Supercharging my career and nurturing my family at the same time has always been a struggle for me… until I brought my children out of the closet and into the workplace.
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Last week, Professor Robert E Kelly and his two mischievous children starred in one of the funniest viral videos of all time. The whole world laughed when, in the middle of a live BBC interview, Professor Kelly’s children burst in to the room and hilariously upstaged him.
If the clip has, by some miracle, passed you by, here it is in all of its side-splitting glory:
Yes, it’s pretty funny. But let’s face it, how many times have you closed the door on your children, locked them away in a (metaphorical) closet or pushed them away when you had to perform your professional duties.
In reality, we’re constantly keeping our families behind closed doors so we can get on with our working lives. For years I have felt the need to downplay my family commitments in order to be seen as a serious career professional.
My stress levels were continually going through the roof. I was gliding over the surface with style at work, but paddling like a crazy duck under the waterline in an attempt to manage all the demands of my personal life.
But a year or so ago I decided to bring my children more visibly into my work life and it has made a big difference to me, my children…and – most importantly – those I work with.
My first foray with bringing my children to work was to take my son to Europe’s largest procurement conference, ProcureCon, Berlin. I was a speaker on a panel and thought it would be a great chance for my son to see me in action. So much for him learning about my work: he didn’t look up from his iPad once! I don’t think he learnt a squat about what I did, but at least I made the effort. Importantly, I was really touched that people were positive about my son attending the event.
One of my fellow delegates sent me this note –
“You and I met in Berlin last month at the ProcureCon Europe Conference. I admired how you were able to be real without dropping the ball on exuding leadership and kindness! But, I think that what really impressed me was that you brought your beautiful son to the conference, he was so sweet and shy! In bringing him with you, without realising it, you managed to reflect what most women go through when we have to work long hours or travel a great deal, away from our families and loved ones. There have been times that in my travels or long hours I wish I could just have my babies near me…the guilt of being dedicated to the person that makes me who I am, can be a bit heavy. But we all do, both men and women, to provide for our families, while at the same time try to get something out of the sacrifices that we may have to make. So, I sincerely thank you for bringing your son with you.”
My second foray was to take my younger son to listen to a speech I made at the Australian Embassy for Future Leaders. When I asked him about the experience afterwards, he thought about it and said, “The lemonade was great”. Another breakthrough (not)!
I know not everyone has the same flexibility as someone who runs their own company. However, as business leaders, we can do a lot to help manage the stress levels of working parents. We need to walk the talk and recognise that everyone has priorities (and not always children) that compete with work.
Here are my four ideas on how we could stop hiding our children at work and build more fluid relationships between work and home.
1. Talk about Family
In the early days of parenthood I never spoke about my children in the workplace because I wanted to be seen as “professional”. When I first started sharing small amounts of information about my family, I realised that most of the people I worked with were parents too and could totally relate to my plight. In the right circumstances, sharing family stories has actually helped me build business relationships.
2. Take your children to work
I have lived through so many tough days when I felt I really had to be in two places at once. For example, having a “career-changing” meeting planned (luckily these are few and far between and the skill is in knowing which meetings really count) and, just as I was about to get started, receiving a compelling, competing call for my attention, from a family member. These were the times when my stress levels reached an all time high and I started to think that the only solution was to quit my job and focus solely on family.
Working from home is widely accepted on these types of days, but if you were still wanting to fulfill your work obligations for just one or two hours, wouldn’t it be great if we were “allowed” to bring our family into the office?? I can hear the pressure valve release at the mere thought of it!
3. Put children in the picture
We need more imagery of children in the places where we are building our careers. Perhaps you’ve seen the image that went viral of a US Professor who picked up and carried a crying baby during a lecture? He calmed the child, allowing the class to continue and, most importantly, the parent to complete the class.
Some of the most popular photos of outgoing US President, Barack Obama, have been with children within the White House, which is his normal place of work. We need to see more child-friendly work imagery.
4. Remember – Everyone has priorities
Having said all of this, working parents need to be cognisant that we aren’t the only people in the universe with priorities competing with our work. Whether you’re a parent of one, four or ten children (heaven forbid!) or even if you don’t have children, everyone struggles at times to manage their personal and professional lives in the best, and most healthy, way possible.
What we can do, as people who understand these struggles, is to be understanding of every individual, make accommodations where possible and offer flexible working environments. That way, we’ll get the most out of our happy, stress-free team!
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