Breaking the Working Mom Brules
I just finished the book “The Code of the Extraordinary Mind” by Vishen Lakhiani, Founder of Mindvalley. Within the book, Vishen introduces the concept of “Brules” or bulls**t rules. Though I am not a fan of made-up words, I can appreciate how telegraphically this one articulates the manner by which we tend to operate by a set of rules defined by others (i.e. parents, society, religion, peers, etc.) which may not be conducive to our own success, happiness and fulfillment. He urges the reader to question these Brules. So, I did. And specifically against a paradigm that I believe is still inhibiting the full realization of gender diversity amongst business owners and leaders: the Brules of being a working mom.
I am not a feminist, but I do believe there is a difference between how moms and dads approach their work-life balance as well as how they are perceived by others when making choices here. I also firmly believe that this is a key factor that holds qualified women back from achieving the full potential of their ambitions. This blog is focused on addressing these Brules with the intent to inspire a mindset shift that will enable ALL qualified individuals to rise no matter their gender.
- Brule #1: Moms must prioritize family over work. I was listening to The Ed Mylett Show where he was interviewing the founder of Reebok, Joseph William Foster. One of his last questions was: “Was it worth it? All the sacrifices…the time away from your family? If you could do it all again, would you?”. Of which he replied that it was and he would. This struck me as interesting because I have never heard of anyone asking this of a female business leader. And why? Because it isn’t acceptable in society for a mom to sacrifice her family for her career. They are just expected to do both and if push comes to shove, then the career takes a back seat. Which is why we still have the classification “working mom” but not “working dad”. The judgment moms face in choosing their career over family has led to the biggest epidemic amongst working moms…mom guilt. And the only way for moms to overcome this guilt is three-fold:
- We are meant to be more than mothers. This is the most critical belief needed to shift the mindset. It seems like the care-giving gene is intrinsically tied to the X chromosome giving females a double-dose. Combine that with the fact that females carry the children, it explains why a woman’s priorities tend to shift so dramatically (and more than men’s) when we have children. It is why you hear so many stories of single moms changing the entire trajectory of their lives while you rarely hear the same story told of single dads. That being said, if we allow it, it can start feeling like the only reason we are on this earth is to be mothers and caregivers of others. And the biggest shame of all? This same care-giving mentality is what is so desperately needed for businesses, companies and the people within them and impacted by them to thrive. Which, ironically, makes moms ideal candidates to be business owners and leaders. What if we nurtured our careers like they were one of our children?
- Firm belief that it takes a village to raise a child. And the child benefits by having others around (dad, other family members, babysitters and caregivers, etc.) to teach, guide and love. A real-life example, my daughter Corinne was asked very last minute to play in a soccer tournament in Indianapolis after we were just in Indianapolis the prior week for another tournament. I asked if someone could take her as I already had plans. Of course there was a bit of guilt there as I prioritized my own plans over going to watch her play, but my plans were important to rejuvenate my spirit and save my sanity. So, Corinne went with another family. This turned out be a great decision because not only did she revel in having a bit of independence, she ended up bonding with the player she went with and they are now great friends. Village drives community.
- Being ok when work has to take precedence over your kids’ functions. This is a conversation I had with my kids starting at an early age when I was called out by them for not being able to attend all the classroom parties like the other moms. I explained simply that mommy worked because she felt like it would help her be a better mommy. And that I was like the teacher of my office and they counted on me. I asked them to reflect on what it was like when their teacher wasn’t there? But then I also committed to 2 events a year for each child and made them as special as I could with girls dinner and ice cream after. The spirit of this conversation remained the same as they got older even if the context changed. With both girls in sports and a demanding career, there was no way I could take them to or attend everything. I hired a nanny. But, I made it a point to attend the important events (as aligned by both sides) and always made sure someone from the village was there if I couldn’t be. What was important to me was not to compromise myself or their experiences, so I hired a nanny to chauffeur them around. If I ever get around to it, I am committed to starting Uber for kids just for this service. They are now almost 18 and 15, and I can say with confidence that there is no regret or resentment on either side.
- Brule #2: Maternity leave is a set-back. Though many businesses would deny it, there are too many stories from too many moms that prove this is still a reality. The reason this continues to be the case is because progression is marked by the archaic metric of time. Now, is there an argument to be made that a person needs to show consistency of results over time and that there is an element of learning and growing into a role? Of course. But what is equally true is that top performers don’t become sub-performers by virtue of the fact that they were gone for 3, 6, 9 even 12 months for having a child. But many are treated as such and even penalized for it when they return and are surprised to find out that their progression has stalled or even regressed because of a lack of “deliverables” while they were gone. This myopic snapshot compromises talent development and succession planning as it doesn’t take into account the long-term potential of the person. Where 3-12 months in a 30 year career is a mere drop in the bucket, the penalization in the moment is so catastrophic, it makes it virtually impossible to catch-up, keep up and remain ahead of male counterparts who do not experience such a penalty.
I applaud companies who have started offering substantial paternity leave. This is a step in the right direction. But the time dads take off is never substantial enough to impact their progression. And even if it was, women would always need enough time off to recover and nurture the newborn. So, really, until men can take the responsibility of having babies, women shouldn’t be penalized for having them.
- Brule #3: You have to do all the “mom” things to demonstrate you care. To further exacerbate our mom guilt is the feeling that if we aren’t doing the traditional “mom” things, we are failing. I can cook, but I don’t get any enjoyment out of it. And after a busy day, the last thing I want to do is cook. So, my husband Tony does most of the cooking. But if he doesn’t, I am really good at DoorDash. When I am craving some time with my daughters, we will do what we call “girls dinner” which is going out to the likes of FUSIAN or Chipotle. I feel my energy is better spent visiting with them than cooking for them. This mentality has also led me to have a house cleaner for the last 18 years. A clean house that is ALL clean at the same time brings me peace and creates time for family or career. The last time I checked, there are no bonus points for doing the work yourself. The caveat here is you have to give up on it having to be done the way you would do it. Actually, this is the caveat to all traditional “mom” things that you decide to outsource.
The other part of this Brule is the school constantly barraging you with requests.. Here are a few tips I have learned in my 18 years of being a mom to streamline the effort yet still do your part:
- At the beginning of the school year, donate enough of whatever they ask for to last the entire year and then forget about it. For example, if for in-class parties you know they will ask for paper plates, sign-up for them and send enough for all the parties with a nice note that says “my contribution for the year.”
- Instead of considering every school volunteer opportunity, choose 2 (generally one in the first half and one in the back half) that gives you the most enjoyment and don’t feel guilty about saying “no” to the rest. Let other moms and dads do their part.
- Don’t feel like you have to be part of the mom-cliques so your kids can make friends. They can choose their own friends, and learning how to make friends is a huge part of building social IQ and EQ.
- Commit to one-touch emails. Meaning, if you get a request from the school, take care of it right away or put it on your calendar to address at the appropriate time. In this way, it doesn’t take up mindspace.
I am sure these 3 Brules are only scratching the surface. We would LOVE to hear what working mom Brules you are facing and conquering. Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we may feature you on our social media. It will take all of us to shift the mindset and clear the way for working moms to rise.
–Anne (working mom)
Anne Candido and April Martini are the Co-Founders of Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency focused on helping businesses quickly capture the hearts of their customers without breaking the bank. They believe in “real-time brand-building”, which delivers strategically-informed execution, creating immediate business impact while also developing equity for systemic growth. And since their team consists of an extended network of talented freelancers and boutique agencies, they do not require hefty retainers and contracts to do it. Contact them via email: Anne@Forthright-People.com and April@Forthright-People.com.
Check out our podcast! Marketing Smarts. From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so that you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so that whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.