The Obliged

The Obliged is someone who is a primary parent and a required family income. Of women responding to the PRIMARY DILEMMA™ research, 19% identified as Obliged. This is a complicated profile with more pressure than may be recognized by many. Most of the childcare responsibility will fall on the shoulders of this person but there is also great pressure on her job. The following two stories of Clare and Molly demonstrate the strategies of two Obliged moms in managing work and family.

Clare (advertising): “My career path has been one of starting and stopping. My children have mostly been my responsibility, which was often not met with tremendous support from employers. I would end up feeling torn about the times when my children needed me and the unmet responsibilities to my employer or client.  My income is important to our family, especially with uncertainty in the economy. So it would be a big deal if I lost my job. I am often tempted to change jobs but I stay put. I guess my current situation works, even if it feels like the ultimate pressure cooker.

Molly (money manager): “I took time off from work when my kids were really little and re-entered the work force a few years ago when we started to face financial pressures for our family. Since I still carry the majority of parenting responsibility (school drop-off, cooking, shopping, packing lunches) I chose a company where I have flexibility. It wasn’t easy to find a flexible job in finance. My kids have definitely impacted and decreased the amount of time I put in at work. The perception at work is that I am on the “mommy track” instead of the “fast track”. Additionally, most of my peers are men with stay at home wives, so they have limited understanding of what I am trying to accomplish.”

Work: Your job is important!   Don’t undervalue it and don’t let others undervalue it. Simplicity and flexibility seem to be the operative words among this group in finding job success.  Find a work environment where working mothers with kid duty are valued and supported.  At work, walk the delicate balance between demanding flexibility and being mommy-tracked. You will need to over-perform to accomplish this.  Keep your employer and co-workers focused on WHAT you do, not HOW you do it.  Results are what matter.  Good talent gets recognized.  And you will too, even if you need to leave at 3pm to pick up your kids at school.

For many Obligeds, this method is transitional – bridging them through to a time in the future when their children are older and they can return to life as a Workable. For others it reflects a philosophical approach to work-family balance where work is only one part of living. If you are transitional, then make sure to choose your work roles carefully to keep your career progressing.  If you choose work but aren’t interested in building a career then choose a job carefully.  You want a job that you won’t take home.  Don’t get sucked in.  Remember that you have made a choice.  Say no to demands beyond the scope of your job. 

Be conscious of little things like commute time if you are an Obliged. A short commute can make an enormous difference in enabling the balance between work and family.  You can make it to the school play or a child’s dentist appointment, all in the course of a work day.  For more strategies on optimizing work success, click here.

Childcare: Depending on the flexibility of your job, many different childcare strategies can work for the Obliged. Your strategy can and will change over time as your children grow. Most importantly, keep it simple! You are balancing a lot. If you have multiple children, streamline the number of childcare solutions that you use. Too many plans make for increased logistics and more chance that the work-family machine will break down. Also, be careful not to over schedule your children. Too many commitments can be stressful for them and you. Kids feel stress, avoid it at all costs. Click here for more specific information on childcare in the resource section.

Relationship: You are doing two jobs – one paid and one unpaid. Communicate about this with your partner. This doesn’t mean nag your partner to do housework. But it means that you deserve acknowledgement for pulling a lot of weight around. Create opportunities for that weight to be lifted or at least applauded. Ask your partner to make a “night off” for you once in a while.  Let your partner take over as primary parent.  Believe it or not, your partner may feel that he or she needs permission to take on the primary parent role.  Give permission!  By being a little selfish, you are generously fostering a stronger relationship between your partner and children.  Your selfishness will benefit everyone!  It creates a break for you and good gender role modeling for your family.

Do you ever feel that you are sacrificing your work for the career success of your partner?  Your work-family choices may be enabling your partner to pursue his or her career ambitions.  Communicate with your partner about this dynamic.  It is healthy to have open discussion about the roles that you each play in your family and the impact that those roles have on you as individuals.  It may be a mutually attractive agreement.  But the roles that you each play need to be acknowledged and valued.   Cherlyn Granrose and Eileen Kaplan researched work family roles among women in their book Work-Family Role Choices for Women in Their 20s and 30s: From College Plans to Life Experiences.  They describe what happens when women’s roles align and disconnect from expectations.  They recognize the important influence of a spouse or partner.  For more information on managing your relationship, click here.

You: Tired? Probably. Remember, you are doing two jobs.  Make sure to have a regular schedule for sleep. As basic as it sounds, it is easy to wear yourself out. You know the drill.  You finish work, pick up the kids, come home, make dinner, and navigate through homework and bath time. At last, you put the kids to bed. Then you may get on e-mail. All of a sudden, it is midnight. Then the day starts again five or six hours later. Get 8 hours of sleep on at least 2 weeknights!  Pick a bedtime for yourself and stick to it. You will feel better, perform better at work and be a better mom. Really. 

Ask yourself the following key questions on a regular basis:

  • What are my goals and am I on track to achieve them in some form?

  • Do I feel empowered with choices to achieve my goals?

The answers to these questions should be “yes”.  But “getting to yes” is not always easy.  Think about your answers based on the contentment map.  The PRIMARY DILEMMA™ is about minimizing discontent and finding greater satisfaction in your situation.  Recognize that you have choices to change your world.  For resources to help you better care for you, click here.

Method facts:

In her book The Second Shift, author Arlie Hochschild analyzes the role of gender in the balance of work and family. She estimates that women work 15 hours more than their male partners each week to maintain home and family, on top of their paid job.