Don’t Ever Apologize For Being A Good Parent, And Other Lessons For Hard-Working Women

It was those very words from a supervisor that changed the author's thinking on life, work, the universe, and everything.

It was just after the start of a new school year. Parent-teacher conferences were coming up. Our agency was in the middle of multiple Q4 new-business pitches and full-year planning.

No big deal.

My husband and I have a good tag-team approach to parenting. Two busy careers and three kids all but require it. For the last several months, year-end planning at the advertising agency for which I work disrupted that balance and required me to spend more time at work. But school conferences arrived, and my husband was scheduled to travel, so I had to be available to meet the teachers.

Our agency teams had been working late for weeks on new-business pitches. On the evening of the parent-teacher meetings, I made sure my particular parts of the presentations were completed.

Still, when the time came, I felt guilty leaving while the rest of the team would be working into the wee hours.

Gathering my things, I apologized to my supervisor and reminded him about the parent-teacher conferences.

His response was like a splash of cold water on my face--startling but also refreshing. He said, “Don’t ever apologize for being a good parent.”

I became a mom at a young age for someone on a career track. I was 25 and an assistant account executive when my husband and I, college sweethearts, got married. Very soon after, I became pregnant, and by the time I was 30, we had three kids.

As a mom and career woman, I always felt compelled to work twice as hard to show my commitment to the company and to my colleagues. It scared me that people might think, “Oh, she’s on the mommy track,” and therefore a 9-to-5 worker.

So I got into work early, left late with bundles of work under my arms and answered emails from home, long into the night. In truth, nobody ever made me feel that I wasn’t giving it my all at work. The feeling was self-imposed.

I’ve thought a lot about my supervisor’s directive lately and decided that all career women must learn that they should never apologize for being a woman. Or a mom. Or someone with commitments beyond work, whether they’re parents or not.

The traits needed for success at work are the same ones required for achieving some modicum of work-life balance, and they include commitment, empathy, trust, collaboration and attention to detail.

They also involve embracing behaviors that come less naturally to women but that are also necessary for professional success. To that end, my advice to young women is to become comfortable with the following:

Self-promotion

I always thought: “I’m going to work harder than everyone and recognition and rewards will follow.” That’s how sports work, right? No and yes. I truly believe that the disparity in opportunity and pay for women these days is less about overt sexism and more about women not being more vocal and assertive about their career growth.

Respectfully asking for what you want

Over the course of my 17-year career, many of my male contemporaries thought nothing of going into a boss to say, “Hey, look at all I’m doing,” and campaign for a raise. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I’m not suggesting that everyone proceed so bluntly, but please do find a way to proceed. Be armed with specifics about your accomplishments and, most important, how they contributed to revenue growth or other business objectives.

Sharing praise

There were times in my career when clients sent positive praise and feedback to me. I was delighted but kept it to myself. If that happens to you, forward the email to your boss with your own note saying how happy you are that the client is happy and goals were met.

Worrying less about what people think

Too many women fear seeming like hard-driving managers with a point of view. We all know the word commonly applied to women “like that.” As a manager, you realize eventually that if everyone likes you, you’re not doing your job.

Vulnerability

This advice seems counterintuitive to the previous four, however, it’s essential. Vulnerability is always thought of negatively because it’s equated with being exposed and “weak.” My inspiration for this concept comes from the book, Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown, a frequent TED speaker who took the book’s title from a Theodore Roosevelt quote. Like the 26th U.S. president, Brown believes that nothing great or even good happened without “daring greatly.”

For young people, daring greatly might begin with overcoming fears about speaking up in meetings, thus being “exposed” to potentially negative feedback. Later in your career, it may involve negotiating for raises on behalf of your subordinates or telling clients (discreetly but intelligently) when they are wrong.

For me, at this moment, daring greatly means shedding guilt--and apologies--when family needs call me away from work.

--Stacy Janicki is Director of Account Management at ad agency Carmichael Lynch

[Image: Flickr user Pixydust8605]

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15 Comments

  • sangita joshi

    :) "squeaky wheel gets greased!" - an old boss of mine had another variation of this - "crying babies get more milk". Great article.

  • Lauren Milligan

    Yes, women can have it all, but too many women live by someone else's definition of 'all'. That's why we work impossible hours and set unachievable goals...and don't take credit for the amazing work that we do.

    Define your own 'all' and live by that. For me, that means running a business that I love. My husband and I have a loving, happy, child-free marriage. We have small, very affordable house and I have a 10-year old car that I rarely have to drive because I work from home. When I look under my desk, my two dogs wag their tails at me and it makes heart sing every time. Other people may look at my life and think something is missing, but nothing is. It's perfect, because it's mine.

    Find your own 'all' and rock it. You'll never regret living on your own terms.

  • Stacey Olson

    I have to agree with many of the comments so far. The article's title distorts the author's great advice by suggesting it is only for "hard working women." This is an old and outdated belief that needs to change. Move forward Fast Co.

    One of the last feminism hurdles is equal paternity leave for men. Society still assumes "the mommy track" even though a man and a woman are equally capable of raising kids and attending to their family. But until employers recognize this with equal opportunities for women and men to take the same amount of maternity/paternity leave, these assumptions and "self-imposed" standards will continue to exist.

    Women no longer desire to prove we can do it all - an attitude reflected by the poignant advice in this article. The "feminists" of the Millenial Generation are not victims of this superwoman mentality. Instead we live collaboratively: we share opportunities AND responsibilities. The mental shift has already taken place but the real world -and policy- needs to catch up.

  • Stephanie LaCava

    This article shouldn't be directed just to women. This is an industry wide problem for everyone. And, I think you're right, I think a lot of it is self-imposed. Everyone should be told not to apologize for being a good parent: moms and dads alike. Moreover, I really think our gov't and businesses need to get on board with giving both men and women longer and equal time off when they have a child, regardless if it was a birth or adoption. Great article, but it doesn't need to be targeted just toward women.

  • T20

    This is a lovely article. I suffer from the inability to self-promote, share praise and stop feeling guilty. I work harder than a lot of my colleagues in office who waddle through Facebook and coffee chats through the day but spend long hours unlike myself. I try to leave early but work long hours and put in a lot. But that doesn't take away the guilt. A thicker skin is what all of us women need.

  • AK

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts in a candid manner. A timely message for one and all to strike at work-life balance.

  • Glen Eigo

    This applies to everyone who has a life outside of work. Sometimes it is only ourselves that limit our potential

  • Noel Hollis

    Thank you for this line: "Or someone with commitments beyond work, whether they’re parents or not." There are so many articles about women in the workforce that forget that some of us are not moms, but we still deserve a life outside work. Just because our choice wasn't children doesn't make us any less.

  • David

    I couldn't agree more...as another hard-working, life-juggling parent, and a DAD.

  • Kimberly Davis

    Absolutely, if your family is blessed enough to have had a dad stay in the pic, then make sure they get the same parental education/tips.
    Kim