Why do Moms get stressed about managing unplanned time off from our jobs to care for our kids?
Childcare struggles aside, it’s because of Perception.
The wheels won’t stop turning just because you missed 3 days to take care of your child with a fever. Yet, we certainly let ourselves feel like it will.
It’s all because of how we perceive others judgment. We worry what co-workers and bosses will think of our time off. We feel guilty because our peers don’t (or at least we think) miss as much work as us.
That pressure is piled on because it is not deemed acceptable to miss work because our kids are sick. How insane is that?!
If you work for a mainstream company chances are your employer is not actively encouraging ways to accommodate parents when their children are sick. Or maybe daycare is closed on an off holiday like Columbus Day but you and your significant-other still have to work.
And even if the company does provide benefits such as work-from-home options, our peers and sometimes our managers have a less than welcoming mindset.
Judgement Stems From Stereotypes
When my husband asks to take time off or a half day to care for our ill child, he is met with doubting remarks, such as, “Really? What about your Wife?” The stereotype that a wife is a primary caregiver, even if she has a full-time job too, is living strong.
Dual-income families have been on the rise over the last 30 years. In 40% of families, Mothers are the breadwinners. The data is telling us Mom is working too, but our company cultures are clinging to a family organization from the 1950s.
How’s that for contradiction?
Since our business cultures are not up to speed, the Modern Day Momma needs to…
Stop, the guilt. When you feel guilty about taking the necessary time off to care for your child because of workplace perception, you are not able to be your best self.
This can impact your mood and increase irritability which directly affects the home life.
Have you ever felt resentment or anger towards your spouse on this topic? It’s OK to admit it! In fact, our frustration is likely driven by our guilt derived from workplace perceptions and we often misassign those feelings to our partners.
It is easy for Moms to channel that guilt towards their husbands because we perceive them to expect us to stay home. We get to be the default parent, right?
This may or may not be true. We are taking common stereotypes and applying them in our home, sometimes not even giving our spouse the opportunity to defend themselves.
As I mentioned before, my husband receives more outward responses than I do if I have to take care of a sick child. He is very much a part of a company that perpetuates the thought of a one income family. He experiences pressure, just as I do, but in a more direct form.
You see, when the guilt and stereotypes consume our emotions, we are not in control and it negatively affects our loved ones and increases arguments. This goes for both Mom and Dad.
- Step outside of the guilt
- Take control
- Then assess your family needs
Agree to Plan Ahead
Planning ahead of time is great practice because it allows your family to plan without emotion.
If you are planning the night before, you’re likely totaling up all the hours you’ve taken off and using it as an argument against your spouse. While he’s laying out all the important meetings he has to attend the next day.
Both parties can have valid points but with emotionally charged discussions filled with preconceived guilt, how are your going to get to a decision you both feel good about?
Chances are slim to none.
Set A Time
Pick an annual time each year where you can sit down with your school/daycare calendar and map out which off holidays and teacher workshops will and will not be covered. Assign how they will be covered: will it be a babysitter, grandparent, spouse, etc?
From there, assess one another’s vacation time and layout a plan for unexpected time off when your child may be sick or injured. If you’re like me, I am always better off if I conceptually plan for it.
I could take the first 5 sick days and have no resentment towards my husband as long as I *mentally* planned for those days. But catch me trying to get things covered last minute and I’m not going to be the happiest wife. Know your triggers, plan for them.
Tell Your Employer
Give your team or boss a heads up, they might still judge when the time comes around but you’ll feel a heck of a lot better knowing you laid out expectations. You certainly don’t owe it to them, but it’s one way for you to feel more at ease.
Giving your boss the heads up allows for you both to brainstorm alternatives. If you don’t have a laptop for working remote, maybe you get set up with one knowing that you anticipate for unplanned time off.
If you transition to a new job or get a promotion, NEGOTIATE!
This is your opportunity, negotiate a flex schedule, a work-from-home plan, or more vacation time (paid or unpaid). If you are a valuable employee you are in the driver’s seat in this position, but if you don’t ask – you won’t get it.
Do yourself and your family a favor, ASK. If you want to negotiate, definitely research and ask for advice from experienced working Moms beforehand, you want to go in with an optimal strategy.
Secure a Caretaker
If taking unexpected time off puts you and/or your husband in a tough spot at work, look for a backup sitter. This may be a neighbor that lives within walking distance which comes in handy on snow days!
If you work from home or are able to secure a laptop for the days you need to take off, make sure you are clear about your hours.
A rule I set for myself is that when my son is sick, he is my top priority. Obvious? Yes. Easier said than done when balancing a sick kid and work? Yes.
I will work when/if he naps or in the evenings when he is asleep.
I’m clear and upfront about my time and hold my ground if conference calls do not fall within that time. And guess what? People can always rearrange calls. Don’t sweat the small stuff!
You set your boundaries; if you are not clear upfront it can come off as confusing to your manager and team which doesn’t help your case.
Accept and Move On
The last piece of advice and really the one that has the most impact for me is to acknowledge the guilt.
I do this because this is a testament to my work ethic. I am concerned with my perception and I do not want unexpected time off to take away from my value and productivity.
By acknowledging this, I realize that my self-inflicted guilt is also what makes me a valuable employee. It’s the internal drive and expectation that I set for myself; realize it and then move on because when you’re back in the office you know your productivity levels will be on high.
Pass It On
If there are other Moms that you manage, are on your team or work in your company, make sure you don’t contribute to the negative culture. Find a way to use others time off as a means to promote a positive message about caring for the family.
If you do manage, ensure the Moms and Dads or your team do not feel stressed about time off, the culture you choose to grow will strengthen or weaken stereotypes. Choose wisely or it will cost you a productive team.
Finally, I want to end this post with a quote I come back to time and time again as a Working Mom:
Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends and spirit. And you’re keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life. -Brian Dyson, former Coca-Cola CEO
Let’s hear from you! What are your best strategies for managing unplanned time off? Share in the comments so other Moms can benefit from your success!
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