Sunday, March 03, 2013

the onset of mad

When your mind is consumed with something - you have a heightened sense of awareness to notice and see that something everywhere. For example, when I was anxious to have a baby, it seemed pregnant women and infants were coming out of the woodwork.  While I've been debating whether or not to color my hair, I'm noticing similarly-aged women who are confidently embracing their gray wherever I turn.

Recently, I've also been acutely aware of articles written by professional women (with variable colors of hair) who have eloquently recounted the extreme challenges of successfully balancing career and motherhood.  These articles have been an interesting insight for me and have helped me realize I'm definitely not alone with the ongoing struggles I've faced trying to strike a healthy work-life balance since I've become a mother. One thing I've certainly noticed is that ever since I've lived in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. and have worked in a corporate setting, I feel so much more guilt that I'm not the best mother or best employee I know I could be.  But the only way I could be those things is if was given more latitude and unfortunately, the degree of latitude I require has been lacking in my corporate America experience.

What I've come to realize is that the best way to obtain flexibility is to be discreet. This has been extremely difficult for me since I'm open and honest to a fault (Exhibit A: this blog).  If you're overly vocal about the fact that you need to attend a parent-teacher conference one afternoon and take a child to a podiatrist about an abscess on her foot the next day (and for the next three consecutive Fridays for follow-up visits), it will raise eyebrows. People will suspect you are not fully engaged or dependable. And even if they don't openly express that, you have a feeling. So instead, you don't even mention that you need to take a two hour lunch to accomplish these activities. You know you are a professional who will get your work accomplished and meet any and all necessary deadlines, so why is it that you feel like a piece of inventory that belongs to a company between a set number of hours each day?

If you're not there during those set hours - even if you're accomplishing your work at other times, there is guilt. And if you are there but have to leave at exactly 5 to be home in time for Girl Scouts, there is guilt. And if you're not feeling guilty about work, chances are you're feeling guilty about your home life and something you should be doing there.  When I look around at the fathers in my work circles, not a one seem fazed by these competing priorities. But the mothers? They all seem run ragged, even those who are better than the norm at disguising how well they've got it "under control." This morning, I read this quote by Gloria Steinem in The Washington Post and it has been resonating with me all day:
My generation often accepted the idea that the private/public roles of women and men were "natural." Your generation has made giant strides into public life, but often still says: How can I combine career and family?  I say to you from the bottom of my heart that when you ask that question, you are setting your sights way too low. First of all, there can be no answer until men are asking the same question.  Second, every other modern democracy in the world is way, way ahead of this country in providing a national system of child care and job patterns adapted to the needs of parents, both men and women. So don't get guilty. Get mad. Get active. If this is a problem that affects millions of unique women, then the only answer is to organize.
I'm not exactly sure what organizing looks like, per se.  But I do know that when my organization recently reached out and asked it's personnel about our opinion on how well they were incorporating diversity and inclusion in the workforce, I didn't hold back and gave my company failing grades.  The fact that less than 10% of our current management team is comprised of women (three women total) - and only one of those women is a mother - would indicate that the potential for upward career growth and mobility on a management track is extremely low for a woman in our organization. And lower even still, if that woman decides to have children.

My employer is a big one and I would think indicative of Corporate America.  So why are those statistics for women in management so low? Is it because that the oil and gas sector really is a good old boy club and the glass ceiling is real?  Or is it because of the sacrifices that most women are not willing to make to reach those higher levels?  I suspect it's some combination thereof.

I've never wanted to be a manager. But I'm beginning to rethink that position. Maybe management is the proper career trajectory if I'm going to continue in my career and have any hope that women be provided the same opportunities as men. The way I see it, only with a diverse and inclusive management that genuinely understand the criticality of work-life balance, will those needs ever be sincerely considered.  

Then again, there's that scenario where I resign completely from the work force and we move to Vermont to raise sheep and homeschool our children because we're nothing if not unsettled.


  1. Hi Jen,
    I have been following your blog for years, and have never commented before. A quick background on me...I have a son who is 5, and twin girls who are 3. I started following you when I was pregnant with triplets, and absolutely freaked out! I Googled everything I could think of regarding triplets and your blog came up. I lost the triplet 14 weeks into my pregnancy, and went on to have my girls at 38 1/2 weeks weighing in at 8lbs and 8.8lbs...very healthy girls!
    I was a full time working mom when I had all 3 babies...a Vice President of my company producing events all over the world. I was beyond dedicated, and made sure nothing (at home or at work) fell through the cracks. I was a wreck! I can't tell you how often I read your blog and identify with everything you are saying. Specifically about work/life balance, the guilt, the male egos that you endure, etc, etc. I admire your dedication and tenacity....I just couldn't do it anymore and walked. I had a boss who gave me quite a bit of flexibility, but resented me for actually using the flexibility. After enduring of his passive aggressive ways I blew up and quit on the spot. Not the most rational decision I have ever made, but a good one! While working, I felt it was my duty to empower other working parents and allow them flexibility to take care of their families. I found (with one or two exceptions) that my employees worked harder to show their appreciation and were happier overall. Unfortunately, my passive aggressive ex-boss has stripped most of their flexibility away, and several people have left because of it. I think you would be a great manager…you have worked in the trenches (from the sound of it, quite literally) both at work and home…but YOU GET IT!! So few people do. We can empower ourselves, but what about those who don’t have the strength and need help? If I can avoid returning to the corporate world I am going to (been trying to start my own gig), but if I was going to return I would happily manage people again…just to give the flexibility we all need. OK, that is all! 
    Thank you for your blog! I love reading about your family and adventures!!
    Take care!

    1. Marguerite - thank you so much for your note and for saying hello! My heart broke and then soared with your story of loss and then arrival of two beautiful girls. I'm sure your three little ones keep you plenty busy and entertained and probably a little crazy everyday. Right? There's nothing like it in the world!! :)

      As you may know, I reached my breaking point a few months ago where the pain was so great, I did walk. But I didn't get very far. The willingness of my company to make immediate and drastic changes and the reality of needs such as shelter and food and insurance, blah, blah, blah ... made me "walk" back. But what I've long known, and have noticed in spades recently, is that your manager can really make or break your attitude and overall commitment to a company.

      When you go to work and you feel appreciated = you are willing to do more. You are willing to work harder and go the extra mile, as opposed to when your manager treats you like dirt or hardly acknowledges your efforts. Just by (bad) luck of the draw, there are a few people in my office that are working for a particularly difficult manager - and I know that these are good, good people - and good, good employees - so I've really tried to pull them under my wing and encourage them. It feels like after the past 2.5 years, I've become the poster for child on how to survive a toxic work situation!!

      I don't know if I'm really cut out for management, though. Someone LIKE me, but not EXACTLY me. I can clearly recognize that my #1 shortcoming is the inability to just keep my head down and do as the upper echelons tell me to do. I tend to spout off like a wild fire hose when I see things that aren't right. And from what I can tell, to reach the management level in my company - you need to be a bit more tempered and controlled.

      Maybe I should take up chewing vast quantities of gum???

  2. I would be willing to bet that it's more the latter in most is too hard to be everything to everyone and that is how most women are programmed (my opinion). Life is stressful enough (your scenario perfectly) without adding upper management to the table.

  3. No no resign and move to Canada to raise moose!

    Management might be the place for you but it's tough. My husband likes it, but you have people tugging from both sides and no one is ever really happy. He been blessed with a personality that can handle it; me, on the other hand, would get way too emotional.

    Blessings as you make decisions!

    1. People raise moose? Really? There are moose farms in Canada?!

      How fabulous would it be to have my own herd of meese??? :)

  4. have you read "Perfect Madness"? Well, perhaps you don't need to because you are living it - your life, in a book.

  5. My advice: manage expectations, manage your emotions & don't take things personally.

    My current boss of 5 years is not married and has never had kids. His reaction to my due date so close to busy season / nursing/ childcare issues has been straight out of the 1970's. I'm invaluable to him though and he needs me! You are good about standing up for family issues Jen, but why hide it? Just put it on the calendar as soon as you can. My boss is an old guy and I think he has a 'warm body' syndrome. My work is like green eggs & ham. I can do it on a boat, in a car, in a house, on a train... but my boss just likes me being there. During the times of year it is super slow and I don't have full time work to do and I am working part time, he would prefer me to come in 3 hours every day rather than work 3 days a week. I've decided that my boss (respectfully) just needs to get over that. I don't let my boss get under my skin. In fact I'm pretty good at calling him out/shutting him down when he's developing a 'tude' - so I see far less attitude from him then some of my other co-workers.

    I think at a managerial level it is important to know when NOT to talk. Talking too much from my experience is a sign of insecurity/nervousness/inexperience. I interview ALOT of high power executives at work - first year I did it, I was a nervous wreck and talked too much. Now, I'm comfortable with silence in the room - and they don't even blink twice about silence in the room - as I work on all of the information they give me. I ask questions when I need to know information. I try to be personable and welcoming, but even more, I want to seem knowledgeable. Me keeping my mouth shut makes me seem like I know more! Its almost like I've learned to be cool or something now. Find the person who you CAN spout off like a firehouse too - and then be managerial. There is nothing wrong with people knowing where you are coming from.

    Most days I've given up analyzing what a person has said to me and the impression that I gave - and the days that I'm hung up I eat a vat of chocolate and then realize maybe I have something internally going on.Then there are other days where I'll dwell on a mistake - and it is just a big pit in the bottom of my stomach.... I try my best every day. that is all I can hope for. My co-workers/clients come around....and I don't necessarily bake them stuff either ; ) What is the worse that could happen? They fire me? So I can stay home and collect unemployment? (which since my childcare costs are so high I might make MORE money on unemployment and no daycare)

    You are valued - give yourself some time to figure out your new position!

    1. Holly, Having seen it first hand, I can say that there's a working-mother stigma that is so obviously evident and can be tough to manage sometimes (especially with four small children). My example of having 3-4 child related activities in one week is just one scenario that I've experienced and it is nauseating to have to keep saying, "I've got to leave. Yep. Again. I hope to be back soon...".

      Now, it's important to mention that 1) I love my new role and 2) I'm very lucky that my NEW manager would tell me to take the time that I need to get those things accomplished - but my former boss would tell me that I'd need to take vacation time. Which would totally fire me up, because I'd have no problem getting my work completed, but if I wasn't doing that work from X hour to X hour while in the office, obviously I'm not working. Right? Consider, if a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to see it....

      Completely agree with your statement about knowing when NOT to talk. I'm practicing that more and more each day and have found silence really can be golden!