Does approaching your boss for more time off to care for sick children or respond to a snafu at school make you feel like
prairie girl Laura Ingalls quaking in her boots before the Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly?
I know lots of women who feel just like that and I bet that sometimes you do, too.
Once you return to work as a parent the pressure to prove yourself seems never-ending. You may be learning a new job, adjusting to a new supervisor, even a new team with childless colleagues who seem wholly dedicated to their careers.
“She’s not happy unless everyone around her is panicked, nauseous or suicidal.” Andrea, The Devil Wears Prada
Your boss is unlikely to be as fierce as Miranda Priestly in the Devil Wears Prada. And I bet that you don’t always feel as meek and unassuming as young Laura in Little House on the Prairie (if you even remember that TV show from the 1970’s!!)
Negotiating for flexible work arrangements so you can attend school functions, help your family get over the flu or recover from several sleepless nights yourself, can be daunting. When you’re anxious about your place in the team and wondering if others think you’re not pulling your weight then the prospect of asking your manager for a favour, might have you fantasising about a stony response a la the well groomed Miranda.
So, gird your loins and consider these 3 approaches:
Invest in the working relationship from Day 1. Communicate early with your supervisor about her expectations of you and share your expectations with her. Let your boss and relevant team members know if your family is going through some upheaval and that you may be distracted. You can maintain your privacy and limit the details you share if that keeps you comfortable.
Ask for help or advice. Many working parents quail at this because they fear judgement by their boss. Rather than focusing on the power imbalance between you and your manager, approach this discussion as an adult-adult interaction rather than a superior-subordinate one. As an employee of the organisation you make a valuable contribution and you’re entitled to seek guidance or support. Avoid being one of the 35% of surveyed employees who avoid seeking help when they need it (research by LinkedIn). Supervisors generally welcome questions and requests for help because it shows commitment by staff to improve their performance.
Take your manager’s point of view. In preparing your request, consider your manager’s priorities and pressures. Leave out the small talk, make your request and then offer a way to make up the time or complete a project elsewhere to say thanks. Be prepared for a NO. This is a negotiation and you’re not guaranteed to get exactly what you want.
Manage your emotions. Feeling super stressed or worried about your supervisor’s reaction will inhibit your ability to speak up and to listen to her response. Fear and guilt can make us predict failure unnecessarily or it can make us irritable and easily angered. Self talk or writing down your thoughts is useful here. You can spill out your thoughts, emotions and expectations and then test them to see how realistic they are. Use this worksheet based on cognitive bheavioural therapy to challenge unhelpful thoughts and expectations.
Still feeling a little wobbly about asserting yourself in the workplace? I can help.
My passion is working with women who have children and are working outside the home. My dream is to see a community where mums feel like they’re rockin’ in all their different roles. If you would like to talk over your unique situation and make a plan to feel more confident and fulfilled then please reach out:
By phone for an old fashioned chat: 0492 918 646
By email at email@example.com
You could keep it anonymous and visit the website
Or you could check out my facebook group Working Parent Wins.