From the Editor: Professionalizing parenthood
By LINDSAY MYERS — This one is for the stay-at-home parents.
Imagine you are about to be interviewed for a job with a new company. When you walk into the manager’s office, you notice that the place is a mess. Empty coffee cups on every surface. Papers piled haphazardly on the desk. The manager is nowhere in sight. When she finally strides in, she’s frazzled. Her hair’s a mess, her blouse is stained, and her eyes are glued to a phone as her thumbs race over the keyboard. She looks up at you with surprise and then realization. She apologizes for being late while trying to clear a place for you to sit. While she searches for your resume among the stacks of papers littering her desk, another employee pops his head in. “Sorry to interrupt …“ he starts, before she cuts him off. “Jason, are you serious?” says the manager, not even looking up. “Can’t you see that I’m busy?” The employee leaves, and the manager finds your resume. She turns on a big smile, “Sorry about that,” she says. “Now, let’s talk.”
Would you take the job?
A manager sets the expectations of the office, and ought to conduct herself by those same expectations. When a manager appears dishevelled and flustered, when she is two days late with reports and when she treats the people in her office with exasperation, she shouldn’t be surprised when her employees start behaving the same way. The manager, as many of us have probably experienced firsthand, largely determines the culture of the office and has the power to turn a dream job into a nightmare.
I recently attended a conference on motherhood where one of the speakers challenged us to think of the work we do at home as analogous to the work we do in the professional world. Outside of the home, appearance, deadlines and interpersonal conduct matters. Those who succeed professionally do so by looking presentable, showing up on time, knowing when and where to put in effort in and by treating their coworkers with respect. If you are a stay-at-home parent, is not your home your professional space? Are you not the manager?
At some point in the last 10 or 15 years — perhaps with the explosion of the blogosphere — it has become cool to be the stressed-out mom who just needs another cup of coffee. And maybe you’ve been there. Being married, raising kids, keeping a home — these things are hard. There are days when I am so overwhelmed by the pressure of being needed all the time that I start counting the hours to bedtime at nine in the morning. On days like this, I am my worst self. I snap at my kids. I keep a fire of ill will burning for my husband who gets to leave the house every day. I wonder how a another version of my life would look.
But once the crises of the day have passed and things are quiet again, I recognize that days like this are days when my emotions have overcome my faith and reason. Faith tells me that my role as a stay-at-home parent is important, even if I can’t always see the fruits of my labor.. Reason tells me that there are logical steps I can take to mitigate the chaos. If I were assigned a seemingly insurmountable task at work, I would find a way to conquer it. I would show up early, ask for advice, make a plan, and take advantage of the resources around me.
Why can’t I do this at home?
If I resent being yanked out of bed by kids and drinking lukewarm coffee every morning, then I ought to get up an hour earlier. If I know my kid starts melting down an hour before naptime, then I ought to grocery shop at a different time. If I have fallen into the habit of looking like a slob, then I ought to make time to throw on a little mascara and a cute sweater that isn’t stained with snot.
Presentation and delivery matters, even at home.
Part of our job as stay-at-home parents is to show our kids that we like what we’re doing. If we want our kids to value family life we have to show them that it’s worth it. I want my kids to know that I like my life and recognize the importance of the role I play. I want them to know that any resentment I feel comes from a place of human weakness, not from a lack of love.
Just as the manager determines the culture of the office, a stay-at-home parent uniquely determines the culture of the home. Let’s apply the same professional dedication to our home lives as we would to a dream job. Happiness — our kids’ and our own — hangs in the balance.
Lindsay Myers is the Web Manager at the Hyattsville Life & Times. She works from home (when she can!) as a freelance writer.