Maybe you saw this quote circulating social media, I know it stopped me in my tracks when I first came upon it and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.
GAZETTE: You are a mother of two. In 10 years you have produced three novels and two short-story collections. Can you talk about your process and how you manage work and family?
GROFF: I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.
Thought provoking, isn’t it?
On the one hand, I want to raise my fist and shout YES in support of such a bold statement! As a working professional and a mom, I wholeheartedly agree that women are often asked these types of questions, yet we rarely, if ever, see a male professional asked the same thing. I guess it’s just assumed that the man has a wife or a partner or hired help who is taking care of kids and home so that he can prioritize his career. Whereas a woman kicking ass in the workplace, how does she do it?
On the other hand, as someone who knows intimately what it’s like to be “in the struggle” as Groff says, I am really curious about how she has managed to produce so much work while raising two kids. What do her days look like? What kind of help and support does she have? What does she outsource or let go of in order to create at the volume that she has?
Balancing Equality and Reality
I look up to so many career women and I am always so curious to know the details of their days. I know that there is always something more to learn - a new trick that I haven’t tried before, a resource or service that is just waiting to make my life easier, a way of managing my calendar and being even more productive so I can make the most of my working hours.
How do we balance standing up for equality in the workplace with the reality of the juggle that we face every day?
How do we not dwell on the circumstances that sometimes create more challenges for working moms than working dads while still continuing to make that reality easier and our environments more supportive?
In thinking about and searching for that balance, I've created the following parameters that look something like this:
Be Open and Honest in Supportive Communities
In the communities where you know the audience is made up of mostly career women and mothers, freely and openly share ideas, tips, and resources. Be open about the challenges that you are facing with the hope that others will be able to relate, feel supported and learn from what you have learned.
Whether those communities are your immediate circle of friends or colleagues, affiliate groups say at the gym or at a professional event, or whether they are virtual communities like Facebook groups geared for moms, these are places where honest conversations only make us better.
And I love the honest conversations that are shaping up around what it’s like to work and be a mom and I don’t want to put a stop to those. These are important conversations. These are important topics. The only way to improve our current circumstances is to continue to learn and make changes.
On the flip side of that open idea-sharing, I try to be mindful of and limit the complaining that I do in broader circles or especially in professional environments. Sure, I have challenges in juggling the many priorities that I have, but I don’t want to contribute to the stereotypes of frantic, stressed and overwhelmed moms who can’t get it together. I own up to the mistakes that I make, the meetings that I’m late to, or the last-minute schedule shuffling when there is a sick kid, but I always remain professional and set realistic expectations with colleagues and clients.
Being An Example
It’s a balance and a dance. I certainly feel conflicted at times about how I want to show up. But I think often about Brooke Castillo’s mission that she repeats so frequently, which is “I want to be an example of what is possible.”
As a career woman and a devoted mom, I want to be an example for other working moms of what is possible. Of what it looks like to have my own challenges, but to not let those consume me. To do my best at balancing work and family and self-care and to appreciate that those priorities ebb and flow and shift and change.
And I always want to be an example to those who are not working moms of what is possible. To the young woman who is questioning whether she will be able to continue her career after she becomes a mom one day. To the hiring manager who is hesitant to hire a mom returning to the workforce. To the individual contributors who have their own stereotypes of working moms as frazzled, stressed and chaotic women hanging on by a thread. I want to challenge them to think and see working moms differently. I want to show them what is possible.
I certainly want to change the conversation when it comes to equality in the workplace. But I also want to know what your day looks like. I still want to ask you how you manage your calendar, your to-do lists, your childcare, your self-care, your relationship with your partner. I know you have something to teach me. And I bet I have something to teach you too.