One person’s exception is the other
person’s disaster. Deborah Mecklinger, Founder, Walk the Talk Coaching, Lawyer, MSW, Certified Coach and Mediator, working mom
Working from home with kids means lots and lots of shifts – shifting from meeting to momming, shifting from excel to ABCs, shifting from feeling frustrated with colleagues to (maybe, just maybe frustrated with a partner.
If you’re sharing the load with a partner, with those shifts comes a whole new phenomenon that’s new to many of us, especially in its frequency. It’s the hand-off shift (i.e. you’re taking them now) and if it’s not deliberately designed, it can mean trouble.
So we spoke to Deborah Mecklinger, Founder, Walk the Talk Coaching, whose credentials include Lawyer, Social Worker, Coach and Mediator, for her expert advice on how to best manage the childcare ‘hand-off.’ Deborah shares her wisdom here, with us:
Ever wonder why when the clean-up music comes on, children, even from pre- school age, suddenly begin to march to the music and quietly put their toys away? Well, it’s a pretty simple formula: consistency and predictability without deviation. Deborah Mecklinger
What To Do (Bites)
Learn from the classroom: create and stick to a simple transition routine.
It’s worth investing the effort upfront to create a plan for how you’ll transition from one parent (or caregiver) to the next. The more predictable and consistent, the more stability kids experience. It’s simple – stability is what kids crave. It creates a safe container for kids – they know what’s coming and they have comfort in the predictability. Once it’s set, do not deviate from it – otherwise breakdowns start happening.
Deviations? Parents are more apt to deviate than teachers. It could be that parents know their child was up in the night so they give the tired kid a break and don’t require them to ‘follow the regular plan’. A teacher wouldn’t do that. Or if a child isn’t cooperating, it’s easier in the moment to give in. A teacher wouldn’t do that. While the transitions are more frequent working from home than the daily transition to and from school, establishing a simple routine upfront saves a lot of angst and energy. And when you create the routine, make sure expectations of each parent are well defined.
Deliver the transition plan as promised, for your partner, not just your child(ren).
One person’s exception is the other person’s disaster. When the agreed plan falls apart it’s typically because one parent is deviating from the plan with the other parent, e.g. parents agreed that one would feed the children before handing off and doesn’t, or one parent is deviating from the plan with the children, e.g. going on an outing that runs past bedtime, so kids go bananas with everyone. Both feel disrespectful and results in handing over a problem.
Treat your partner like a co-worker – respect their time and honour the commitment you made with them. No one wants a shift change that includes extra jobs. If you said you’d take over at 11:00 am, make it happen. Don’t leave them with extra tasks that you committed to doing, like lunch cleanup or finishing homework.
If one partner messes up, don’t blow up, handle it offline.
If someone messes up, don’t analyze. Strategize and tackle the solution as a team. Remember, in the heat of the transition the ‘why’ is less important than solving for the ‘what do we do now?’
What to do after? Later, if it’s you who messed up: own it and take responsibility. It’s empowering and it sets the right tone. If it wasn’t you, don’t go into resentment zone. Conflict arises because the ‘put upon’ parent feels that there is inherent disrespect in shirking commitments. Instead, share expertise and don’t be afraid to admit you are challenged, and allow your partner to express the same. Maybe one partner could benefit from the other’s multitasking tricks or uncover what would support each parent in making a smoother transition, e.g. setting a 10-minute warning that the transition is upcoming, set to your partner’s favourite tune.
Bottom line, don’t pathologize (‘he must have some disorder’) or assign malevolence (‘he’s doing this because he thinks his job is more important than mine.’) We’ll address the latter in a separate piece of wisdom!
A great way to ease the tension when one partner drops the ball, is creating a penalty pot – options could include taking sole responsibility for preparing and cleaning a meal, letting the other person have a half hour sleep-in that weekend or owning bathtub duty for the night, letting the other off. Be light-hearted and have fun with it, it can break the tension and should help minimize any deviation.
Don’t make the plan your best kept secret. Write it down, agree on it with your partner and share it with your children. Even little ones can be taught routines. The younger they are, the more consistent and frequent the plan is, the better. So, you may pick a song, or a walk around the block or even a snack, as the transition plan. And, don’t keep success strategies from your partner. Remember, it’s not a test – it’s a partnership to make this crazy time work. Check in, review, modify.
Build a backup plan for the predictability of the unpredictable. What will we do if you have to be on a call longer than anticipated? What’s the back-up plan? The circumstance may not be foreseeable, but a back-up plan is. It is important to appreciate that flexibility is critical as is compassion, patience and grace. There must be a place for that in the system. Exceptions fall into that category. When exceptions become the rule the above goes to pot! And certainly, in our world of isolating, having a back-up troop should strep throat, flu or other unexpected disruption happen, is important.
And remember, creating a system or routine doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or joyful. But that’s different than chaos!
My Choices. My Wisdom
What’s the one thing the rest of the world really doesn’t understand about managing as a working mom?
I often feel like I am in the wrong place at the wrong time; there is always somewhere else I could be and something I could/should be doing!!
What is the one piece of wisdom you would like to pass on to other working moms like you that is instrumental to making it all work?
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Be intentional about what you take on….especially for the high functioning, competent woman. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Choose!
You started out as a lawyer and added on a Masters of Social Work and certification as a coach. What inspired those pivots and what did you learn about yourself?
I started thinking about how I might find an innovative way to use my law degree while I was in law school. I remember going to the law library and sitting in a kiosk researching nontraditional ways to practice family law. I began my mediation training at night and on weekends while I was articling. At the time, people thought I was crazy. It was then that I decided to move to the US to work as a mediator – things were more progressive. My mentors in both Florida (where I worked in the court as a mediator) and in Boulder, Colorado where I worked as a mediator – had Master of Social Work degrees. They had a strong influence in my desire to add a clinical side to my education and experience.
I learned that I loved to work as a change agent; that it was an honor and privilege to be in a position to help people and to learn from them. I learned how to step into places that I might have feared and inherent in that – about my own fears: to be patient and within that – what might have compelled me to hurry; to suspend judgement and that I only know what I know and others are the experts of their own lives.
It’s not easy being a stay at home mom or a working mom – you chose to work. Why did/do you do it?
I knew that all of my needs could not be met in one place or from one source. My need to contribute, to learn and to continue to master new skills had to be fostered in a professional way. Fortunately, this is something I always knew and as a result – was steadfast and driven to find a way to build a business I was passionate about in a way that would allow me to both work and be with my family. Having a private practice has given me agency over what my work/life balance looks like – most of the time! When it is out of kilter at least I am the one who has tipped the scale.
Your kids are now young adults moving into their own careers. What do you hope (or know) they learned from you about choosing a career?
I hope they have truly taken in how important I believe it is to forge your own path even if it is uncharted or the road less travelled. When I found my way out of law, it was uncommon and unsupported. It can be hard to go against the grain. I remember sitting outside a café when my daughters were 7 (Lexie) and 10 (Devyn). Lexie (forever passionate about design and even more so makeup, in search of affirmation turned to me and said: “mommy, when I grow up, do you think I should be fashion designer or a makeup artist?” To which I replied, “Lexie, I hope you follow your passion and choose what you love.” Devyn responded to her and said, “Lexie, I know you love makeup and who knows what you could do – just think about what Bobbi Brown has done for women…you could develop your own line.” From the mouth of babes and hopefully in part from what they have taken in from me.
What was the best advice someone shared with you about managing both career and child?
My grandmother (who had to work too hard to allow for balance) told me: take time for yourself, don’t strive for perfection on all fronts, some things just need to be good enough.
Women speak less about legacy; how do you think about it?
The question compels me to think about my relationships. First and foremost as a mother – where my legacy is imprinted. I have yet to see a tombstone that reads “fondly remembered by her colleagues.” Point is, I care most about getting it right at home. Everything else is icing on my legacy cake. If Deb Meck is also known as someone who has helped people through challenging times, someone who could be counted on to teach others how to get more of what they want in challenging situations – I would be humbled and honored.
What would you like your legacy to be?
Great mommy/Deb stories to keep the narrative alive, family photos and videos to keep things vivid and maybe if I dare to dream – a book that formulates what I have done with the individuals and families who have honored me with their work.
Thanks Deb! Through this post you’ve inspired many with your wisdom.