It's time for a mindset reset

This week was an anniversary for me, though it's certainly not a big deal. I almost forgot about it, but then something happened. But before I get to that, back to the anniversary.

One year ago this week I started a new job. It's been an experience I'll never forget. And the best part about this experience?

The people. They're talented, intelligent, and willing to try new things. They're also a diverse crew of fun, funky, lovely, loud, and truly likeable humans. I've had a lot of jobs and it's rarer than it should be to find this. 

Life over the past year - at work and outside of work - has been one big transition period (i.e., things is changin'). And change can be hard. It's uncomfortable. But we all have to figure out how to adjust when change happens. Of course, sometimes the feelings around change need to come out and be acknowledged before we can reset and move on.

It can be tempting to wallow in the muck of wishing this or that had never happened and rail at the world for not being fair. Personally, I don't like muck and I would rather spend my time reading than wallowing.

Victim mindset? No thank you.

Back to what happened. 

I picked up Brandon from his summer program yesterday and when our conversation about dinner didn't go quite the way he wanted (he was craving steak and I wasn't going to make any), it led to a tearful monologue about how bad his day was. Translation: He was tired.

But I was tired, too. My kid is sweet, sensitive, trusting and good-natured, but he has a negative streak that makes me a little nuts. I do not want to raise someone who enjoys being a victim. I actually have a rule that I pull out of my annoying-mom toolbox every now and then when his negativity gets to me: For every single negative incident he shares, he has to tell me two positive things.

I told him it breaks my heart that he defaults to thinking about the negative parts of his day. And you know what he did? He hugged me. He didn't want my heart to be broken. 

That's how I know he's gonna be okay. He actually cares. He'll get it.

My ugly truth

Today I picked Brandon up again and when I asked him about his day, he immediately deflated and I knew what was coming. I got a couple words out of him - not negative, but not particularly positive. 

When he didn't expand on his day, I changed my tactic: Tell me something good that happened! 

He thought about it and he told a story about a kid who wouldn't let him pretend to be a Nintendo character when they were playing a Lego Movie game they made up. He said he snickered at the irony that the kid wouldn't let him choose a creative character.

You know what this means, right? My kid totally gets the point of The Lego Movie AND he gets irony. He's brilliant and you can't convince me otherwise. 

As we were driving home after a trip to pick up some more books for the wee genius, I had some quiet thinking time, remembered the anniversary and began reflecting on everything that's happened in the past year. It's been a doozy for the world, right? As I thought through it, I realized I have been taking on the mantle of victimhood a little bit myself and it's time to let it go. 

Choosing joy 

Someone I know recently started blogging about joy and she's apparently had a good influence on my subconscious. I was at the bookstore and picked up a list journal.

I have a lot of these journals. I use them to get inspiration for my writing. And since I can't seem to stay away from the journals in the bookstore, I doubt there are many I haven't picked up.

As I was driving home, after I picked up the journal, I decided to challenge myself to blog one of the lists each week. 

But check out the cover and note what the inspiration is for:

I can't expect my son to look for the positive if I'm not setting the example - intentionally and consistently. It doesn't mean ignoring the negative because that's not healthy either. But dwelling on the negative is toxic and not productive. I'd much rather be good to myself and bring good things into the world around me.

The ebb and flow of balance in our family - it's not "fair"

My friend, Annie, recently wrote about Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg  - two very accomplished women - and their decisions and comments that could be detrimental to families should their philosophies be openly implemented far and wide. Mayer's no-working-from-home inflexibility is already a reality in many businesses and I have no doubt that the law doesn't stop businesses from asking women about their plans for having a family. I have personally had comments made to me on more than one occasion that were at least borderline if not outright illegal.

A lot of the articles around these recent events are about achieving balance in families. The question of balance is often heavily weighted toward the need for it in women, but what about men? Or, what about overall balance in the family unit?

Actually, let me back up and say I don't believe there is such a thing as balance in the sense of a one size fits all amount of time to spend working and with family. I also don't think that balance for one family is going to look the same as balance for another family. I've written about the juggling act of work and family and gender roles before and - after reading it again - things have changed quite a lot for us in the last two years.

What our balance looks like

Since 2013 began, I've reduced my hours at my day job from full-time to part-time. This change was supported by my employer without hesitation. My co-workers have been equally supportive. My husband has given me an incredible amount of support as I pursue building a new business, but my new business is every bit as much work for him as it is for me. It's created an imbalance (temporarily for an indeterminate period of time) that was hard for him at first - change doesn't come easy to him. However, he worked through that adjustment in our lives and accepted it gracefully. His support of what I am doing has been unwavering since. I give him full credit for his efforts because it's just not easy to go from the surety and "security" of a salary to the ebbs and flows of consulting work.

I'm painfully aware that I allow Matt to do far more than his fair share of housework and parenting. He works full-time, does dishes, his laundry, cleans, vacuums, takes out the trash, buys groceries, gets the mail, and countless other things.

I've been sick for most of this year with one bug or another and working late most nights added to illness added to working through the day have made me drowsy and sluggish in the mornings. I wake up later and later and my poor husband bears the brunt of getting himself ready, getting Brandon ready, making breakfast for both of them, packing Brandon's lunch, book bag and daycare bag, packing the car and ushering everyone out the door. It's taken a toll on him and he's stressed and tired, so that imbalance has to shift.

We only have one car, so the commute involves first dropping Brandon off, then Matt, and I take the car most days. Brandon is at daycare for 9-9.5 hours. I pick Matt up first and he and I go spend some time at home alone. We talk about our day, do a bit of cleaning, then one or both of us will go pick up Brandon.

Imbalance in division of duties doesn't necessarily mean an unhappy family.

Imbalance in division of duties doesn't necessarily mean an unhappy family.

Unless Brandon has therapy. In that case, he gets picked up early and I take him to his appointments. I've taken on the lion's share of paperwork, appointments and other logistics of getting Brandon treatment. Matt is aware of what's going on and stays involved, but I have more flexibility for appointments and Brandon has many, many appointments. There is a perceived imbalance and I do more than my "fair" share, but it's working better than if I insisted Matt help.

We typically get home in the evening between 5:30 and 6:00. Matt or I prepare dinner for Brandon. I sometimes prepare dinner for myself. Sometimes we all three even eat together, but our dinnertime flexibility allows Brandon time to play, which is something he needs. He goes to bed early and he needs downtime as well. I dream of the day when we all three sit at a table at the same time to eat every night. We're not there yet, and it may take a while, but this is what works for our family right now. We're spending time together and that's the important thing.

After dinner and playtime, Brandon gets to watch a little TV before bed. At bedtime, I  lay down with Brandon for him to settle into rest more quickly. I enjoy this one-on-one snuggle time with my baby and I would miss it if he stopped wanting it, even though there have been many nights I wished I didn't have to do it. Matt spends this time eating his dinner or doing various household chores. Nearly every night when I leave Brandon's room, I head to the office to work some more.

By 10pm most nights, Matt is in bed trying to sleep, if not out cold. I try to shut down at 11pm and then spend some time reading to wind down my brain. However, it'snot unusual for me to stay up until 2am or 3am if I get really focused on something. (It's no wonder I'm sluggish at 6am.)

Some nights, I go out to functions, which leaves Matt in charge of doing everything for the evening. He doesn't complain and I know I've got it good.

This time in our lives is tricky. It's requiring Matt to sacrifice his hobbies and downtime. It hasn't been easy for him and I won't pretend it hasn't caused problems between us. The better my business does, and the more Matt sees that I'm not leading us down the garden path, the less he minds the sacrifice. I like to think he is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I know I am.

Like Sarah Lacy, I don't expect anyone else to want *my* life and *my* version of balance for themselves. This is what works for me and my family right now. A year from now, the picture will likely look very different. 

If individual couples can figure out that balance requires flexibility and constant renegotiation, then companies need to learn that as well. They may just find that employees enjoy their work and become more productive as a result.

Juggling motherhood and another job

There is no doubt that having a child changes your life immeasurably.

There is no doubt that working full- or part-time and being a mom is a juggling act.

There is no doubt that many women are given fewer opportunities in their careers after children.

But is it fair to say that these inequities are always a direct result of societal attitudes around traditional gender roles? Are mothers in the workforce a constant target for discrimination?

This essay by Marina Jimenez in the Globe and Mail on Monday seems to imply these things. While I don’t completely disagree with what the author says, I do have a slightly different perspective on what she’s written - and a few questions, too.

It was always my intention to work after having Brandon, but my priorities changed irrevocably after having a child. Working 40 hours a week was a necessity, but 50? 60? That wasn’t going to happen anymore. Has my career suffered because I had a child? Not in any way that I can definitively prove. I’ve had my suspicions, though. 

Gender Roles

Ms. Jimenez discusses her view of women running the household (the home CEO) and all that entails.

At night, core demands of this enterprise swirl around in my head like yellow post-it notes flapping in the wind: Register three-year-old for introductory soccer by Wednesday. Sign parental consent form for eight-year-old so he can participate in Kiwanis Music Festival. Remember to dress him in dark trousers and white dress shirt. Pack shorts in his knapsack for gym. Buy bagels so children will have something edible for lunchbox. Buy 20 Smencils for class party. Make that 21. One for teacher. Purchase new pair of swimming goggles.

I think most of us can agree that she’s right in her assessment, though I’m sure there are different levels of involvement from certain men. As a child, it was my mother who did these things. In my own home, I do the lion’s share of these types of tasks. The paragraph directly after the quote above starts with this statement:

Men’s brains simply do not work this way. These are not the preoccupations of even the most dedicated father. And while these tasks may appear trivial, without somebody attending to them, a child’s life falls apart.

That’s a bold blanket statement that seems tinged with a bit of resentment, not to mention melodrama. Do I resent that my husband doesn’t help with these tasks more? Absolutely not. My husband is an equal partner in our marriage. The author states that men don’t think the same as women, but I get the feeling that Ms. Jimenez doesn’t like this inherent difference between the sexes. Do men have to change the way they think in addition to contributing more so that we can achieve equality?

Inequality Statistics

Ms. Jimenez then cites statistics of inequalities in the workplace. Statistics that, to me, give incomplete context for the points that she’s making.

A 2010 Toronto-Dominion Bank study concluded that the earnings gap between men and women is tied primarily to motherhood. Women with no children tend to earn the same as men. However, women who take time out to have children have a persistent 3-per-cent penalty for every year of absence

I can get on board with her 100% when you say that a woman in the equivalent position of a man should be paid the same. I don’t understand - in this day and age - how that still happens. Except…this is tied to women who have taken time off to be on maternity leave. I’m going to assume that the equally paid men and women have equivalent education and/or work experience.

Did this study factor in that women on leave are usually not accruing work experience? Did they factor in that performance reviews don’t happen during this span of time? Salary increases are often tied to those performance reviews. It stands to reason that missing annual increases due to being on leave is a possibility and can account for the discrepancy in salaries. Without answers to these questions, I am left skeptical about this point.

Ms. Jimenez’s next set of statistics is around women in professions such as law, medicine and business - all very demanding jobs. Some feel compelled to return to work early from maternity leave for fear of losing status. No woman should feel compelled to go back to work early. It’s unfortunate that this happens. But I feel it’s important to point out that this is a personal choice. If these women want to make change in their profession and make year-long maternity leaves more accepted, ending their maternity leave early isn’t the way to do it. On the other hand, if they feel this is the right thing to do, but wish they could be off longer, that’s another story.

Other women can’t keep up the same work schedule once children come along and get off the “type-A career track”. I’m conflicted about this. I think employers should do more to support employees with families, because it will affect employee loyalty. But sometimes priorities just change. Climbing the ladder becomes less important when your life changes as significantly as it does when a child comes along. Maybe not for everyone, but I see this as largely a personal choice that often boils down to the sacrifice that is easier to make - a rising career at a certain level or raising a child in a certain way. 

Then the author gives an overview of the low percentage of women serving as elected officials and as directors and CEOs in Canada’s largest companies. While these are clearly male-dominated fields, they are also - like lawyers, doctors and business professionals - very demanding positions that may not be a woman’s first choice for their chosen career, particularly as more and more women start their own small businesses out of or close to their home. I wonder why no statistics were presented about that. I’m positive that would be an interesting number to see compared to 10, 20 and 30 years ago. Perhaps more women prefer to start off as the boss rather than work their way up to it after 20 years.

It’s my belief that women with children are always going to feel conflicted about working outside the home. It’s just that hard to leave your child in the first place. This is a natural instinct that mothers have. Even the author acknowledged that her first trip abroad was difficult and prompted her to make changes. Yes, there are challenges for women in the workplace. Yes, we do have some obstacles to overcome still.

Are the greatest obstacles the things described in this essay?

I’m not totally convinced. What do you think?