Wednesday, June 25, 2008

8 things no one tells you about balancing association exec and parenting

While in my current association position I've also moved from being pregnant to having a daughter weeks away from college. I can mark stages in her life AND my association position on the same timeline. Here's a few things I had to learn along the way ... to balance being an association executive and being a parent ...

1. Your members are likely parents too. Sometimes there's a theory that officers and members expect association execs to be only hard-driven and all-business. You can do that and be a parent too. They get it. They're likely parents too. Earlier this year my daughter had me pulled out of a meeting because she got a disasterous hair style 2 hours before a big dance. I told the committee I had to go ... and why. I know my effectiveness has not been destroyed because it might be really clear to my members that I'm human too.

2. Even when you think you have absolutely no more time, you have to have time for volunteering. And get your kids engaged in volunteering. I'm not sure there's anything that improves my understanding of what our members expect from me than what I learn by being a volunteer (including officer) in other organizations. But I could do some of it with my kids. If I work on a campaign, they can stuff envelopes and do lit drops with me. If I taught Sunday School they could help develop lesson plans and teach with me. If doing bingo at a nursing home, they could help residents mark off squares too.

3. You might just be networking a little bit too much for someone with kids at home. There's an expression that 90% of success is just showing up - well show up at home. It's really tempting to continuously do the fun times with the work colleagues and friends, but there might just be someone at home waiting to go on a bike ride. Some AEs convince themselves they're building their future by going to a lot of conferences and spending lots of time at happy hours. No, your future is wearing pull-ups and water wings and wants some more lessons.

4. When you're on the stage getting a big award, you're either going to apologize to your family - or not. A colleague once won a big award and as part of the speech apologized to his family for missing so many family events for work. One of my all-time favorite colleagues resigned from his association position the next opportunity he had telling me he never wanted to be on stage giving that speech. It is possible to attend your family events and have a job that involves national travel and/or a lot of work hours - but it takes scheduling and sacrifice. If you need to save money so that you can fly home from a conference just to trick or treat then get back on a plane for the rest of the meeting, then do it. I don't personally think it's reasonable to skip an entire (work-necessary) multi-day meeting because of something one night at home, but I do think anyone can generally miss one day or one night of a week-long business trip/conference to show up for something that matters to their family. It's expensive and hard to do, but do it anyway (if you can). And use your vacation time to go their sports games. The day they "make the big play" you'll want to remember it the rest of your life too.

5. To everything there is a season. For the optional travel parts of my position throughout my career (attending staff education, participating in national task force meetings, facilitating, speaking, etc.) I've limited and expanded time I "optionally" contribute based on what my family does or doesn't need any given time. There's plenty of travel that isn't optional, i.e., an essential part of my job - but this is about OPTIONAL trips. When my kids were little it had to be huge for me to spend any "extra" time away. And I knew I'd have the rest of my life to give more. And I did. Say no when you need to say no. And turn off your technology a few hours a day at home. You can turn back on after they go to sleep.

6. Social media is your friend. It's so much easier to parent with instant messaging and text - by far the easiest way to communicate with kids. Those who use social media with their kids already know how it can improve their association communications. Ask members why they started texting - it likely wasn't for a business purpose or because someone told them it was a "cool app" - but rather the way they reach their kids. And I confess I've sent an instant message to say it's time for dinner instead of just walking upstairs. So I was more than prepared for the first member who instant messaged me.

7. Parenting benefits the association too. I completely understand when volunteers explain limitations they have with volunteer time because of kids. And all those life lessons we teach kids can play out organizationally too. Remember that "All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" analogy - well, holding hands and playing nicely are very good advice. So are the warnings you give your kids about the Internet. What you learn personally can help you professionally. You need both.

8. Kids grow up really fast. OK, everyone tells you that. And they're right.


Greater Portland Board of REALTORS® said...

Hey Cindy - great thoughts - I'd add one more - involve your kids in your work in fun ways.

My daughter (18) knows more about real estate than most 30 year olds, and is aquainted with many REALTORS®. She sees me in a role that is fulfilling in a different way than serving on the PTO or cooking dinner; and she has given hours of volunteer time during fun events like golf tournaments, Habitat builds, etc. Hint - try not to make them collate reams of handouts for meetings - she claims that's not volunteerism, but cruel and unusual punishment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Cindy, for being open and honest about parenting responsibilities. You don't have to abandon your family to be a successful professional - and you shouldn't let anybody force you to do that.

Morning carpools, mid-day teacher conferences, evening sports events, and weekend theater are just as important as anything you do at the office (some are even more important).

We need to hear from more people who think this way.