“What can I do to help?” These words spoken from young lips are music to any mother’s ears. I have four children, 22 nieces and nephews, and 9 godchildren, so the odds are favorable that I hear that phrase on occasion. It always warms my heart.
We hosted 33 for Thanksgiving last week. The sheer number of our gathering is testament to our many blessings and our many reasons to be thankful. Twenty-seven of our family stayed overnight, and 17 of them were “the kids”. (I use quote marks because many of them are technically adults now). As I savored many moments of “Aunt Susan, how can I help?” I pondered the significance of the question in the context of my work.
My focus and passion for over two decades has been helping women return to work after opting out to raise children. One thing I know for certain is the surest route to failure for a woman-returner is not having enough support at home. A woman gets herself work-ready, lands a great job, but then has no plan in place for how all the tasks that occupied her long days at home will be accomplished when her long days are spent in an office. (Kelley makes sure no one who takes our course falls into this trap!)
For example, I placed my friend Sue in a 6 month IT consulting assignment about ten years ago. Sue had three adolescent children and had been home raising them for 15 years. One day, mid-assignment, I asked her how it was going. She loved it – everything from getting dressed up again and having adult conversations, to tackling tough problems and feeling a true sense of accomplishment when she solved them.
But one benefit of returning to work had surprised Sue, and she described it this way: “With me back at work, my kids have really had to up their game. I didn’t realize how much I’d been doing for them. They were helpless!” Sue’s kids were paralyzed when she told them they would have to make their own lunches in the morning. Like many of us, she had been doing things for them that they could (and probably should) have been doing for themselves – simply because she was home and available. Of course, they figured out how to make sandwiches – and are well-nourished college students as a result, today.
I had my own ‘aha’ moment when Tucker, went off to college. Tucker is an ‘absent-minded professor’ type. Brilliant in matters of the mind, not so brilliant in matters of the home. In November of his first semester, he ventured down to the laundry room to do his first load and called me, concerned, with a list of basic wash-related questions. His final question: “and how do I get the liquid out of the package (i.e. pod)?” Suffice it so say, his three younger siblings were instructed, that day, on how to do their laundry.
From that day forward, my load was lightened – literally and metaphorically – freeing up more time to focus on my other work: career.
So, in an effort to help other moms achieve better balance, I’d like to offer my four tips for kids to help mom have a smooth and successful transition back to work:
1 Pitch in on daily chores.
Mom does a lot more than laundry. Watch her for a couple of days and log what she does – Shopping? Cooking? Shuttling? Cleaning? Yard work? Scheduling? Tutoring? Bookkeeping? Bill Paying? Planning? Hosting? – and start offering to take over the things you can do.
2 Offer Tech Advice.
You are a tech native; your mom is not. Even if she was an IT exec before having you, chances are she is now relatively illiterate. Don’t wait for her to come to you in a panic; offer to help her with her résumé or LinkedIn profile. Volunteer to give her a crash course in software that’s germane to her job interests.
3 Encourage Her.
You know how she cheers through those tedious, hot and humid little league games; the earsplitting violin recitals; the hours-long swim meet where you are only in the pool for 50 seconds? Well, channel mom’s enthusiasm for everything you do and give it right back to her. Show your enthusiasm for her decision to go back to work. Be interested. Ask questions. Offer help. And let her know you believe in her just like she believes you.
4 Keep Her Company.
Networking on LinkedIn and searching job sites can be lonely work. Invite mom to sit with you while you do your homework so you can stay motivated together.
And, if you are ever in doubt, just ask: “Mom, what can I do to help?” Then watch her smile.