5 Secrets for Balancing Work and Single Motherhood (Number 2)

Posted by admin on Nov 4, 2009 in Tips for Single and Partnered Parents |

Number Two: Know what your needs are and make sure you communicate them to the people you work with.

I have failed myself in determining my needs and sharing them with my work colleagues so many times, I decided to stop counting! When I first became a single mom, I tried my best to hide everything in my personal life, especially challenges related to being a full time mom and a full time executive. And you know what? It was a lot of work. I was constantly busy with trying to project an image of how buttoned up I was. Here’s what I’ve learned in the aftermath: 1) it’s too much work to lead a double life; 2) give the people around you a chance – you may be surprised by how helpful they are.

Before you can share your needs, you have to know what they are. Do you know what your “must- haves” are as they relate to your job? An obvious one is financial security; if your job leaves you financially insecure or doesn’t seem worth your time, it’s probably time to re-evaluate your options. Given our economic times, you will have to be patient and realistic. But your options could include speaking to someone you trust in the organization about your pay, looking for a new job on the side, learning a new skill, networking with others in your field or trying to pick up a second job.

Another key “must-have” for the single moms I know is flexibility. For me, it usually means something different depending on where I am in my life and where my daughter is in hers. Remember, an absolute “must-have” is not the same as “I really would like…” Let me give you some examples.

When I was going through my divorce, two items on my absolute “must-have” list were no more travel and the ability to work from home when I needed to. I switched out of my role as a consultant into an internal role helping to run one of our consulting practices. This move came with a significant pay cut (“I really would have liked” it if it hadn’t!). But my “must-haves” were met, I was happy and I could focus on getting the rest of my life in order.

At another job, my “must-have” was the ability to pick up my daughter from school three days a week. I was in a senior executive position myself. And my boss was the third most highly paid person in the company. I eventually told him what my “must-have” was. Guess what happened? If we were in a meeting and the clock hit about 4:10, my boss would look at me and say,” I know it’s your day to get your daughter so I will make sure we end this meeting by 4:15.” I was floored – and so, so happy. In return, I made sure that I did what I said I was going to do when I said I was going to do it. No ifs, ands or buts. And, when I did have the bandwidth to do so, I also put in a little extra. Sometimes that meant opening my laptop again after my daughter was in bed. Other times, it meant work on Sundays. It still wasn’t as simple as a bowl full of chocolate pudding for me – there were a couple of people who sighed heavily every time when they saw me leave at 4:45pm on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Too bad for them. It was very uncomfortable for me when they sighed – so too bad for me too. But I really wanted to be able to pick her up from school, so the trade-offs were worth it.

Now, you may not work someplace where you feel you can communicate your needs openly – which is fair. No one knows your situation better than you do. But I challenge you by asking, are you certain? Because in the story I shared up above – the one about me leaving at 4:45 three days a week – I originally turned that job down and didn’t communicate any of my needs to anyone. My boss called me up to his office three times to ask me why before I broke down and told him. In one long sentence I explained that I couldn’t manage sudden travel or deliverable requests, even if it was the CEO asking because that’s not how my life was set up; and I was alone, so if anything happened with my daughter, I would disappear; and I wanted to pick her up from school; and… Do you know what he did? He told me his must have list (integrity, strategic thinking, setting and communicating my own due dates, delivering high quality work products) – and I took the job! Thank goodness he did this for me because it was an incredible experience. I was lucky. And I learned my lesson about communicating my needs.

Just a small word of caution on communicating needs…no one wants to hear anyone else’s drama all day at work – whether that person is a single mom or not :-). However, letting the people around you know that your nanny is on vacation for a week and so therefore you may be late as you piece your week together is probably a good idea. In fact, you’ll be less stressed because you won’t be trying to cover something up all week! Plus your co-workers will know what to expect.

So please, take a few minutes and jot down what your needs are. If you want input, feel free to bounce it off of me or a couple of friends, and then share it with your boss and your team. I know you can do it. No one will be satisfied without clarity, especially you.

Talk to you soon in post number #3 on balancing work and single motherhood!

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  • Rebecca says:

    I think the single best thing about becoming a single mom has been the realization that I don’t have to do everything and that people will help out. Heavens knows I’d help out a friend in a bind without batting an eye, but it was an eye-opener to realize people would do the same for me. It takes a village….

  • Swati says:

    You are so right Rebecca! I’m the same way. I think sometimesI move so fast, I forget to stop and ask for help. Or, I feel like I “should” do everything myself. I’ve been happy to find that when I do ask for help, I’ve never been told “no.” I think I’ll tape a note on my forehead to remind myself to ask…

  • Swati says:

    Hi Everyone,

    I had to share this with you…my boss, the one I spoke of above, who was so respectful of my need to pick up my daughter from school three days a week, has been reading my posts (which is really such wonderful support!). He wrote me an email in reply to this post and I decided to share some of it with you:
    “…your point is spot on. Don’t whine but explain the situation and lay out “how things can work”. You would be surprised at how much a focus on results, rather than the how and when of achieving them, pays out. Also being absolutely ruthless on prioritizing those FEW things that really make a difference really matters and most of us can
    find it easy to be lazy in this area.

    The final point -that you do not make- is that exceptional talent needs nurturing (coaching, listening, understanding, freedom, space, crediting etc ) because exceptional people will always deliver exceptional results. What we forget is that everyone has an area where they are exceptional…. you just have to find and grow it. Most people do not take the risk to discover or uncover it.”

    Be well all.

  • Johnny B Good says:

    This is really great advice!! I have managed teams with working single mothers in the past and also was a working single father (ok don’t shoot me) at the same time. So, when working single moms who worked for me needed to flex their time or step out to take care of an emergency, I asked them to do two things. First, let their team know that they need to leave early – come in late to take care of their family with my full support. Second, be open with their peers that they were putting their family first and were flexing to balance both family and work. I found that everyone, single working or married working struggles with this balance and by being flexible, open and working together as a team we always overcame any gaps. I learned that when people overwork, neglect family issues, and don’t communicate that we ended up having unexpected problems. The challenges faced by working single moms in my team actually made all of us more aware of the importance of juggling work and family, so communicate and get the team involved!!

  • Swati says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts as you can see this challenge from both points of view – as a leader and as a single dad yourself! I am certain that everyone on your team, whether they were single parents or not, appreciated your flexibility and openness. Sound like a great work environment!

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