Out of three possible training sessions, I was available for only one: the session scheduled at 6 a.m. my local time. My kids usually wake after I’m already working, so naturally I assumed by biggest hurdle would be ensuring I was functional (and video-ready) around the same time the sun starts rising.
Naturally, this meant mid-training, my 1-year-old son woke, screaming. (How do kids sense this stuff?). Since I was attached to my headphones and the session was turning out to be surprisingly interactive, my headphones, laptop, and I went downstairs to get my son. Order was restored as he happily gulped some water from my lap, garnered a few WebEx tips of his own, and stole a few early morning snuggles.
Then, our interactive trainer announced we were moving on to webcams.
So now, I’ll just chose one of you to demonstrate how you can activate a participant’s video, I heard the facilitator say.
Say what? I’m here, taking notes, actively participating. (Side bar: I’ve also since prepped a banana and cottage cheese while paying attention and keeping my laptop clean, which I think is cause for celebration). Do I really have to be spontaneously flashed across the screen to a good portion of the company? Especially when I have a stowaway?
While I was imagining surprising everyone with a chubby, banana-smothered cherub, the facilitator opted to turn on his own camera instead.
It’s still dark here, because it’s early my time and said, and continued on.
My spurt of panic compared with his calm statement of the facts left me feeling a little silly. He didn’t apologize, just shrugged. This is my situation in this moment. Ta-Da. This experience has me wondering:
When it comes to balancing babies and business, do I just need to get over it?
While I’m not advocating carting my cherubs to critical business meetings, I am considering the fact that perhaps I need to fight for my own balance – even if its only internal, mental balance.
With these five steps, I believe we can inch closer to a new normalcy of motherhood and professionalism.
- Get over it. I wasn’t perfect pre-kids, and now that I’ve been sleep deprived since 2014, I am much further down the road – away from perfection. Accepting that sometimes I’m going to have a cute face on a surprised video conference, an overlooked sticker in a presentation, or a muffled tantrum in the background of a meeting will make me less stressed, and it may even up my performance overall. Most days, I’m fully engaged. Some days, I struggle. And I’m going to get over it.
- Aim for the reasonable approach first. I remember every single time I’ve asked for flexibility. It’s silly, but true. Many times, I am leaping through mental hurdles to avoid it before simply asking. Case in point: Wednesday, my daughter had a Mother’s Day celebration at her preschool. I’d already let my team know I was going to take a long lunch to join, and had blocked my schedule. But, I overlooked a meeting in the middle of that long lunch, because the organizer was out the week I was coordinating my schedule. When I realized it, we had already compiled a packed agenda. For a minute, I was wondering if I could take the first half of the meeting on the drive home. Not because I didn’t want to move the meeting, but because I felt bad about asking. Instead, I apologized and asked for a reschedule. When I sent a photo of my happy daughter and I to the group the next day, the response was all the affirmation I needed: Those happy faces were the best reason I’ve ever had to move a meeting. I might be tallying all the times I ask for flexibility, but my coworkers aren’t.
- Sometimes, go for good enough. My son is under two, which means per the American Academy of Pediatricians, he shouldn’t have any screen time. And, as a rigorous rule follower, I vehemently believe that. But on a recent Friday, I almost cried with joy when my husband walked in the door, glanced at the empty table, and suggested, “Want to order a pizza?” Without even really thinking, I said, “Yes, let’s have a movie night!” And you know what? I don’t know if it was my rebellious rule-breaking, the carbs and fat from the pizza, or the alcohol from my half a beer, but it. was. awesome. People, sometimes, just go for good enough. I am pretty sure my son isn’t permanently damaged.
- Test your stress. Perspective can be a thing of beauty. When you’re short on sleep, frazzled by stress, and generally feeling overwhelmed, every challenge can feel like a crisis. Force perspective by asking yourself: Will this matter to me in 6 months? Will this matter to me in a year? For example, an unhappy client can create a pit in a person’s stomach like almost nothing else can. But 6 months from now, at worst the situation will be a horror story I share for laughs at happy hour. At best, it will be long forgotten. On the other hand, a pre-schooler with a behavior issue or a marriage with an unmet need will most certainly matter to me in 6 months – particularly if the crisis festers for lack of tending. It can be easy to turn elements of a day upside down, giving more attention, worry, and space to the issues that will fade away over time, and less to those that might prove to be the challenges really worth losing sleep over.
- Use your time. I’ll admit it: sometimes I feel guilty taking sick days, particularly if my kids are sick enough to feel terrible and need some extra attention, but not so sick they need to be sleeping on my chest all day. Perhaps this is just the new territory of moving out of babyhood, but I often find myself stuck at a crossroads. This results in the dance of being both doting nurse and devoted employee, frantically dashing back to my e-mail and checking off tasks when my patient is resting. I’m hoarding away my sick days, for when I “really need them.” The ridiculous nature of this is that I could currently take a week of sick time. So I propose a commitment to use your time. It’s part of your benefits package. And, you may wind up taking fewer sick days in the long run if you aren’t run ragged healing your family. Or, here’s another perspective: My husband’s company launched paternity leave the year our son was born, and applied it retroactively. You can imagine some of the reactions he received when he took the six weeks to be with our nearly 10-month old baby. (Hint: they weren’t supportive. Imagine sentiments like Doesn’t your wife work out of the house? Didn’t your wife already take a maternity leave? Isn’t’ your baby old now? Are you excited about your vacation?). He took the time anyway. Nearly a year later, he’s earned a promotion and his career isn’t worse for the wear, but he has some cherished summer adventure memories with our kids – and equally important, he sent a message to critical coworkers about the part dads can play in their kids lives, and the value he personally places on his family.
So let’s conjure up some of that sass from our early teens, look ourselves in the eye, and mutter: Get over it. I know I will. And I may even make someone’s day with a surprise toddler face in an early morning training session. I know I don’t make smushed banana face look nearly as good as he does.