It hit me in March, as I swapped notes with senior editor Liz Fedor about her cover story on the working mom juggle: I hadn’t planned my kids’ summer.
I hear the gasps of fellow working mothers.
Ask almost any mom with school-age kids and she’ll tell you: Summer is actually more stressful than the school year. (All due respect, dads—every study indicates, and my own experience supports, that women in dual-income households still do most of the planning, and the lion’s share of worrying). Summer means weeks and weeks of unstructured, unsupervised time to fill. Transportation to figure out. Rainy days to account for, because your meetings don’t get cancelled even when tennis lessons do. For some, concern about where their kids will get lunch; for others, guilt over too much screen time.
For those of us professionals who don’t employ full-time nannies, the planning begins almost as soon as the holidays end. Calendar reminders must be set to register for camps that fill fast. Spreadsheets are required to track different programs for each kid because few run the entire summer, or even an entire workday (a 9–11:30 a.m. art class?!).
“We try to find the ‘forever’ solution. Women often think, ‘I’ve got to step back or step out.’ But everything is temporary. Is there another option?”
—Kristen Kimmell, RBC Wealth Management
Last year at this time, I was in the process of undoing all of that advance summer planning: requesting a refund for baseball training, opting out of adventure camp. Without any of the usual structure, many of us modern (read: overscheduled) families experienced a true, old-fashioned summer for the first time. Kids riding bikes, drawing in chalk on the sidewalk, swimming in lakes. It worked (sort of) because parents were at home. Bosses understood that without one form of childcare or another, you might need to skip that 4 p.m. Zoom to coax the kids off the couch with a quick game of basketball.
As I now attempt to enroll my soon-to-be 13-year-old in a couple of summer programs, only to be met with the dreaded “FULL” notification, I see we’re headed back to summer spreadsheet mode. Sixteen years into this parenthood thing, I’m kicking myself for making the rookie mistake of not planning early. But the experience of a quarantine summer, coupled with a hybrid school year for the kids and my husband and I still working from home, lulled me into complacency. Or, hopefully, a new reality, as my company, like many, has announced that the future is hybrid. I envision a summer in which it won’t be difficult to shuttle my younger son to a playdate or even one of those two-hour art classes because I’m working from home or planning office hours around his schedule—rather than the old model of trying to keep him occupied for the duration of a traditional work day. I can accomplish a lot of focused work early in the morning while the kids sleep in, and rather than feeling chained to my desk all day, I’m hoping to occasionally go for an afternoon paddle in the kayak that became our pandemic salvation last year.
Read more from this issue
Flexibility needs to be more than where we work. We need to talk more about the how and when. We need to feel comfortable fashioning professional lives around the personal, and not the other way around. We need to know that we won’t be penalized for talking about it. Because when you’re less stressed and guilt-ridden, it’s easier to do better work, too.
In prepping for our annual TCB Talks: Women in Leadership (virtual) event on April 20, I’ve been speaking with our panel of experts—four executives who know well the struggles and trade-offs inherent to a big career. Kristen Kimmell, RBC Wealth Management head of advisor recruiting and field marketing, told me about the time a manager warned her that her career would be “limited” if she left at 4 p.m. to pick up kids from preschool. At the time, she says, she panicked. Now that her kids are in their 20s and her leadership role is well established, she sees how quickly life stages pass. “We try to find the ‘forever’ solution. Women often think, ‘I’ve got to step back or step out.’ But everything is temporary. Is there another option?”
Smart leaders are thinking seriously about what Kimmell calls the “third option.” Job sharing, flexible workdays, child care support, the option to take a leave—it’s all on the table, says Thrivent president and CEO Teresa Rasmussen, who is also on our Women in Leadership panel, along with 3M global chief marketing officer Remi Kent and Hormel vice president of digital experience Leslie Lee.
Rasmussen says the key to success is not to be scared of failure. “Just about everything is fixable,” she says. “We’ve got to be willing to try new things, create a new environment in the workforce.”
I hope this issue, and our upcoming TCB Talks event will provide some ideas to ponder with your colleagues, whether that’s back in a conference room or around a picnic table at a park—within sight of your kids swinging from the jungle gym.