will setting boundaries. However, realizing that sometimes you just have to let some things go is probably the best way to increase productivity and stop killing yourself. You can do this one of two ways. You can either “just say no” or you can build a support system that allows you to delegate the things that just don’t make sense for you to handle.
Just as you need to resist the urge to perform every single task at work to prove your worth, you need to resist the urge to perform every single task at home. If you have a demanding job that requires long work weeks, then give yourself permission to hire someone to clean your house if that’s not the best use of your time. I would much rather use my non-work hours to hang out with my family than clean toilets. Maybe you find cleaning therapeutic but hate doing grocery shopping, give yourself permission to outsource that function. Or ask your spouse or older children to help out. There is no rule that says you have to do everything because you are the mom. They may not do them as well as you do, but sometimes you just have to let some of those things go.
As I said earlier, I truly believe that the majority of our corporate cultures are broken and that companies set unrealistic expectations for the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that their employees are entitled to give them in exchange for a salary. However, I appreciate the new angle that MaryEllen shed on this subject for me. I do think we have a responsibility to not play the victim and to start demanding we be valued as great contributors to the work place by first seeing the value in ourselves, especially after we become moms. Then maybe, just maybe, we can eliminate some of the burden of trying to do it all and start living the quality of life that we know we deserve.