Stretched Too Thin

Stressed by SodanieChea

(This post originally appeared on Leading By DESIGN’s Leadership Matters blog, which is written for alumni of our LEAD 365 program. I am part of the LbD team and want to share our posts with you.)

A few weeks ago I borrowed a book from my sister about making time for self care. Not surprisingly (and somewhat ironically), I haven’t had time to read it. I don’t consider myself very busy compared to many of the people I work with. Sure, I work a lot of hours, but my work hours are flexible, I have just one child, my husband and I both work from home quite a bit, and we hire people to clean for us. But still, I have very little extra time.

I specialize in coaching women and emerging leaders, and I’ve seen a trend in the women I’ve coached over the last seven years. Many of them are incredibly accomplished in their careers, have small children and equally busy partners, and prioritize their own self care absolutely last. I’ve been wondering about why this is, and how, as a coach, to help. There are no cut and dry answers. Every individual is different, and every stage of life presents its own challenges.

I’ve noticed a theme over the years in the women I described above, a theme that breaks my heart. Many of them willingly sacrifice their own self care because they do not believe that doing things for themselves is important. Some of them might have one night a week out with friends or on a date. Some of them don’t even feel that they can do that. Many have long lists of things they would do if only they had time: read more, exercise, get a massage, learn something new. And some of them can’t remember the last time they allowed themselves to take a nap just because they wanted to.

So what does this have to do with leadership? Session 11 is all about personal management, what we now call Leading Yourself. What I hope to see from the amazing women in my life is that they recognize that taking care of themselves, whatever that might look like, is not selfish—it’s crucial. Good self care recharges our batteries and lets us care for and lead others in a healthy way. Good self care reminds us who we really are in the midsts of crazy-busy lives. Good self care requires us to stop overfunctioning for awhile (something I see a lot of leaders do whether or not they are in the demographic I’m talking about today). It requires others to step up to the plate while we take that nap. Most importantly, good self care demands that we give ourselves the grace that I see so many of these women give to everyone but themselves.

Part of the challenge, I suspect, is that parenting young kids is so time-intensive and demanding, and it changes our lives so fully that by the time we figure out that it’s okay to park them in front of the TV for a few hours so mommy can have some quiet time, we’re already out of that stage. Another part of the challenge is that the world feels so incredibly free to judge parenting decisions, especially in early childhood. (Google “consequences of bottle feeding” sometime if you want some entertainment.)

But here’s another reality that makes career and motherhood really tough: Many workplaces, while eager to support women in all stages of life in the workforce, struggle with the reality of having moms of small children at work. A laughable number of women in my life share stories of using their breast pump in the storage closet, sitting on the floor with their back to the door, because there’s no place else to pump once they go back to work. This isn’t malicious on the part of the employers, in fact some of those employers have recognized this problem and made significant changes to add private rooms for nursing or pumping, which is awesome. It’s more indicative of the changing culture, and the time it takes for the practical needs of moms of young kids at work—pumping breast milk—to catch up to our stated values of supporting women in all stages of life contributing to our workforce. But we’re getting there, I think.

So what do we do with all this? I don’t know. How’s that for an answer? But it seems to have a lot to do with grace—both for ourselves and for those around us—and it seems to have a lot to do with being real about our needs—both with ourselves and with others. It has something to do with refusing to feel guilty and with choosing not to overfunction, hard as that is. It has something to do with choosing to show up in our living systems in a different way, because trying harder won’t change a thing.

So what about you? How are you complicit in the challenges I outlined above? And what steps might you take to lean in in a different way, in a way that might start to change this living system  and this reality for so many working moms of young kids? Because although this is an issue most prevalent for working moms, it’s really an everyone issue, and what we’re doing now isn’t working, for anyone. Tough questions, but worthy.

Image by SodanieChea. Used under CC by 2.0 license.

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