“I feel invisible to the people around me. I recognize that the institutions and systems that I am a part of require me to play a role I never wanted to play, and now that I have children I have no choice but to continue in that role. This leaves no time for anyone, myself included, to take care of myself.”
“I don’t want to constantly feel like my time and efforts are in competition when it comes to parenting and working in corporate America.”
Does the current climate feel normal to you? Over 2,900 parents, mostly Moms (97%) managing their careers (86%) and kids. Often without stable childcare (75%) have participated in our pandemic study since March 30, 2020.
Most surveyed Moms aren’t feeling the often heralded “return to normal.” They continue to assess their performance in every role but that of parent as deteriorating. And the time they spend on self-care barely registers at all. This is despite the prevalence of remote or hybrid work. Which have only allowed Mothers to invest more time in doing ‘all the things.’
Macro Conditions Aren’t Helping
Thanks to inflation and in the US, mounting assaults against women’s bodily autonomy, objective conditions have changed for the worse. So too has Moms’ tolerance for not acknowledging their challenges and bearing it all with a people-pleasing smile.
But This Struggle Breeds Opportunity
Work and Motherhood haven’t fit together for decades. So, perhaps this new era of extreme exhaustion will lead more Moms to find a voice that is polite but firm. And for employers to create a more spacious workplace culture. Where authenticity can flourish and the emotional labor of having to fake it doesn’t burn people out.
Role Confidence Continues to Skid
Not surprisingly, when we dig into the time women are devoting to self-care, the data looks bleak.
Have the Hardships Actually Increased?
Or are working Moms just less able to hide their dissatisfaction and despair since the start of the pandemic? The answers are yes and yes. Inflation coupled with recent Supreme Court decisions, have amplified women’s sense that they have no control over basic autonomy and needs – food, safety, and reproductive health.
For Many, Life Remains Far from Normal
At the same time, the pandemic opened a Pandora’s Box of frustration and despair that has not receded from sight. Despite the claims that life is “returning to normal.” Working Moms are increasingly unwilling to fake it – to hide how they’re feeling, to work overtime or attend needless meetings simply to demonstrate their commitment. Or to comply with cultural expectations they don’t believe in.
So, They’re Uninterested in Playing Along
Beyond the obvious challenges of too many demands and often not enough money, working Mothers are increasingly exhausted by inauthenticity, of having to “fake it” in their work lives and interpersonal relationships. When we asked “What rules do you NOT want to follow anymore,” here’s what we heard…
“Having to fake everything is happy and fine.”
“I don’t want to hide when I’m changing things due to kids schedules.”
“Faking it” is a Form of Emotional Labor
And emotional labor is expended not just in dealing with clients and customers, but in daily interactions with colleagues and managers. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild first used the term “emotional labor” in 1983 to describe the effort we put into managing our emotions at work.
She was writing in reference to customer service and other front-line personnel who are generally trained to adopt (or fake) the attitude that “the customer is always right.” But emotional labor is also required in dealing with colleagues and managers when complying with unreasonable demands, responding to unfair feedback, navigating organizational change, or simply working well with people who you dislike.
The Act of Hiding Stress Exacerbates it
“I don’t want to pretend everything is fine when I’m struggling.”
“Not letting people overstep boundaries that make me uncomfortable. Speak up about things that make me uncomfortable. “
And working moms are increasingly unwilling to do it. In Faking it on the Job: The cost of emotional labour. Forbes Magazine reports that according to recent research, 51% of workers who have to ‘put on a show’ are 32% less likely to love their job.
“The mismatch between how we might feel (frustrated, enraged, exhausted) and the demeanour we need to show (calm, interested, patient) can be exacerbated for people in roles where they need to show emotions or behaviour that are in line with organisational or professional codes of conduct. For example, always smile when greeting a customer. Always say thank you, even after a customer has been outright rude to you. This mismatch creates emotional dissonance and requires significant mental and emotional effort.”
So, What Can Working Parents do Differently?
As refreshing as it might be to candidly express our emotions at all times. The fact is that if we want to stay employed, we generally cannot yell back at customers, treat managers with the scorn or sarcasm we think they may deserve, or rant to and about those colleagues who aren’t necessarily pulling their weight. But there are a few potentially transformative steps that working parents can take to reduce the emotional and physiological toll of “surface acting.”
Notice Your Triggers
What are the settings and situations that require you to fake the “proper” emotions at work? Perhaps it’s the “optional” after-hours event that you feel obliged to attend. Or the standing meeting where no pressing issues are discussed, nor decisions made.
Identify the Barriers to Authenticity
When you find yourself faking it, ask yourself if you are doing it to comply with an explicit rule or policy? Or are trying to prove yourself a good “team player” or avoid rocking the boat? And if it’s the latter, consider applying all of the will and discipline that fake happiness requires to instead find a way to express yourself. Ideally, directly. But that option doesn’t work for everyone.
Speak Your Truth
In our study only 3% of Moms feel psychologically safe enough to ask their managers for what they really need. Because maternal bias is real and micro aggressions are wielded more often against women. Particularly against those in historically overlooked groups like women of color, those with disabilities or who identify as LGBTQ.
Even if it’s Through a Group
But if the trust is there, consider calmly, firmly asserting your need to do non-work-related activities after hours. Or suggesting that the needless meeting be cancelled. It may be scary, but would probably also be welcomed, by other employees who feel the same way. And if the culture doesn’t support that, expressing your needs through your Employee Resource Group, may be a lower risk way to effect some cultural change.
Breathe Deeply and Take a Time-Out
“I’ve already let go of most shoulds.”
“I am not responsible for other adults happiness and well being.”
Mette Boll’s research found that “developing relaxation techniques enabled people to not have to suppress their systemic response while still not requiring them to shout back at the rude customer.” So, whether it’s mindfulness, meditation. deep breathing or something else, tap the techniques that help you manage anger, guilt, sadness or other difficult emotions, in the moment.
When we asked women what rules they were no longer willing to follow, they voiced not just what they would stop doing, but what they’d started to do. Their answers are instructive. “I’m going to stop being told what to do, not giving the same care as I do other, stop being dependent, start moving differently, start finding myself again, start loving myself again, start forgiving myself again,” said one surveyed Mom.
This is an excerpt from our upcoming Allies@Work research report. Employers.to receive regular updates and attend briefings on how to make work better for caregivers, reach learn more about the Allies@Work program.
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🙋🏽♀️Shared your story yet? Take our quick survey to change how workplaces support parents.Tags: career management for Moms, Emotional labor, Mental Load And Emotional Labor, reducing emotional load, setting boundaries, work/life balance for parents, work/life integration