Our household balance has gotten out of whack…

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The balance of chores and family responsibilities in our household seems to be getting more and more unbalanced and I’ve been reflecting on how we ended up here.   You see, it certainly wasn’t always the case.

When my husband and I first started dating (a long long time ago), we both still lived at home.   My husband’s mother was an amazing wonderwoman.  I don’t think i ever saw her sitting.  Not only did she work full time, but she put 150% into caring for her house and family.  I remember being in awe of her, but also thinking “I’m never going to be like that” (you know, those kinds of judgements we make, and then realise later in the life, that we have landed exactly where we never thought we would!).

I was, after all, a new age university graduate who thought she was going to conquer the world.   I specifically made a point of saying to my husband (then boyfriend), that I would not be an amazeballs wife like his mother.  That I expected us to share things equally and he totally agreed.   I remember one incident on our first holiday together, when he asked me how to do the laundry.  I was annoyed that he “presumed” I knew how to use the washing machine when he didn’t.  So even though I did actually know how to use it (!),  I pretended not to know and told him to do it.   And when he produced an entire wash load of newly dyed hot pink clothes,  I didn’t rant and rave and call him an idiot…i simply sigh and said “Oh no, how did that happen”…and through his own incredible investigation skills, he suggested perhaps he should not have washed the clothes with his brand new red t-shirt.  Lesson learnt the hard way.

And so, when we moved in together, the chores were split pretty evenly.  There was even a time when he injured himself on the job and had to take 6mths off work.  He became a real househusband, cooking and cleaning while I went to work.

Our first baby came along and I took 6mths off work to care for him.   My husband also took 6 weeks off work because our son started his little life in special care and I needed extra help.  So, together, we figured out how to look after this new little person and manage the house.  When I went back to work full time,  my husband arranged his shifts so he could look after our son one day a week, my parents looked after him another day and thus he only needed to be a childcare three days a week…which was an arrangement we were all comfortable with.  And our household continued to be quite balanced,  each of us of taking on the household chores and parenting in equal parts.

I suppose it was the arrival of baby number 2 when things started to shift.  Our daughters arrival coincided with my husband moving into a new role at his work,  a male dominated alpha environment where long hours, being “on call” and regular trips away were part of the package.   Our daughter was a challenging baby, 3 mths of crying nearly threw us both over the edge.  I couldn’t bare the thought of going back to work after 6mths this time, I was exhausted.  So I used all my long service leave in order to stay off for 9mths.  And then when I returned to work,  this time we agreed it may be better for me to work part time in order to juggle our now bulging priorities.

And so the gradual shift of power began.

In “Overwhelmed” by Bridget Schultz,  she talks about the power of underlying pre-conceptions we all still have about what it means to be the “ideal worker”, the “ideal mother” and “the provider father”.  That despite all our best intentions (like in our case),  the power of these ideals drives our behaviour, often without us even noticing.

Gosh, this is all starting to sound incredibly familiar…and kinda scary.

Somehow, we have come to a place where  I do 90% of the household chores, I am “in charge” of the family and house as well as working four days a week at a demanding corporate job.  Because I work from home, it seems to make sense for me to throw some washing in the machine between meetings, and take the dog for a walk at lunch time.  My husband has to start work early so I do the morning ritual, getting kids ready and to school. Cleaning up the kitchen.  When my husband goes away (which he did for 3mths last year),  I have learnt how to do everything on my own.

My husband is incredibly appreciative and grateful.  He tells me I am amazing and he doesn’t know how I do it all. Which only serves to fuel my fire and pushes me further.  I find myself scurring around the house trying to vaccum and clean before he gets home, because he is always notices and is pleased.   I know he is often stressed (physically and mentally) after work, so I don’t want to throw the kids at him the moment he walks in the door.  So even though I have also been at work all day, I throw myself into cooking the dinner and watching the kids,  whilst he has a bit of chill time to watch the news or catch up on facebook.

I have become what I always said I wouldn’t.  I have unconsciously been being driven by the need to demonstrate that I can be both the ideal mother and the ideal worker.

At one point I remember my husband suggesting maybe he should consider going part time.  I didn’t give his suggestion any thought before shooting it down (I love having that one day per week where I can really pretend to be the ideal mother, walk the kids to school and bake cookies…he couldn’t take that from me).  I know he wants to spend more time with our kids.  He tried to coach the football team last year but the drag of the “provider father” and “ideal worker” on his conscious, keeps him committed to work whenever they need him.  I’m immensely proud of the work he does and I’m always encouraging him…even when it may be to detriment of our family.

Now…don’t get me wrong in all of this.  We are both incredibly grateful for everything we have.  We have discussions about our future goals and where we are heading. We both love our jobs and we love our children.  But I’ve suddenly realised that I am responsible for taking on more than I should have and now I’m finding it hard to give it back.

And as I sit here and contemplate how I got here…I realise that is exactly the point.  I don’t know because it was never intentional.  Back in the “good old days”, I knew what I wanted and I was pretty clear about it.  So it was far easier for us to work with that.  But since then, I haven’t re-established what exactly my goal is, I haven’t asked for what I want (quite frankly because I haven’t stopped to think about it).  And when we don’t stop and think,  act with intention, those slippery old traditional models start to mould their way back into our lives.

So just like I have with my work, and with other areas of my life.  It’s time for paper and a pen (Ooo…an opportunity for list writing…woohoo)… what does my “ideal” household look like, how does it feel.  And when I have my husband stuck in the car on our next trip (I love driving holidays because we always have the best conversations when we are trapped together for hours),  I can ask what his ideal household looks like too.  And together, we can set some strategies to get us there.

Let’s start with unpacking the dishwasher shall we?

claire2

I am successful BECAUSE I work part-time…not DESPITE it

parttimeAs the end of the year draws near, I’ve been reflecting on my work and pondering whether I should be considering increasing my working hours back to full time next year.  I’m really excited and inspired by all the work I am doing and I would love the opportunity to step up to some more leadership challenges,  to take that next step on the Executive ladder.   And I can’t do that and work part time…can I?

When I think about my full time colleagues,  it seems like perhaps they are more committed to work.  Because they are available Mon-Fri,  doesn’t that make them better candidates for leadership and clearly they can achieve more than me simply because they have more hours to get work done?

When I started to gather together my achievements recently for my annual performance review,  I was pretty proud of some of the things that I have been able to achieve this year.  Despite working part time, I have still delivered some amazing achievements and been able to move the business forward.

But wait a minute,  working part time has allowed me to more effectively juggle all the priorities I have and ensure I’m spending my time doing things that are important to me.  And this commitment, has actually made me uber productive. I know I only have a finite time, so I have become a master of wading through the work to find the big hitters, the things that really matter.   I’ve successfully managed to attend 95% of the critical meetings at work,  but I’ve also been there when my daughter got her merit certificate, I’ve been the driver on the walking School bus twice a week and I’ve carved out time to start doing more writing.

Usually, by the time my “day off” comes around, I’m starting to feel a little wound up and stressed about work,  those work deadlines feel daunting and ominous.   But then I take some time out,  focus on some of the other priorities in my life,  like spending time with the kids,  exercising and writing my blog.  These things inspire and excite me,  so then when I am back at work on Thurs,  I have re-energised, and I have a healthier perspective.  I know that work is important but it’s not everything, which ironically, makes me better at it…because it is easier to keep a calm and clear mind ( I know I know…there are many days which are nowhere near calm,  but just imagine what I would be like if that was my whole world, I would be going bananas)

When I stop and think about it.  My success at work is not DESPITE me being part time,  my success at work is BECAUSE I work part time.  By feeling more in control of where I spend my time and energy,  I’m BETTER and far more productive at work and I have managed to achieve great things.

So now I want to prove to the world (or maybe just myself!) that you can work part time, and be a successful leader in the corporate world.   To break the notion that the ideal worker is someone who works 9-5 Mon- Fri and maybe a couple of weekends and evenings every now and again.   That the ideal worker is 100% committed to work as their top priority above all else.    Maybe at some point in my future,  my priorities will shift and working more hours at my paid job will be the right thing to do.  But right now,  the balance is right,  and just because I have made that choice, doesn’t mean I don’t want to excel or go forward…so watch out work…here I come (except on Wednesdays…ha ha)

claire2

Stop making excuses…

parttimeThis morning I stopped myself mid sentence,  because I was about to break one of my golden rules.

You see… when I first started working part-time,  I felt really guilty when I was leaving the office before everyone else or when I couldn’t join a meeting because it was outside my agreed hours.   I had heard so many stories of other part time workers ending up working on their days off and late at night to catch up on commitments,  that I was determined to set good habits right from the start.   But I found myself constantly trying to explain myself and then feeling guilty (I swear I saw my full time colleagues rolling their eyes at me and I wanted to prove I wasn’t a slacker)

“I’m really so sorry I can’t get that work done,  I have to go pick the kids up from childcare, and then tonight my husband is away and I won’t be able able to get this done until Monday” 

“You’ve suggested a meeting on Wed, but I’m afraid I work part time and I don’t work on Wed,  I could do it if we really have to but in the morning I take my toddler to swimming, so I really can’t do that time”.  

I felt constantly guilty.

Then, someone gave me some great advice which I implemented immediately and it made the world of difference…stop giving unnecessary explanations.  Even when you work full time,  you can’t complete every job or attend every meeting, you have to make choices.   The discussion should not be about whether you work part time or full time, or what your commitments are outside of work,  it is about prioritising what needs to be done in the time that you have available.

And so I did.  Simply as that.  And it changed everything.

I’m not hiding or pretending to be someone I’m not.   And sometimes, I do have to pull out my family card and lay it on the table.   But mostly,  if I stop and think before I speak…I realise that what I’m doing outside of work is really not relevant or the point.  When work needs to be done by a deadline,  which I can’t achieve,  I work with stakeholders to re-arrange priorities or push out deadlines…not “because I work part time” but simply because the goal cannot be achieved in the timeframe provided.

Of course, I am fortunate enough to work in a flexible work environment where part time work is not uncommon.  But I think this one simple change helped not only to shape my perception, but also change the working culture around me.  Because when I’m not blaming part time work for not getting things done,  no-one else is either.

This one little tip I think has really helped me to drop some of the guilt around working part time,  which, quite frankly,  I carry enough of already…so this morning when I went to say  “unfortunately I can’t do the meeting on Wed because it is my day off”…I stopped myself midsentence and said instead ” unfortunately I can’t do the meeting on Wed….how does Thurs sound? or I’m free on Friday morning, what works for you?”.  Simple.

claire2