It’s 8:30pm on a Tuesday. Thankfully, I don’t have a work call right now. But I do have a screaming child. He’s mid-tantrum because it was bedtime and he had to go to bed. And the reality is, he had to go to bed because he needs his sleep but he really had to go to bed because his parents needed sanity to get back to all the work in their lives that doesn’t revolve around taking care of him and his younger sister. Of course, he doesn’t care because going to bed is no fun at all. He just doesn’t want to, so why should he? Why not scream at the top of his lungs to make mom and dad feel miserable, and possibly even wake up little sister and add even more screaming to the mix?
Sounds super fun, huh?
Most women and men that come to me to talk about working and kids are more focused on and worried about the first year: maternity leave, breast-feeding, setting up day care or nannies. Most work places seem to be focused on this stuff too: companies that get it are offering longer maternity leaves, luxury mother’s rooms, and day care stipends. But even with all these things, the first year is really hard. And it’s not over after the first year.
In fact, it gets worse. Your child gets older; they need more time from you; and they need more of your mental capacity. You spend your days juggling drop offs, pick ups, the demands of your job, the demands of your life, and your marriage. And it does not stop. A good day is one where the juggling works, and a bad day is one where every toss falls to the floor. After the first year, many companies expect you to acclimate to the lifestyle of balancing (or integrating) work and family. But the reality is that it keeps going:
- Your child starts school and is sick. Then gets you sick. You still need to do your job, but now you also have to figure out how to care for you child and, possibly, yourself. Oh ya, this happens 6 times a year for a few years.
- Your child discovers they have opinions and can express them. That means it’s not so easy to get out of the house in the mornings or down in the nights.
- You need to take an after hours call for work but it eats into family time.
- You need to travel at the same time as your significant other (or you need to travel and you have no significant other).
- Your child is afraid of monsters and wakes you up repeatedly at night.
- You have a second child just after you got it all figured out with the first.
- Your child’s teacher calls you to discuss their uncouth behavior at school.
- Your childcare costs are more than your mortgage, and no matter how much you pay, it still isn’t enough care to respond to the 24/7 work culture.
- You thought sleep deprivation ends once your child sleeps through the night.
- And so it goes.
Want to know why so many high potential women (and men) drop out of the work force (or at least lean back)? It’s not because they had a baby. That’s just one year and it has an end. But the reality of moving from not being a parent to being a parent does not have an end. They are experiencing death by a thousand paper cuts. And then the last one strikes and it’s not possible to keep going.
In her book, Unfinished Business, Anne-Marie Slaughter described this as a “tipping point”. Have you reached yours? One of the most common ones for working mothers is reacclimating to work after the birth of a second child. (Note – I did not say having a second child.) We sometimes wonder why benefits like paternal leave, or even “flex hours”, still leave us drained. Benefits can’t make up for the work life integration papercuts, especially when jobs demand 24/7 attention (at least during the week). There is a reason so many mothers opt for entrepreneurship or consulting instead of playing on the corporate jungle gym. But for those that stay, the companies that can figure out how to make the day-to-day experience better for working parents, are the ones that will have the best chance to retain them.
Have Kids, Will Work