“(My boss) doesn’t seem to understand the difficulty of parenting multiple children with little support and trying to find time to care for ourselves.”
“Our teams can’t be so lean that we don’t have the option to take care of ourselves and our families for fear of not meeting the schedule.”
“It would just be nice to be seen for all the extra I am putting in in order to do an excellent job. I don’t have to be excellent so it would be nice to get the acknowledgment that I am going above and beyond what I was initially hired on to do.”
We’ve heard from over 3,500 parents, mostly Moms (97%) since March of 2020. It’s probably not surprising that the majority, cite dialing back their career ambitions, somewhat (44%) or a lot (43%) post-kids. Although it’s still far from equal, there are more women in leadership than ever. Yet most workplaces aren’t female or family friendly. Which leads to a lot of invisible sacrifice, especially in senior positions. And for women of color, the climb is steeper, and we’re more likely to face mission impossible assignments.
Yet, we still want work that fuels and fulfills us. And after years of pandemic chaos and economic pressure, nearly one third (31%) in our latest survey wave want career advancement. So, how do you overcome the barriers to your mental health, as you ascend professionally?
Know That it’s Tiring to Pretend
“(I) feel like they will judge me and think I can’t do my job well…”
“(My boss) works herself to death so when anything is brought up we’re basically told to learn to deal with it and our feelings and concerns are shot down.”
“…We are strapped for people so sharing my discontentment won’t make more people appear.”
Most work cultures value responsiveness over real productivity. So, we invest a lot of energy to demonstrate that we’re working. Like taking part in reply-all-madness or providing instant responses, to questions that can wait. Not to mention marathon meeting days and late night emails. Even though studies show that frequent interruptions, from all of this performative communication, are the enemy of deep work. Very few managers know how to enable it. By creating the supporting culture, psychological safety, expectations or structures.
And ‘Make Do’ Without Support
Dr. Nicole Christian Brathwaite, Psychiatrist, Health Equity Leader, and Advocate said, “Although we look to get into those executive roles, we’re frequently put in positions where it’s difficult to be successful.”
This phenomenon, called the ‘glass cliff’ is when women, and particularly women of color, are brought into high profile roles, but set up to fail. She added, “We’re not given the tools or resources that are required. So, we end up working harder and then, if we’re not successful it’s either feeding into the stereotypes, or somehow our fault.”
So, Beware of the Cliff
Most workplaces run on obscure hidden rules that are exhausting to follow. And Moms are more likely to bear the emotional labor trying to conform at work. As Nicole explained, when we internalize these invisible requests, to meet unreasonable protocols, we spin in circles. And after the laptop is closed or you’ve left the building, it’s still there. That thought about the project, colleague, boss or deadline. And too much of this pressure, for too long, can lead to burnout. So, how do you protect your mental energy from the strain?
And Draw Clearer Boundaries
Pre-pandemic, it always felt like we were hiding Motherhood from the ‘office’ and vice versa. Although compartmentalizing has its downsides, healthy boundaries are necessary. To create more space for your needs, activities, and identity, beyond your job.
Nicole said, “One of the things that has been shown to reduce burnout is having a clear delineation between work and home. When work tends to bleed into our private lives, then it feels never ending. And there’s no real escape from the pressure and stressors.” It’s challenging, especially when many of us work from home at least part of the time. Can we completely tune work out?
Because the Playing Field isn’t Even
Okay, probably not. Because modern work and Motherhood are consuming. And many of us internalize that pressure to prove ourselves in both domains. Nicole said, “Any intervention that impacts the way we work, whether it’s the frequency or intensity, can be challenging. Women of color, have to work twice as hard to be acknowledged. Sometimes even that twice as hard does not get us the results that we deserve.”
Bias and discrimination remain rampant in the workplace. And the more ‘otherness’ you have, the worse the numbers are for leadership representation. Which often makes the task of finding mentors, allies or sponsors, formidable.
Maximize Your Breaks
The US is among the most challenging countries in which to work and parent. Even though parenting accelerates many prized leadership skills. And despite having less paid time off (PTO) than our peers in other parts of the world, we rarely use all of it. Although the pandemic has been devastating, it’s led to more employer awareness and support for mental health.
And Your Compensation
Remember, your employer isn’t giving you that PTO as a gift, it’s part of your compensation. Nicole said, “In the same way your CEO goes on vacation and doesn’t even look at his phone, you should have that same privilege. Vacations are typically earned and so, you’ve earned this time to not work.”
Few people get compensated for 24/7 availability. And Moms already pay the ‘Motherhood penalty’ in the form of less money. So, if your mental health isn’t a strong enough incentive, consider the financial value of your vacation, nights, and weekends, as the reason to step away.
To Become Present Where you Are
Nicole said, “If you’re able to, as much as possible, leave the most difficult or stressful parts of your work at work. So, you’re able to be present at home and your brain is more able to compartmentalize and shut the work off. You might have just as many stressors at home, but it’s much more difficult to have to manage both.” Amen!
Remember, refueling isn’t only about your comfort or happiness. It’s about your mental and physical health. Burnout, anxiety, and depression are at crisis levels and Moms are disproportionately affected. So, find the strategies that work for you to reframe how, when and how often, you work.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Nicole Christian Brathwaite!
⏰ Ready to put yourself back onto your to-do list? Take a TimeCheck.
🙋🏽♀️Shared your story yet? Take our quick survey to change how workplaces support parents.
⚖️Employers, ready to rewrite hidden workplace rules? Become Allies@Work
Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, MD is a Board Certified Adult and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She has significant clinical experience with adults, children, adolescents, transitional and college aged youth. After graduating from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she joined the Adult Psychiatry Residency Program and then completed fellowship in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at Massachusetts General/Mclean Hospital. She is the Head of Clinical and Medical Strategy for Headway. She is also the Founder of Well Minds Psychiatry and the Co-Founder of SecureMeLink, a safety app to support the health and safety of clinicians and medical staff.
Nicole regularly provides radio interviews and speaks to the community about mental health and wellness, particularly in African American communities. Dr. Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Advisory Board for the Post Partum Depression Fund of Massachusetts. Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Board of Directors for Families for Depression Awareness and servers as Clinical Consultant to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Lesley University, William James College, Massachusetts School Administrators Association and numerous other public and private schools and universities.
Tags: Achieving Goals, Manage Stress For Moms, mental wellbeing for Moms, Moms Growth, Moms Self care, Stress Management for Moms, work life integration for Moms