The unspoken Slack

NOTE: Written almost 4 years ago. Never published it then.
I had a severe bout of imposter-syndrome, not-doing-enough and waking up everyday with the “i-missed-the-train” feeling for over a month. Somehow this post i never published helped me recoup. And i felt it is something i should share, since it is one of those thing that is not mentioned enough times!!
To All you slacking young-parents

My husband was laid off today. It was a surprise when only recently his annual review had gone well and he was entitled to a lump sum bonus, which he will still receive, along with a nearly comfortable period of compensation. My husband was always on the call of duty and gave 100% to his work. Even with fatherhood throwing some stressful challenges during the third month of my son’s nursing strike, when getting a few ounces of milk into him just to make sure he survives was a battle. He juggled work, part time MBA and fatherhood at that time. And not to forget be supportive to his wife who was undergoing severe breakdowns from mothering-nursing challenges and encouraging her to keep her job and look for new opportunities, instead of buckling down under pressure.

What was in fact not the surprise was my husband was ONLY giving 100% to his work during this period. the remaining 100% that is expected out of you was given to his family. So when he must have been weighed against a highly performing group which was giving 200% to their work compared to him, he was a logical choice.

In my 7 years of employment in 3 different companies so far, I have watched and learned this trend especially in this competitive economy. The first company my husband and I worked for 4 and 5 years respectively was a medium sized startup. The 2008-2009 time when many were losing jobs and the NYC stock exchange was slumping like never before, our company was in a sweet spot since we were making technology that was in line with the emerging market of data phone usage.

My husband and I had only a mortgage we were committed to. And we were working nearly 70 hour weeks and giving the 200% that is expected. You are always expected to over-perform to keep your job. We also over-performed, because we loved our job and there was nothing else that was pressing for our attention in those years. It helped us keep focus. We rose ladders pretty fast we well!

By the time we inched to 2010, the company’s visions were shifting or lacking and what could have been was starting to look bleak. During these years, we made many good friends and worked with many different colleagues. There were mothers who were spending more time pumping than in front of their PCs. There were pregnant women who were giving 100% but rushing back home in evenings to pick up their older kids from day care. There were dads who had to WFH because their kids were sick and werent available to answer questions I had for them immediately.

I should have made a mental note of these things back then, as a phase of young parenting, but it all comes back to me only now. When the first round of layoffs were announced, the ones giving 100% and a few under-performers were on the list. Back then to me, as the one slogging hours in the lab and continuing to work from home, the mother who completed her tasks on time, but rushed out at 3 pm to pick her son, came across as a slacker to me.

Things began to change soon after. The company was treading towards maintenance mode and work was starting to enter lackadaisical mode. And my husband and I feared the all eggs in one basket situation for us with regards to immigration and I made a jump to a big corporate, while my husband began his part-time MBA.

When I announced that I was resigning, lots of efforts were made to make me stay. There was a minimal financial compensation that was promised and given. There was a different array of projects that I was told I could head or work closely on. It actually felt great that my work was valued, but the decision was made to not wait till the company closed its doors and threw us all out and we are hanging in limbo without a stable work visa.

It was probably the last time I was ever valued so much for my work.

The first few months in the corporate went well, I was learning new things. The 40 mile drive was brutal. But i managed. And very soon, as this particular corporate is notorious for, a strange bureaucracy set in. There was restructuring, projects came and went. Projects worked on were randomly shelved. It was any employee’s nightmare. There was a general lack of morale. It didnt matter if you worked 200% or 100%. Many times it was even tough to find the opportunity to work 200%. There was work, there was angst that deliveries were not going to meet the date, but there was no proper delegation. there was Chaos and no visibility.

I started to reconsider making a move from this pet-peeve of “not enough work” but ironic chaos of “lots needs to be done”. Only to soon find out that I was pregnant. And like that I made my foray into the ‘supposedly-slacker’ work-life of young parent.

I eased into the feeling. Even till 8th month i drove in because staying home drove me mad. I worked on a project which I had to wrap since it was shelved multiple times in various stages. I bore through it with constant reminders from myself and extended family that all I needed to stress about was my child right now.

By the time my maternity leave began, I was far far away from associating myself as the 70 hour work machine. I wished like so many other mothers that maternity leave was atleast a year long and not the unfair 6 weeks. I remember hearing the story of a distant cousin whose child is a teenager now and she is a vice president of a company; she had skipped hopped and returned to work in 4 weeks after birthing. I couldnt associate myself with that at all, although her story had inspired me before and few months into pregnancy.

I am not saying every mother drops her dreams or will to work as soon she enters motherhood. I am simply stating, young parenting is a really tough phase and it requires 100% of your time. So when you are juggling multiple things, something is sure going to slack or come across as slacking. Like Indra nooyi mentions, there is the guilt and then there is priorities. The balance may take months or years to reach.

I once reveled to a friend on how magnanimous Google is even to new mothers. They offer 6 months of maternity, which is a far off dream for many working mothers in the US. She told me that mothers don’t take more than 4 months, which is like the unwritten accepted time. Mothers who have returned to work even after 6 to 8 weeks of break will tell you, how tough it is to find your bearing. I am not talking about the leaving-your-baby-in-someone-elses-care trouble here. I am talking about finding your worth in your job.

The world works on competitive opportunities and unique skill sets. 6 weeks is more than enough time for someone else to take your spot and limelight. The dependency they once had on your work would have shifted hands very easily in 6 weeks. And many of us go for the 12 weeks maternity leave and I will leave it to you to figure what becomes of her real “requirement” when she returns to work.

I have often noticed mothers change jobs or change teams soon after maternity leave. I did too. In my case, I was long overdue for a change and it was also my attempt to escape a sinking ship. But it mainly stems from the apathy that sets in which seems to say “you are not missed here anymore”, which can very well translate to “you are not needed here anymore”

Unlike what many internet memes and posts will tell you, fathers undergo a slump as young parents too. It is not like for a man, work will always be his first priority. A child burning with fever will always come before his important meeting. even if he manages to make it to the meeting, he may be thinking about how his child is doing

It is amazing we grow our children and our parents grew us fearless to remember that anything is possible and to never set limits to our dreams. It is also easy to state as a non-parent that especially women must not be told that career goals take a backstage when planning a family. I am a mother to a almost 2 year old and believe my dreams are very much intact and achievable.

Although if you had asked me just a year ago, I would have told you that it is impossible to shoot for the stars as a mother. Early parenting (young parenting as i like to term it) will take you on a low if not many, a few times at least. But it gets immensely better after you have found a rhythm to handle the happenings.

Whether it is pumping every 2.5 hours, or staying home too often to care for a sick child, or handling a baby’s transgressions in day care or worrying sick about feeding a picky eater, somewhere in the 0-5 years curve balls will keep coming your way. Most of us manage by hanging there during the lull and looking for a window of opportunity to make the leap.

At different stages parents are always hanging in there by giving their 100% at work and exhausting the remaining 100% reserve to their family. The mothers I knew who ran to pick their kids early, are now back in the groove working long hours in startups, while their now grown up kids dont demand as much time like few years back. Or the mother who decided to pursue her MBA with three to care for. And also the one who quit her job to complete her family with 2 kids and then went back to work.

Their stories tell me that it is okay that I am not exactly pursuing to be the next marissa meyers right now. Even if I am, i will get there in time, when I have found that space and balance with my family. It is an important parenting lesson that is rarely told to us. It is the phase that is very often panned as the bane of choosing motherhood over career. Or allow me to be bold to say parenthood, since it is no longer only about the mother anymore.

My husband was in the aggressively looking to make his leap after a period of lull, which stemmed from immigration and parenthood, when the lay offs caught him. Unfortunately that is how the system works.

Even if so much noise is made about leaning-in and making work places conducive for new mothers, it may take away a few discomforts, but doesnt exactly save one from losing or missing opportunities the economy and competition creates. But that is only the immediate effect. If you havent lost focus of your goals lulling in the lull, you will always find a time later on to make the leap.

And probably that is the message we have to impart to young parents. That a setback may happen. That it may be imminent for the situation. It may look like the world is racing ahead of us. But it is always possible to rebuild. There will be a time the chaos will settle. You will find your opportunity and at that time my friend, is when you make your leap without a doubt!