As a young adult, I decided that I didn't want to have children. It seemed to me that all my parenting friends had struggled to find the balance between work and family. And they had to deal with loads of stress, runny noses, and first-day-of-school-tears (their child's and their own).
When I made that decision, the universe probably smiled, nodded, and said, "We'll see." Many years later I met and married my second husband – who had two teenage children. Although they never lived with us full-time, they did occasionally come on vacation with us or spend time with us when we visited their hometown.
Anybody who steps into a parenting role feels somewhat uncertain; stepping into the role of a stepmom was one of the scariest things I've ever done. I had no experience as a biological parent, and the only experience I could draw on was being a dog mom!
Fortunately, we've never had an argument or a tense atmosphere because they're perfect children and we're perfect parents. So, that's all for today, folks! Nothing interesting to see here. We all lived happily ever after... I wish.
To be honest, we've had some stormy times when we all have had to navigate rough waters.
I knew from my line of work that if we didn't have guiding principles, it would put a lot of strain on our marriage. Early on, we decided that we would present a united front when we needed to deal with potentially difficult issues with the children.
From day one, we expected the children to have good manners in our house, and I've never tolerated them being disrespectful to their father in front of me. I also undertook to be my husband's "voice of reason" when emotions ran high for him.
They're adults now, so how we interact with them has changed, but we still stick to our guiding principles.
I also draw on my work experience to help me be the best "gift mom" I can be, and the following strategies have been immensely helpful.
Always have open and honest, yet respectful, conversations. It's in those conversations that we develop an understanding of one another's hurts, expectations, boundaries, and vulnerabilities.
Don't let an issue fester. If something bothers you, speak up immediately if the place and time are right, otherwise as soon as the time is right. Things don't just disappear on their own if you pretend they didn't happen. Quite the opposite.
Be accountable for what you did/didn't do. Blame-shifting, justification and denial won't fix the problem. Take accountability for what you did and do better next time. It has a higher success rate.
"Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong."Brené Brown, American professor, lecturer and author
Understand how trust works. Deposit as much as you can into the trust account by doing things like apologizing when you're wrong, keeping your word, not being two-faced, and being transparent.
Listen to one another with your heart, your mind and your ears. If people feel unheard, they feel disrespected.
Be considerate and respectful. Good manners will never get you into trouble!
And even though they're my gift children and they're adults, one of the hardest things to do is to step back, let go, and let them live their lives the way they choose to.
My fellow Mind Tools coach Mike Barzacchini shares that sentiment, and he calls it "Lessons in Letting Go." He says, "As a parent, I tried to hold on, but I learned that parenting is often about learning to let go.
"Sure, when our son was a baby, we held on tight, keeping him close in our hug. As he started to crawl, then walk, I received my first lesson in letting him go within the safe boundaries of our home, our yard, the playground, and eventually school.
"As my son became a teen and a young adult, we negotiated wider boundaries. I needed to grow my trust in myself and in him.
"Letting go built closer bonds and a stronger relationship between my son and me. Were there missteps, mistakes, and sometimes hard lessons? Of course. But each came with the opportunity to grow.
"Letting go is active. It's not ignoring or walking away. It involves listening, learning, being present, and being available. It's communicating that I support your efforts. I'm here when you need me. Which means I will help, not hinder.
"I reflect on these same lessons as a manager. So I resist the urge to hold on to control, to my idea, to directing the project with a tight hand. Instead, I let go. I trust the talent and judgment of my team members. And by letting go, we build a stronger team and produce better work.
"Maybe the bigger lesson is this: the more we trust ourselves, the more we are able to trust and support others, as parent, partner, co-worker, and manager. And the more we come to see the active process of letting go as a strength that can benefit any relationship."
During our recent #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed different perspectives and attitudes when applying parenting skills in the workplace. Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:
@Midgie_MT Definitely yes you can build both at the same time. I believe it helps to have a good support system in place, both at home and in the workplace, to help with managing things.
@J_Stephens_CPA Absolutely yes! It's easier when your company supports you. And it's great to see more companies supporting women in their roles of career and family now, too (but still more work to be done there).
@ColfaxInsurance My husband and I have been seriously discussing having children and these are the big questions we've had: how will this affect our careers? What do we need to do to accommodate kids? What is our work willing to do to accommodate us?
@ZalaB_MT I think it depends on many levels – from the type of work you do, your schedule and your attitude towards work. As a parent, I'm rethinking my work-life balance daily. I know my priorities at work, but I need to align them with my parenting "duties" and care.
Since becoming a parent my boundaries are a lot more solid when it comes to working commitments. I am more adamant about saying no [to] things I can't fit into my schedule. I'm also more "let's get to the point" because I'm much more cautious with time.
And since becoming a (working) mum I've given myself some slack. I limit the number of things to put on my to-do list and will not allow my work time to eat into my private life so much anymore. Afternoons are allowed for "us time with my daughter," and work can wait.
@MikeB_MT I'm not sure if "negative" is the correct feeling. But there's always a friction to do "more and better" both at work and home. The truth is we're human with limited energies and resources. That's why it's important to seek balance.
@SoniaH_MT I'd imagine the negative feelings working parents experience include: guilt (for not being as available as you'd like); separation anxiety (new baby leave time is too short); inadequacy (wanting to give your child more but cannot).
@Yolande_MT If I had to speculate, it's probably the feeling of accomplishment that you're taking good care of the children you brought into the world (or adopted) by providing a secure environment. Maybe it's that you get to go home to a little person that thinks the world of you? (That's before the teenager emerges who thinks you're the most embarrassing person on earth… LOL)
@MikeB_MT I try to bring experiences from both sides of my life into the other. It's wonderful to celebrate the parents and families of my co-workers. When I started in my job, our son was four. Now he's 26 and I've seen so many of my colleagues start and grow their families.
@ZalaB_MT Work and parenting clash daily! You cope daily, finding solutions and getting through the hurdles and setbacks. I'm grateful to have the freelance type of work and to have great clients who understand and a supportive family – to arrange things when needed.
@SoniaH_MT The first parenting & work clashes that come to mind would be about unscheduled leave: needing to take off from work at a moment's notice for your child's school's early closing or delayed opening, or child's health or disciplinary issues.
@SarahH_MT I love that comparison. We should absolutely recognize it takes the "workplace village" to ensure new staff are properly settled in. Too often it's left to HR or the line manager but everyone should make sure new staff are nurtured and feel loved.
@ColfaxInsurance Oh definitely! Introducing a new member to the team and its atmosphere, settling them into their particular role, training, and helping them find their rhythm in the group is an all-hands-on-deck situation.
@Midgie_MT Sometimes we can all have child-like behaviors so having a firm "adult" approach to the situation sometimes is needed. Yet, it is not a manager's responsibility to "parent" their employees.
@ColfaxInsurance "Parenting" a team member is to take on a mentoring sort of role. If they're struggling and you have the ability to help, by all means, offer your expertise. If they don't want it though, back off. I can also see this becoming an issue with the "parented" team member becoming complacent/co-dependent/lazy because the "parenting" member does everything for them.
@Dwyka_Consult It's learning to balance push and pull, holding on and letting go, being there without smothering, showing care without being patronizing or overbearing.
@J_Stephens_CPA Encouraging them when things don't go right the first time. Accepting when they "fail" at something new. We don't expect the kids to be perfect, we shouldn't expect it of anyone (including ourselves says the "recovering" perfectionist).
@Midgie_MT Although not a parent, I've certainly learned when good is good enough, when doing something to the best of my abilities is fine and to let go of perfectionism.
@Yolande_MT Parenting taught me to keep in mind that the child's experience of a situation isn't the same as mine – and it's something I should consider when interacting with them. Working with people taught me that every coin has two sides – and very often they're not "right" or "wrong," just different. Ditto the kids.
@SarahH_MT Shouldn't we best support people by asking them how we can best support them? We don't need to overcomplicate it, just remember that what they may need is likely to be different to what a non-parent needs. Treat people as individuals with individual lives.
@J_Stephens_CPA So much of my office came together around us when my youngest was 18 and spent that January in the hospital. Gift cards for meals, visits to see and encourage him (the hospital was around the corner from my office). Allowing me to work remote part of the day.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.
Good parents demonstrate the importance of "fair play" by showing their children how to learn from their losses and celebrate their successes. Leaders model this behavior with their teams. During our next chat, we're going to talk about hilarious career moments.
In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know what the biggest benefit of humor in the workplace is.
Please note that you'll need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.
Working Moms and Daddy Day Care – the Hidden Side of Co-Parenting
Handling Long-Term Absences in Your Team
Putting Your Parenting Skills to Work
How Should Organizations Treat Working Parents?
How to Juggle Caregiving Responsibilities and Work
Lifelong learning is not rocket science. It doesn't need to be perfect and polished. There are, however, two decisive factors that we need to consider when it comes to the success of lifelong learning.
"The act of being your own coach begins with positive self-talk! The day you start learning from your mistakes, you will become your own coach!" - @SaifuRizvi
Mind Tools coach Mile Barzacchini gives his top tips on journaling, and we hear from our Twitter followers about their daily writing practices.
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