How much to bring to the office

My first job out of university, I ended up managing a team who brought everything to work. Their joys, their sorrows, their dreams, their drama – so, so much drama (we employed a few underemployed actors; make of that what you will). They loved the fact that they felt like their colleagues were counselors and confidantes.

I hated it.

For a long time, I operated under a model of ‘there are things you do/share/say at work, and things that are for the rest of life, and NEVER THE TWO SHALL MEET.’ As I grew as a person, and a professional, those lines have become a bit fuzzier.

I still believe work is a time for working, and there is a certain level of discretion and decorum that should be kept. And I am still annoyed at and generally uncomfortable around those for whom that line seems to be nonexistent.

But I have also experienced the benefit of becoming friends with colleagues, and making an effort to get to know them as whole people (and letting them get to know me as a person), rather than a series of roles and duties between 9-5.

And then there is the issue of Leaning In, a la Sheryl Sandberg. Of being a professional woman, with a child, who does great work during the day, but also leaves at promptly 5:30pm for those sacred dinner/bedtime hours.

It is more terrifying than I expected.

The company I work at has a pretty young culture. Nobody else on my immediate team has kids. If I had to guess, I’d say 80% of the staff are under 30. I am not always the first to arrive (though I’m generally in early), but I’m almost always the first to leave.

Considering I haven’t yet built up a reputation at this company of hard work and competence (outside of what they think I’m like via the interview process), I definitely feel an internal struggle about putting such firm boundaries around my in-office work time, when I don’t feel that most people here do.

I don’t see any evidence that this would be a workplace in which I’d be penalized or discriminated against, either overtly or systemically, but when it comes down to it, I’m not sure if that’s because it’s got a women/family-positive culture, or because with the company demographics, it hasn’t really been tested yet.

So I struggle with how much to share.

I try to be matter-of-fact (without being one of those ‘sancti-mommies’) about leaving on time, because we have pretty strict schedule needs for pick-up & dinner. To talk about the fun & joy of kids when, rather than just complaining (which seems to be a more culturally-acceptable stance). And to balance that with talking about work and personal non-kid/family things.

I try, strange as it may sound, to act more like a dad. Dads at work get to talk about their kids without someone assuming they should be at home cooking or cleaning or caring. I act with the assumption that moms should be able to do the same.

It sounds simple, but I still get a pang, every time I mention a kid thing. Is it ok? have I undermined my professional impression? Do they think I’m less dedicated? Do they think I am not only a mediocre worker, but a mediocre mum as well, and therefore a total failure as a person?

I certainly didn’t think that of former colleagues, and have no evidence it’s happening now. I’m hoping the worry about this is all just my own brain, manifesting anxieties that could be largely irrelevant.

But maybe, just maybe, finding the balance, and forging this path will mean that someone who walks it behind me won’t have those anxieties at all.

So I embrace the discomfort, and lean in a little harder.

Me & my picnic buddy
Weekends are for Picnics

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9 thoughts on “How much to bring to the office

  1. Chris

    Cool. I hear you about young culture – no one I manage has kids (only 2 of 7 are married). I’m usually the first or second one in and the first or second to leave, and I put in 8 hours then go home. This at a company that has had (rightly or wrongly) a reputation for working people for long hours.

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    I’m interested to see how this all plays out at my workplace. In addition to the ‘young culture’ it’s got a really traditional breakdown of labour: Managing directors are all early-middle-aged men, There is one woman in support, one in dev (though she does documentation, not coding), and the rest of us are in marketing, sales (sales heads are still men), admin, finance, training, and project management. I’m reminded a lot of Lauren Bacon’s ‘women in empathy roles’ piece:

  2. Kim Werker

    I told someone the other day that you’re my mom hero, so I figure I might as well tell you, too. You’re my mom hero. The way you express your thinking about being a parent in the context of the the rest of your life is poignant and refreshing, and I always appreciate it. So thanks for posts like these (and not just because I always agree with you).
    Kim Werker´s last blog post ..Relationships (and Community) Are More Important Than Ambition

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    Thanks Kim! When Isaac came along, I had precious few friends and mentors who were walking the same path I wanted to. Also, the general impressions I got from colleagues were that moms talked a lot of pain, exhaustion, and hardship, and dads talked a lot about fun, adventure, and learning. I’m sure the dads were overwhelmed and exhausted too, but they were much more matter-of-fact about it, and didn’t dwell. Never one to let gender roles hold me back, I figured I’d rather focus on having fun than be a martyr. So far, so good.

  3. Kim Werker

    Oh! And about approaching things like a dad – as an adoptive parent, I’ve thought *a lot* about my experience in the frame of fatherhood. I work in a field where the vast (like, overwhelmingly vast; like over 90%) majority of my colleagues are women my age and older, so I rarely encounter the challenges you’re facing right now. (Also because I don’t work in an office, but whatever.) But I have had colleagues mention that they notice I haven’t shifted my work to focus more on parenting or kid stuff. They’ve noticed my blog isn’t a parenting blog now. They’ve noticed I’m still 100% dedicated to my work, even when I occasionally post about my kid. I’m baffled and frustrated that this is something that’s noticeable – that it’s so common for a woman who works in a creative field, as a blogger, as a crafter or maker, even as a writer, to shift into mommy-mode when they have a kid. The person who sewed dresses for a living now makes kids’ clothes. The person who worked as a contract crocheter is designing kid stuff now. The home-decor blogger blogs about kids’ rooms now. Is this what’s to be expected in the absence of an office culture to keep us rooted in our work?
    Kim Werker´s last blog post ..Relationships (and Community) Are More Important Than Ambition

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    It’s like that big blast of people who suddenly decide to become wedding planners after getting married. ‘It was so much fun, I’m going to do it for always!’ And then fizzle, when they realize they don’t get to execute their version of a wedding, every weekend, for ever and ever.

  4. Raul

    I am not the best person to comment on this because (a) I think you’re awesome, both as an individual and as a Mom, and (b) because I am not a parent nor do I have a 9-5. I did, however, tell the entire university (not only my direct Head of Division, and the Campus Director, and the General Director, and the Provost, but actually, EVERYONE that someone extremely important in my life was coming for 2 weeks only and that I hadn’t seen him in almost a year and that I loved him above anything on the entire world, and that I was not going to (a) answer emails nor (b) answer phone calls that were related to work. As an academic who had a full year of teaching release, my commitments to come into work at a certain hour and leave at a certain hour are minimal. I embrace being a human who works like a dog for the entire year, but also has time.

    When Airdrie came to visit me in Aguascalientes, I went into work 3-4 hours, and we hung out the rest of the day. I took 2 days off to travel with her and nobody complained. I wrote early in the morning every day as to make time for the rest of the day. Everyone at the university knew my best friend from Vancouver was visiting me and that I had to dedicate time to her. Nobody said zilch about my commitment. It helps that I just submitted 3 book chapters, and 2 journal articles for publication. So, I’m producing, people just don’t see me physically as often (I do try to come into the office every day, although I mostly write at home)

    So, after this long comment, all I can say is keep at it the way you are. You are entitled to be both a Mom and a worker, and nobody can nor should cast any doubt of whether you are committed or not to your work. Self-doubt and self-loathing is totally natural. But you should just remember that you are awesome, that you are committed, and that people come in packages. We take everything with people. You didn’t come into the job as a single person, you came in as a married mother of one who is a specialist in her field and doing what she does best. So they should take you the way you are.

    Much love.

    Jen Watkiss Reply:

    Thanks Raul. Academia seems to be its own special beast, where you are expected to be devoted to a level of obsession to your field and work. Good on you for bucking the trend and pushing for balance. I sense a new workers revolution on the horizon.

  5. Nicole

    I’m not sure I agree with the concept of *acting* (e.g., acting like a dad) in any context. Be who you are. Always. Life, even at the office, is about making connections. If you’re not willing to share who you are in all contexts, that will never happen. Enjoy yourself. Show what you’re passionate about, be it cloth diapers, coding, traveling… whatever. If not, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and everyone around you that might share your passions (or at least, learn something from you). Your passion for your work will come out naturally. You don’t have to pretend that it’s all that matters to you from 9-5.
    Frankly, it drives me crazy that people seem to want to stick titles on themselves all the time… mom, worker, yogi, manager, writer, whatever… and they spend so much time wondering if they’ve convinced everyone that they deserve that title – or whether they’re acting like everyone else that has that title – that they forget how to be genuine. If there’s something you want to share at work, EVEN if it’s something you’re struggling with, share it. You might make a friend. You might earn respect. You might just feel a bit more relaxed at work. If it feels out of place to talk about it, then don’t. Trust yourself, and don’t take it all too seriously.

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