Ginny loved her work...
A vice president of marketing for an ad agency, in many ways her job defined her. She found the chance to innovate and solve problems for clients incredibly stimulating, energizing, and satisfying. Creative work ignited her soul. Her ambition was to develop an impeccable reputation in her field, and perhaps, one day, start her own firm. Her work ethic, of which she was very proud, led her to say yes to many projects and do whatever it took to deliver excellence.
Yet, Ginny's passion for her work made her feel guilty. It took time away from her kids (7, 11 and 13) and often distracted her when they were together. Her brain was constantly churning with work challenges. It was hard to turn the job off at night and on weekends. She wondered, constantly, if she should put her goals and passion on hold, to be a better parent for her kids.
Ginny's question — to work, or not to work — is emblematic of a struggle many working moms or parents face. We find satisfaction in our work, but we worry that it keeps us from spending enough time with our kids. Ellen Galinsky, President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute, has been studying this, and many other aspects of work, family life, and working moms for decades. Observing this phenomenon of guilt — which exists, despite the fact that not a single study (nope, not one!) concluded that Moms or Dads working has a negative impact on children — Galinsky had an innovative idea that might settle matters: Why don't we see what kids have to say.
In the late-90s, she and her team conducted a landmark study called "Ask The Children" to explore kids' perspectives on working moms, dads, or parents. Surveying over 1,000 children ages 8-18, Galinsky asked both parents and children a series of questions about how they felt about their parents working. Her findings were not only fascinating but also incredibly liberating.
Here are three of the biggest insights:
Galinsky's research provides powerful and compelling reasons why working moms and parents shouldn't feel guilty about their work. But absolving ourselves of guilt is often easier said than done. Even with the right messaging, there are two time traps that can be problematic for parents and kids...
A) Work spills over into your home-life, preventing you from being fully present with your kids
B) Your work schedule is demanding and unpredictable, keeping you from getting home when you planned to. To minimize these issues, focus on the following two tactics:
Because we live in a time of swelling workloads, it's critical to create edges on your workday and on your workweek. To avoid being trapped by unspoken assumptions, discuss expectations for after-hours connectedness with your boss. Are you expected to answer emails at night and on the weekends? Or, if it's a true emergency, can you agree that the company will reach out by phone? By defining clear edges, you can more easily give work your all during work hours and, when you are done, leave that piece of it behind and be fully present with your family.
To the best of your ability, be predictable with your schedule and the time you have to offer your children. Uncertainty about whether you'll be home for dinner or to read a bedtime story is what breeds anxiety and resentment. It's okay if your schedule changes from week to week or even day to day, as long as you communicate that to your children. Even working moms who have to work late or travel for work can remain predictable and reliable for their kids by maintaining the same touch-points throughout the day, with a Skype or FaceTime call: e.g. when they wake up, at dinner time, or before bed.
Your relationship to your work serves as a role model to your kids. Careers have become an integral part of the human experience. Finding a role you love, making a contribution to your community, and earning money to support yourself and those who depend on you are all incredibly valuable life-skills to impart on your children.
Whether you work out of necessity, passion, or a combination of the two, extract working mom guilt from the equation. Guilt about work is nothing but mental clutter; it only serves to steal additional time and energy from being present for quality time with your kids and for yourself. And, as we now know, that's all our kids truly want.
WRITTEN BYJulie Morgenstern