by Ashley Bentley, CAE, KCSAE Director
I hope this year has blessed you, your career, and your family. In 2022, our family grew with the birth of our third son, resulting in a household with two working parents and three kids ages 5 and younger.
As I reflected on what perspective, experience, or knowledge I could bring to KCSAE members in this article, I realized that the most significant thing I’m learning right now (every single day) is how to be a working parent.
So, I hope you enjoy some musings on life as a working parent and how society’s virtual advancement both helps and challenges working families. I hope this is helpful as you think about your own professional and personal balance and how your organization or your team supports staff and members. And, if nothing else, it’s nice to just hear from someone else going through a similar challenge. We’re not alone!
Professional development has always been important to me. I’m that person who’s excited about things like leadership training, new educational offerings, and volunteer opportunities, which is what has led to my involvement with KCSAE. I’m people-oriented, optimistic, and love to solve problems – traits that can also mean I need to protect time to execute my own tasks and projects.
Before 2020, if I needed to really get something done, I would work on it in the evenings when I was away from my colleagues, or lock myself away at home for a day with no meetings. It was the only way I could keep up with everything I was a part of - and wanted to be a part of! But kids and COVID changed everything and neither my evenings nor my home are protected from distraction, and I find myself trying to figure out how I can keep up and stay involved in this new reality.
What has been the toughest on me are self-inflicted feelings of guilt when my time and attention feel like they need to be in multiple places at once. We’ve all been there when the cute kid makes an unexpected appearance on the video conference. While my colleagues and our members always seem so pleased to get a little face-time with my children, I find myself feeling guilty for causing a distraction from the meeting, and for simultaneously not being able to be fully present for my kids or for my work.
Both my employer and my work team are very flexible and supportive, allowing work from home on a hybrid and as-needed schedule as well as flexibility during the traditional business day. However, this flexibility is a double-edged sword because while I know I can step away for a family priority during business hours, I also know I still need to keep up with my work obligations. It’s made every minute of every day a race to keep up.
Here’s an example of two tiers of work-life balance at play: Our daycare provider is a working mother of three and regularly asks parents to pick up a little early so she can attend one of her kids’ sporting events. I want to support her, so I make arrangements to leave a little early. But what ends up happening is that I work late that evening after my kids go to bed. I end up feeling like I need extra accommodation and understanding from my colleagues, and then I carry around stress all evening knowing my workday isn’t over. Those are some of my most draining, least satisfying days.
This new reality is affecting all of us, parents or not, and is having an impact on staff and on our member volunteers. If our associations are going to be relevant today and in the future, we have to figure out how to be part of their new reality. And for those just entering the workforce or just entering the professions and industries we represent, this may not be a new reality, it may be all they’ve ever known.
I feel like I’m seeing lots of signs that expectations are changing around support of work-life balance. I’ve been interviewing candidates for a couple open positions at our association and have encountered more candidates who are asking for all remote or part-time options for work. Our association has also added new benefits to help support families, including benefits for fertility treatments and adoption.
For our members, we need to make sure we’re meeting our members where they are and complementing or enhancing their day-to-day. One of my roles at KCSAE is co-chair of the Certified Association Executive (CAE) Special Interest Group (SIG). This year we’re trying a mix of virtual and in-person programming to make sure we give opportunities for networking and relationship building while being as accessible as possible to members.
Thriving as a working parent isn’t all about benefits and schedules and virtual options. It’s also about the work we’re doing.
One of my roles in our association is to travel to represent the organization and the profession and network at conferences, events, chapters, and other meetings. I really love this part of my job. It satisfies my people orientation and my energy for learning new things and making connections.
When my oldest son was born, a colleague told me that it wouldn't be long before I gave up the travel. As a working parent herself, she suggested there was no way I could keep going at my previous pace. She also suggested I couldn’t sustain the after-hours meetings and member contact I receive regularly. She advised me that based on her experience, I needed to draw lines to protect my home life.
Now, more than five years and two more kids later, I still travel for work. I just finished up a business trip in Honolulu with my five-month-old in tow. I have meetings or member contact outside of regular business hours at least weekly. I have leaned on my team more to handle meetings when my house is too chaotic for me to be productive or anything more than a distraction. Having a supportive team is crucial to making it work.
But, I think work-life balance is more than just an accommodating schedule. And maybe it’s less about work-life balance and more about work-life satisfaction and thriving. We have to do what we love as much as possible or we’re going to crack. I know what drives my work satisfaction are relationships with our members, being a part of new ideas and initiatives, and helping others grow and accomplish. I know what drives my home life is quality time with my kids and my husband, helping them grow and accomplish. If I gave up business travel, I don’t think I would have more work-life satisfaction and thriving. We all need to spend as much time as possible doing things that energize us to sustain us through the things that drain us.
The moral of these musings is there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For us to survive as working parents, we need to reflect on what brings us energy and how we can align our work with our energy. To engage and support working parents as staff and member volunteers, we need to find out what drives them and how we can be a part of it.
Whether you’re a working parent or not, I hope these musings have been relevant as you think about your own work-life satisfaction and thriving and how you can support your colleagues and members. If you ever want to commiserate or discuss, my virtual door is open - please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.