By Guest Blogger Ashley Quinn Kibby
When I transitioned from my creative career to running a household full time, I thought that I was “taking a break from work,” and “staying home with the kids,” but what I was actually doing was starting a new job. Had I realized this, I may not have been surprised that my home ecosystem began to function more like a work ecosystem, with many of the same old stressors that new jobs bring as you iron out the kinks of collaboration, delegation and workplace relationships.
I don’t mean to dehumanize motherhood in relegating it to a job. But, for the sake of description, I’d consider it a hybrid of human resources, administration, and care provider — all stand-up professions, but none in which I happen to have any professional interest or experience. If you continue the analogy, the children are the clients, everyone that interacts with them is part of your company, and it’s up to you to keep things running smoothly and make sure no one gets hurt or upset. (Thanks to all those amazing HR peeps, admins and care providers!)
In many ways, counted by dirty diapers, baby cries, toddler tantrums, and adult anxiety medications, running a household is a thankless job. It’s not that I’m the only one in my family who keeps track of things — it’s just that I’m just the one who remains constantly cognizant of everything that needs to be done, like the command center, or you know, the motherboard. And those things always seem to short-circuit at some point.
Throughout the day, our to-dos shift in and out of my brain like a Tetris game, occasionally lining up perfectly and disappearing but mostly just stacking up alongside rising stress levels. A cranky baby signals the tummy that must be fed. A neighbor’s garden reminds me of the flowers I’d like to plant. A text message announces an upcoming visitor, the sheets that must be washed and the bathroom that should be cleaned.
Before I had a family to take care of, many of these tasks may have been easy, or pleasant, but now they come quickly and send me scrambling. In my new job, I need help performing basic functions and meeting essential needs. But most of all, I need help asking for help. Because now I’m a new boss at a new job where everyone’s stepping into new roles with different dynamics than we’re used to.
The transition from a do-it-yourselfer to an I-need-helper is not an easy bridge to cross. First, you have to figure out what kind of help you need. Maybe it’s an extra set of hands at the doctor’s office, or to have your hands free for a phone call. If you’re like me, you might need a break so you can do nothing at all — a request that nobody, nowhere, has ever asked for at an actual place of employment.
Now I need to ask these things of my husband, my mother, my stepmother, and my mother-in-law; all very different people with very different contribution styles. While my husband likes to communicate through ESP — some vague assumption that the other one’s “got it” in the absence of clear detail on our duties — my mother meets me with a blitz of questions about how best to apply herself in each free moment. My stepmother likes to report and compare notes on all her activities with the twins, and my MIL quietly observes, then tries to anticipate my needs.
If it takes a village, does that make me the mayor? Let’s add expertise, diplomacy, teamwork, problem-solving and excellent communication skills to this job description because that’s precisely what it takes to run a household. I’m still rising to the challenge, but here’s five things I’ve learned about asking for support at my new job:
- Accept that running a household is not a break or a fairytale but a difficult job requiring skills you may not have but will acquire.
- Understand that the nature of your familial relationships will change with your new job. Parenting may flip the power dynamic with your parents and/or your partner.
- As the control center for the family, you do not need to justify why you need help or to list everything you have done to deserve help. In fact, this can have the unintended effect of making the person you are asking for help feel like they are not doing enough.
- Realize that just like a workplace environment, people have different ways of communicating and contributing. Tune into what is and isn’t helpful. If too many questions make you feel more anxious, or a lack of communication leaves you in the dark, say so.
- Always communicate your feelings, needs and requests clearly: I feel a bit overloaded; I need to cross some things off my list, can you please watch the kids for an hour?
More than anything, prioritize your mental and physical health because this job requires a strong mind and body. Just like running a race, running a household takes strength and stamina. Be flexible when you can be and firm when you cannot. Most of all, hold onto kindness and compassion for yourself and others. The job description is ever evolving, and growth is slow, but figuring out how to foster a supportive ecosystem goes a long way toward workplace satisfaction!
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