You Don’t Need An Excuse to Work Less
Parenting an autistic kid made me value the flexibility everyone deserves.
Long before I had kids myself, I was conscious of the struggle faced by working parents — a struggle that begins anew each back-to-school season. In my first big job, I was hired expressly to ensure that my boss — a working mom with two tweens — could play a very demanding role without totally sacrificing her family. It’s the kind of hire that I appreciate all the more now that I’m a working mother myself and understand the importance of family-friendly HR policies that support mid-career women in the workplace.
That hire was good for one early-career woman, too: Me! I got an extraordinary job opportunity that would otherwise have been out of reach. I worked a lot of evenings and weekends, mostly at big public events, so that my boss could have time with her kids. Eventually, that schedule started to strain my friendships.
“Don’t worry,” she reassured me. “After a while, your friends will understand that they just don’t get to see you very much.”
I could see how that might be a comforting thought for someone juggling the combination of parenting and a demanding job, but it wasn’t very helpful to 22-year-old me. I lived alone and had a boyfriend I only saw on weekends (the weekends I wasn’t working!), so my friends were my personal life. Advising me to give up on friendship was tantamount to telling me to make work my whole life.
The message behind that weekend email
Too often, that is the message managers give to their employees — whether they have kids or not. It might not be as explicit as telling you to do without friendship, but there are many other ways an employer can send the same signal: Weekend emails. Slack messages that continue long past 5 p.m. Promotions for colleagues who work 12-hour days, six or seven days a week. It all amounts to saying that work should sit at the center of our lives.
That was my own belief for the first twenty years of my professional life. Then I started to get emergency calls from daycare, asking me to pick up a toddler who was having a meltdown. Before long, I was getting calls from kindergarten, then grade 1, then grade 2…