January 29, 2023

"How do you do it all?"

On my last work trip I was meeting a new colleague when he asked me the following question:

"How do you do it all?" 

I stared at him rather blankly.

"How do you mean?" I said.

"This trip, how does it work with family?" He asked

I hadn't mentioned my family.  I like to think that "MOTHER" Isn't emblazoned on my forehead when I'm away with work.  I wear a wedding ring, but I don't have my kids names on a necklace or tattooed on my arms.

I stared for another minute.

"You have a family, right?" he asked.

So maybe it is obvious.  Maybe even when I'm wearing my cute-professional Boden dress and accompanying fun professional necklace the diastis and extra 5 pounds from kid 2 is just so blindly obvious.  Who knows.

As usual, that type of question isn't really about me.  It's about the asker.  I decided to be nice, and turn the conversation back on him.

"Yes, I do have kids.  Do you have kids"

"I have a 17 month old" he said, "and it is just hard.  My wife works, and I work, how do you do it?"

I was glad to confirm this was not a person accusing me of "looking like a mother" or of being a bad mother for traveling while leaving my littles at home.  This was a person who genuinely wanted to improve their working and family life experience.

I found it weirdly hard to give advice in this circumstance, because so much of what I think about is how to help women who feel like they don't have it together after having kids.  

"look at your household chores balance" was not an appropriate response here.  "Can you outsource more?" was another not helpful answer.  "How is your sleep"? was not relevant, because I can assume if his sleep is bad it's not because hers is great.

Here's the advice I gave:

1. 17 Month olds are really hard.  It does get easier at 2.  I don't know why this is.  You are in a hard part, towards the end of a hard part.

2. Read some Cal Newport.  Think about where your time is going.  Think about how you see work time and home time and computer time. If you can, use your phone less, read the news less, scroll the internet less.  You might be doing it more than you know, and if you do these things less you may have time for other things.

I sometimes find it hard to "give advice" because I think about this all way too much, and forget what it's like to not think about gender and time and work and family and priorities all the time.

As an example:

When a female friend says "I went to the Doctor but the treatment isn't working" I want to say "that's because all of medicine has been systematically ignoring the experience of women since medicine was born! Who is in trial groups for drugs? Men! Who approve research for drugs? Men! Who listen to women with less empathy than they listen to men? Men!  Of course you have been failed by your doctor, he was educated to fail you!"

This is not what I should say.  I should say "That's so hard, I'm sorry"

The "how does one do it all with kids" question so often comes from women.  I'm glad that men are starting to ask.  It's a good sign.  I want to have a good answer. 

So, internet hive mind, what is a foundational and gender-blind habit that could help this very nice man with his working wife an 17 month old daughter?

1 comment:

  1. Well, that was a pleasant surprise, wasn't it? I am glad you're able to have these conversations with (select) colleagues and that a guy actually approached you about juggling work and family life. What a refreshing surprise!