“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” – Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities.”
The first half of my tale is from the days after the birth of my son, in what I now realize was an age of foolishness.
Robert was born late on a Friday night, at a point in my career where my schedule involved putting in long hours, even on Saturdays. A while after Robert’s arrival, I headed home from the hospital to reflect on this joyous time as a new parent, and to sleep.
I awoke a few hours later to the telephone ringing. It was my manager. One of the team had called in sick. He was desperate. Could I come into work? I pointed out that this was far from ideal. But, such was the pressure I felt from him, combined with my eagerness to please, that I agreed.
However, I felt that I had neglected one of my first duties as a parent, that I had let down my partner, and that I had failed to assert myself. The phrase “act in haste, repent at leisure” could never be more true.
My actions stuck with me for a long time. I look back at the event as one of my worst times at work and an even worse one as a parent. I could rationalize things by seeing that I was swamped in a macho culture. But I still struggled to forgive myself.
For many years after Robert’s birth, my work-life balance was heavily weighted in favor of work: the long hours continued; the feeling of guilt at being a largely absent parent grew; and my resentment toward my career and place of work increased too.
Moving the clock forward about 15 years, I found myself in an age of wisdom. Well, at least, an era of increased enlightenment. I was in a new workplace, on a team managed by Flora, a stressed workaholic but, also, a great manager of people and a brilliant colleague.
Flora seemed like the sort who was wed to the job and who would continue to be so for ever. But, within a short time, she was both married (to Nathan) and expecting her first child.
New Role as a Parent
There was much speculation in the office about how Flora would cope with her new arrival. Her thirst for work had shown no signs of diminishing during pregnancy. But, those who doubted Flora’s ability to combine her role of new mom with that of dynamic boss were soon silenced. Flora returned to her role a few months after the birth of Kirsty with the same gusto.
While Flora’s enthusiasm and work ethic remained, the long hours were gone and, so it seemed, was the stress. They had been replaced by a new efficiency, calmness and productivity. Sure, there were one or two frantic calls to the nursery or to Nathan when things were running late at the office.
But, by and large, Flora handled the transition with aplomb. She achieved a work-life balance that she was happy with by knowing what she wanted and by being assertive.
Now, our situations differed insofar as I was at the beginning of my career. Flora, on the other hand, was a bit older and a bit nearer the top of the hierarchy. But this story does illustrate big changes in the work environment in a relatively short space of time. And it also highlights the starkly different approaches that Flora and I took.
Changing Culture and Priorities
First, the work landscape and culture. These elements have transformed since the 1990s, when Robert was born. Organizations are more flexible and amenable to the demands of the labor force, particularly in areas such as paternity leave. The culture is far less patriarchal and, thus, the pressure to be the dominant male has diminished somewhat.
But, my main failing in trying to deal with the arrival of children was ignoring its potential impact, and not assessing what I really wanted from the situation. If Mind Tools had been around at this time, I could have made good use of its resources. Time management, assertiveness and setting personal goals are key areas to look at when trying to manage this kind of personal transition.
They are skills that Flora was able to call on with ease, seemingly. She negotiated a good deal for both her and the organization. And she quickly turned a “not enough hours in the day” situation into an example of excellent time management.
She’s also a pretty good mom!
Have you made the switch to being a working parent? How was it for you? Share your thoughts and tips in the Comments section, below.