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5 Conversations a Working Mother Should Have With Her Boss

Molly Blake
March 6, 2015

Work-life balance is every working parent's dream. Here's what you can say to your boss to get there.

It's 5 p.m. and your work is almost complete. But without an ounce of guilt, you shut your computer, grab your purse and head out the door -- right? Samantha Ettus, a work-life balance expert and mother of three, says absolutely. "A working mother should live [her] life by a train schedule," says Ettus, "even if you don't take the train."

But how do you get to a point where your boss is cool with your flexible schedule? Recognize one important thing: "Your boss has to run a business and get work done," says Julie Peterson, a Chicago-based working mom. "So make sure when you have that conversation, it's not all about your needs." Be up front about yourresponsibilities, both old and new, by using these five conversation starters.

  1. "I'd Like to Set Some Boundaries."
    When Peterson was hired as a media spokesperson for a university, it was expected that she would take calls at any time of day. As a single mom to three toddlers, this might have presented conflicts. But during negotiations she was upfront with her boss about a few hard boundaries. "I committed to always getting the job done," says Peterson. "But I also told my supervisor that it meant I would leave every day at five so I could get my kids from daycare." Before meeting with your boss, decide which boundaries are nonnegotiable and which are more flexible. Set the tone from the beginning of your conversation and present a few reasonable requests.
  2. "Can I Work From Home?"
    Check with human resources to see if flex options are in place, says Amber Rosenberg, a career coach who specializes in helping working mothers balance parenting and their careers. Then share a written plan with your boss. Include details of the schedule, the outline of your work arrangement and how your flexible schedule will benefit your employer (no commute can mean more hours doing work!). "It's always better to go to your boss with a solution instead of just a challenge," says Rosenberg. Bear in mind that it's unlikely that you'll be allowed to work from home every day -- and you'll need to create home and life boundaries there too making child care still a necessary.
  3. "I'm So Thrilled to Be Here!"
    Step up the optimism even if you're exhausted. Ettus suggests that when you have extra time, ask your boss what more you can do to help. Take initiative and bring ideas to the table. Having a reputation as a hard worker who is committed to the team will make a difference when you need to skip out early for that piano recital.
  4. "I May Not Always Be Reachable."
    The line between work and home has blurred since the dawn of i-everything. Like many moms, Peterson admits to taking plenty of calls "from the sidelines of soccer games." Being upfront about your involvement in kids' activities is ideal, but realistically that's not always possible. When your kids get sick or caregivers cancel, you may not be able to check your email right away. When these conflicts arise, be honest with your boss and offer to make up the hours later.
  5. "I Have Some Travel Restrictions."
    Work travel can have a huge impact on family life, so be sure to set up limitations on travel if your job requires it. As a working mother, Ettus makes sure she and her husband never travel at the same time. Sit down with your boss to map out any trips as far in advance as possible and plan accordingly -- even if that means sweet-talking your in-laws to help.

Check out these 8 Things Working Parents Wish Their Boss Would Say.

It's possible to have a work-life balance as working mother, but it's up to you to make your needs known. As Rosenberg says, "Only you know what you need to balance your roles as parent and professional, so speak up."

Molly Blake is a freelance writer and mother of two girls. Her previous boss, Stephanie, totally got it when she had to take conference calls while biking with her kids to school.

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