When I started my career as a journalist more than 15 years ago, I drew a hard line between work and life. I never mentioned family obligations when negotiating deadlines or time off. I was horrified should a client or source hear my husband in the background during a call. When I became pregnant I only told a very few trusted clients. When my daughter was born, I made every effort never, ever to answer the phone in her presence on the off chance a professional contact may hear her coo or whimper or toot. I was terrified that motherhood would diminish my professionalism.
Like so many women, I was insecure. I fretted that should I allow my family life to bleed into my professional world, I would be perceived as less of a professional. I was terrified business would suffer.
But in the past few years I’ve turned that habit upside down. Now I find myself casually chatting with clients about my children, being honest in the rare event that a sick kid or snow day requires a rescheduled meeting. I suggest you do the same. Here’s why:
1. Being true to who I am opens connections. When I chat about my kids, I share a piece of who I am as a person — not just a worker. Most adults are parents themselves, and those who are not either aim to be or have other children in their lives they love. Family is the great connector, a fundamental human experience that unites us all. Research finds that people like to do business with people they like. When I momentarily gush about my kids, I give a glimpse of one of my best qualities: motherhood. In those moments I am more than a vendor — I am suddenly a whole, warm human. A person who other people like to deal with.
2. It sets boundaries. Once in a while a client or vendor will ask for a meeting at 6 or 7 p.m. my time. I will say, “I am with my kids at that hour – but I can call at 8:30 after they’re in bed.” This lets people know they must respect my time and priorities, which include my personal life. But the alternative hour suggestions also lets them know that I am flexible and committed.
3. It is part of my duty to lean in. When I worked so hard to draw the iron curtain between work and family, I buckled to the old, sexist paradigms that diminish women in the workforce. I played into the notion that a good mother is less of an employee, and that family life compromises work quality. Now, even subtle declarations of my priorities set a precedence for women everywhere. For feminism.
And so I challenge you: Take a stand — a stand for your family, for your life and for the movement. Mention to the client: “I got a great idea for our project from a new initiative at my son’s school.” If your mom is having an unexpected health crisis and requires you negotiate a deadline, share honestly the reasons. And if a boss is unreasonable in her demands, let her know — politely, professionally — that you have personal obligations that limit overtime.
The caveat is that you must still deliver. Family cannot be an excuse for shoddy work. Instead, reveal the role your family plays in your life as a means of being your most authentic and best self — as a mom, professional and a feminist.
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