As a mom of a ten-year-old attending New York City public schools, I’ve joined the thousands of fellow NYC parents in navigating the middle school process to determine my daughter’s school for next year. For those in the burbs following along—no, there isn’t a middle school that she can just go to based on where she lives. There are in some parts of the city—but not ours. And so many of us attend 10 – 15 tours that are 2 hours each over a 2 month period, so we can rank 12 schools on our list in early December. I’ve decided 13 will be the lucky number of tours for our family and I will be attending 12 of those 13. Yes, mathematicians, I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. That’s a lot of f’ing time.
I gave our daughter Jane the option to join or not, and so far, she’s gone to nearly all of the tours on our list. One week into the process, we had tours for three nights straight—which for Jane meant grabbing dinner on the go and doing homework past her normal bedtime. On the third night, directly after school, chorus and Hebrew School—we walked over to the 6:30 tour, which was one block from our home. We were led into a packed auditorium that was filled to the balconies with tired parents and cranky kids. The principal began speaking about the middle school process and what she thinks about it. She went on for 20 precious minutes. I could feel the anger bubbling up as I thought, "I’m halfway through the process. If I don’t know about it by now, I’m in trouble. And after a long day with a tired kid, just tell me about your school so we can all go home and do what we need to do."
I felt myself stewing in resentment and then Jane turned to me and insisted, "Mom, THIS is a waste of my time. I want to go home."
We were in lockstep. I told her I would stay and let her know what she missed. She stood up in the auditorium packed with hundreds, including many of our friends and neighbors, while the principal continued in a flurry of irrelevance. She walked out and returned home.
My guess is that many parents would have been embarrassed in that moment—cringing at her every footstep and the bulky door crashing behind her—but pride washed over me. She gets it. At ten, she understands that her time and energy have meaning. They have value. And she respects her time enough to do what felt uncomfortable and perhaps against the rules to honor her self and her worth. Yes, tween girl feminist parenting win!
This moment stuck out to me more than most because I see many of my female clients struggle to value their time. They find themselves in overwhelm in their families or stuck in careers with no idea where to go next because they have no time to make a search—or themselves a priority.
Here are a few ways we work together to reclaim their value and their time:
A wise coach recently asked me, "In the face of all of these time-consuming middle school tours, what can you celebrate about this time?" The answer was clear—more time with my daughter and a chance for us to work on a project together. Once I changed my view of the process, I have been—dare I say—having fun being with her and exploring new neighborhoods and possibilities. How can you look at the time you’re spending on things that seem like obligations in a way that truly enriches your life and helps you continue to learn?
2. Connect to your values
If you have not yet taken the time to choose your values, define what they mean to you and use them as a compass to drive your life decisions, know that this is a critical step toward helping you better value your worth and your time. If you have done this in the past, go through the exercise again to make sure that the values you choose speak to your life right now. Life happens and what was once unimportant to you—for example—before 2016, may be life altering now. I review everything on my calendar once a month to make sure my appointments are laddering up to my values. Read more about this in 5 Ways I Use My Values To Guide My Life.
3. Question cultural and gender norms
When I go to these middle school tours it’s hard not to notice that 90% of the parents in attendance are moms. It makes me angry and yet, there I am, the one in the family actively choosing to wrangle this process. My case may be slightly different in that I set my own hours, have a more flexible schedule and have reframed the process so I get something out of it—but it doesn’t make me less pissed off that as women and mothers, we continue to carry the administrative load of the household, what I like to call, "The Third Job." These are ongoing conversations in my home and I’m lucky to have a partner who works with me to challenge these assumptions. It’s not a given that because I’m the mom I’m going to take on all of this extra work to keep the family afloat. And if I do take this on, we work out what he can do to take something else off my plate—so that I can still fit in the things that are important in my work and my life.
In doing the leadership work I do with women, especially in what’s being called "The Year Of The Woman", I often feel the pressure to be a shining model of equity and to have this all figured out in my work, in my parenting and in my marriage. I often remind myself of what I say to clients, which is, "That added pressure is NOT helping you move forward or learn." We’re so hard on ourselves! The truth is that with 44 years’ experience in this culture, where in subtle and not so subtle ways a woman’s time and value are de-prioritized, I’m still in the process of figuring out how I can change what I ask for and how I ask for it while also inspiring others to do the same. I notice how my daughters are learning to do it differently—and how even the shortest, seemingly inconsequential moment can foreshadow the broadest impact. We simply need to notice it and step into the possibility it leaves wide open for us to acknowledge and spread the word.