Work – Life Perceptions in the 21st Century

How the work landscape has changed in the past few decades

It’s an obvious path — you finish high school, go to college, finish college and then start working. Then you work for a certain amount of years before you get married and have children. Once the children come, what happens next?

I’ll admit, I never gave much thought to the decision on how or who should be responsible for the upbringing of my kids once I have them. Because my path was so typical (as mentioned above) it wasn’t until I had my first child that the thought of going back to work was incredibly difficult for me. The thought of being away from my child for many hours in a day was terrifying, but the thought of not having enough income was also daunting, now that I have another mouth to feed.

At that time, I had the help of my mother. Thankfully, she came to my rescue. She watched my daughter for eight hours a day while I went back to work full time, even though she was still working herself — she did the graveyard shift four days a week at a food production company and came home in the early hours of the morning, babysat my child and slept whenever the baby slept. This was incredibly difficult for her as she was nearing her mid-sixties and almost at retirement age. Luckily, she did retire several months later.

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Whereas I feel like I had a choice to back to work or not, my mom has been working her whole life. For more than thirty years, she braved a variety of manual labor jobs, from being a food vendor, carrying all her pre-made food in two large baskets straddled between her shoulders, to working in a freezing cold environment preparing meals for airlines, she has done the hard work, the kind of work that I simply cannot imagine doing for more than a year. And that is simply because educational opportunities weren’t readily available for her during her youth (we lived in a third world country); hence, when one doesn’t have the education to obtain office or administrative jobs, one ends up doing manual labor that is a test on their physical self.

But for many women like my mom, who chose to go to work, the choice to go to work isn’t so much of a choice — it’s a necessity that is detrimental to their personal life. In a recently published HBR article, written by a professor at ESSEC Business School France, it identified four different perspectives on work-life balance — a hot topic in today’s world.

The author states that our perceptions on work & life are impacted by what you saw your parents do while growing up. Based on what people experienced, they typically fall into one of four categories.

A) Intentionally adopt their parents model completely

B) Intentionally reject their parents model completely

C) Unintentionally adopt their parents model

D) Unintentionally reject their parents model

While I do agree with the findings of the author, I also think that is quite skewed in the scheme of studies. She only studied 78 parents and conducted 148 interviews to people who work in two specific industries — law and accounting (ahem, only people who are middle or upper middle class) and between the ages of 30 to 50 years old. This study clearly does not take into consideration people like my mom, who fell into the “lower income” category for many years and did not have an appropriate educational level to be qualified to work in law or accounting.

Now, it doesn’t take a college degree or research to tell you that the results are clearly and blatantly obvious. While I don’t believe that I fall directly into one of the categories, I do believe that I have had mixed perceptions about work and life balance. Several years ago, when my first child was born, I would’ve fallen into the “Unintentionally reject their parents model” scheme of things. My perception of my parents’ choices to generate income was skewed in the fact that I had more time with one parent versus the other, and I equated that with their level of love for me.

You see, because my mother worked a lot, more than ten hours a day, six days a week (because we were so poor), I saw my father a lot more. He was always around, but there was always a sense of disdain coming from my mom because my dad was what you would call “a starving artist.” He was a poet, a writer, and a comedian (not a professional one though). He could make everyone laugh, write fantastic poems & stories, and be the life of the party, but when it came to making money, he wasn’t so good at keeping jobs. Needless to say, my mom was the more reliable person who could keep on going with her job. It’s the type of tenacity that took me awhile to appreciate.

todaysmom
The struggle is real

When I was young, I felt a sense of resentment towards my mom because she was never around. This feeling lasted all the way through early adulthood. It wasn’t until I became a working mom myself that I understood the need for her to work — because my dad wasn’t the main breadwinner in our family, she had to be. She was forced to be in a position that wasn’t so typical in our society back then. I don’t think she wanted to be a working mom at all. I think she wanted to be like all the other mothers, her sisters and sisters-in-law, who relied on their husbands to make the money so they could stay home and take care of their children.

So, yes, my perception of work-life balance is truly impacted by what I saw growing up. I knew that I didn’t want to be away from my kids all the time, but at the same time, I enjoyed going to work. I still do. It took me awhile to realize that going to work and being away from my kids is actually a beneficial thing for me and for them, for it allows me the opportunity to provide for them — you need money to pay bills and provide food & shelter, after all — plus, as the cliché mentions “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” I’ve found that I truly miss them and want nothing more than to be with them at the end of the day.

But back to the study — while there were valid points made, I also think there needs to be more studies done to broaden the horizon for work life balance perception from all aspects of life. To only ask a person who makes $80,000 a year whether or not it’s a challenge for them to work all the time is frankly, not great data to rely on, especially for those who only completed high school and are struggling to get by with a small income and a family to raise. To speak only to the privileged is to do a disservice to the underprivileged.

WARNING: price delusions ahead!!!!!

Thanksgiving is almost here. The holiday season is in full swing. A week left until Black Friday. As this infamous day draws near, I thought I should tell you about a recent shopping experience at Macys that might make you think twice about shopping during the holidays.

While browsing the store with my husband, I saw a package of Minne Mouse underwear for toddlers. I have a Minnie Mouse obsessed little girl, and I thought she would love it. The sign said it was 50% off, and on the package, printed clearly was $14.98. So naturally I deducted that it was 50% off from $14.98, making it approximately $7.50. To my surprise, when I went to pay for the item, it rang up as $26, and $13 as the final price.
Immediately I pointed out the error to the cashier. He was not familiar with kids clothing so he went to talk to a sales associate in that department. He came back five minutes later and told me that it is exactly that – 50% off from $26. I was flabbergasted. I pointed out the price tag on the ACTUAL package, and said, “Clearly that is $14.98. You can’t deny that. How is it possible that the price can be inflated that much?!?!” He said, “Sorry, you can go talk to someone else in that department.”
This made me absolutely furious. The problem was not the fact that the item was extremely inflated at the expense of the consumer, but the blase attitude of the salesperson. It makes me wonder a few things:
  • How many of the items sold at Macys (or big box stores) have extremely inflated prices? Hundreds? Thousands??
  • Do customers realize this or are they just looking at the store’s signs and being led to believe that it is a good deal when in fact, it is not?
  • Price anchoring (the process of inflating retail prices to the point where the store marks down the item to 50% or more to allude the customer into thinking that it’s a good deal, when the “after-discount” price is actually just the retail price after all) – how prevalent is it? Apparently, it’s not new. Check out this article.
  • This is clearly and blatantly a way for major retail chains to gain profits during the holidays, by playing on customers’ inability to pay attention to small details, overshadowed by their desire to shop for everyone for Christmas, that they don’t realize how much they are truly spending?
While this particular practice makes me angry, what is even more troublesome is the sales associate’s responses. In my particular situation, the associate’s “Sorry not my problem” attitude is really infuriating. It makes me ashamed to say that I once worked for Macys, way back in the day. It’s troubling that for such a large chain that prides itself on quality and aesthetics that they are not training their employees to respond to conflicts in an enthusiastic and helpful manner.
Perhaps because I’ve worked in customer service for a long time, and I’ve worked at places that have high expectations for service that is the reason why this bothers me so much. Whatever happened to the old philosophy, “The customer is always right”? In my case, I was not making things up just to get my way. My husband and I both saw the price tag as $14.98, so to blow it up to $26 and then discount it $13 is beyond the acceptable ethical grounds of retail pricing.
So this holiday season, I’ve had enough of Christmas shopping. I’ve had enough of deceitful practices of major retail chains. I’ve had enough bad customer service. Besides getting a few items for my kids (not from Macys, of course, and mainly because I want them to have a good Christmas), I’m opting to do something else. To go outside. To be with family. To SAVE MONEY. Because the holidays can definitely make you go broke. It can lead you down the road of paying back a year’s worth of purchases plus interest…and for what? For big retail businesses AND credit card companies to make money off you? No thanks.

Issues with raising kids in a technology-driven world

Let’s face it – not all babies are cute. Except for mine.

Just kidding.

No really, I may be biased, but like thousands and thousands of parents out there, I do feel like MY children are the prettiest, most photogenic children out there…so much that they can be baby models if I want them to be. I call my son “The Mixed Gerber Baby” because he’s half white, half Asian, although he looks more white to me. (Both of my kids took after their dad’s side, physically speaking).

But let’s be real here – I am not going to be one of those pricks who always claims that their child is the cutest or the best of anything, because I’ve learned in the four years that I’ve been a parent that EVERY.SINGLE.PARENT feels the same way about their child. But does that mean that every parent is biased?

“Here, Mom. My love for you.” *by yours truly*

Once upon a time, before you had children and an active Facebook account, you were spammed with baby pictures of your friend’s babies – from the time they were born (those “first moment” photos from the hospital usually gets the most likes, despite their dark, bleary, sterile environment) to their first birthday parties to outings at the park, playdates with other children, etc… you see them all! And you like ’em, right? Or so it seems. But since you don’t have any children of your own, you start wishing that you had children so you can spam YOUR friends with cute baby pictures. Over time, you start developing a sense of jealousy, a certain level of resentment, because it seems like their kids and your friends (the parents) are having fun – everyone’s smiling for the camera, even on those blurry photos. And suddenly, you’re in a zealous pursuit of a child yourself.

Little do you know that all those smiles are the “good” days, masked by the cries, screams and freak-outs on most days. The good days and good moments may be small, but they are worth their weight in gold, because what the parents want you to see is the happy moments of parenting. It makes you want to be a parent yourself.

Then, when it FINALLY happens, you start spamming your friends with your baby pictures, exclaiming how cute they are, and how wonderful they are. That usually happens within the first few hours of them being born. When you finally get home from the hospital, you discover that the first few nights are a killer. The first few weeks are a killer, filled with a multitude of wake-up calls every few hours, cries more piercing than anything that you could’ve imagined, including a mountain of dirty diapers and more stained clothing than you’ve ever experienced in your whole life.

The sleep deprivation sets in and that is when you go online and start Googling “How to…” questions.. such as, “How to feed my baby in a football position,” “How to burp a baby” and “How to tell whether or not my baby is eating enough,” or “How to sleep after you have a baby.” But of course, you don’t share these with your Facebook/Instagram friends right?

That’s what I mean, my friends. In a technology-driven world that we live in today, we are inundated with images of what parenting should be, not what it actually is. I remember seeing a million pictures of a kid whose parent I went to high school with every single day. From the time that he woke up to the time that he went to sleep, it seemed as if his parent took pictures of him at every moment in time. And she shared them a lot. It was okay at first, but after awhile I started getting annoyed… mainly because this kid was just kind of ugly. I thought to myself, “If I wanted to look at an ugly creature, I would just go to the zoo and look at some orangutans.” He was no Gerber baby, that’s for sure.

When I finally had Lily, I also started spamming people with pictures of her. I wouldn’t be surprised if those “friends” of mine secretly hated me and blocked out images of my daughter every time she appeared on their feed. I don’t blame them. I was so incredibly obsessed with my firstborn, and how beautiful she is that I started posting a bazillion pictures of her.

Of course, I still think she’s beautiful these days, but at the age of four, I’ve learned a thing or two about parenting on social media. I learned that there is a time and a place for such sharing. I’ve learned that there’s a limit on how much you should share, and that you should not give a shit about what other people think of your children, but you should be mindful of what your children might think of you. Sometimes, when I’m taking pictures of Lily, she would say after awhile, “Okay, that’s enough.”

And I’d stop.

It is a universally acknowledged truth that once you have a kid, you live your life through your kid. Because why else would you feel resentment and possibly hatred for those who spammed you with images of their children but at the same time you do the exact same thing when you have kids of your own? Also, because once you have a kid, your social life is pretty much nonexistent..or over, for that matter.

But back to my own kids – within the past year or two, I’ve become more aware of how I share pictures of my kids through social media. I decided to put myself in their shoes and asked, “What would they think if they were to see these pictures in the future? How would they feel about me posting all of these photos? Would they be comfortable with it or would they be seriously annoyed with me?” These are important questions to ask yourself, I realized. Not every child wants to be advertised on their parents social media accounts every single day.

These days, I still post images of my kids on my Instagram account, but I’ve slowed down a little. When I was pregnant with James, I definitely slowed down a lot. There were perhaps two pictures related to him – one announcing that I was pregnant, and one right after he was born. I felt that this was plenty. While you yourself may be inclined to post images of every single month of pregnancy (to track your baby bump), I don’t personally believe in doing so, because all my kids need to know is that I did indeed carry them to full term in my belly, hence that is the reason why they are alive in the first place.

Do I think that it’s wrong to share pictures of your kids and your life? No, absolutely not. In fact, I follow a lot of mamas on Instagram, and find them quite lovely. But at the same time, I also feel a pang of jealousy because damn, the fact that they can actually do this on a regular basis means that they either have A) a lot of time on their hands, AKA they’re a stay-at-home mom, thus their husband makes enough money to live on, or B) they’re doing it to make money while being at home with their kids, hence a commercial inspiration, such as product sponsorship.

As for myself, I have the luxury of my husband being able to stay at home with the kids on the days that I work (we have opposite days off) and he’s not a big sharer, because he’s not obsessed with photography like me, and that is perfectly okay. Secondly, I don’t believe in using your kids to make money on Instagram or any other social media platform for that matter. I won’t judge you if you do, but I also believe that if the kids want to make money with their looks then it is their choice, not mine. If my kids ever choose to be a model, then I would be okay with it, as long as they’re not modeling naked.

In the meantime, I do think that it’s our job as parents to be mindful of how our children will perceive us in the future. I want my kids to know that I took the effort to preserve their childhood through pictures, and I’m a big fan of photo books (especially the ones from Artifact Uprising – NOT an ad here! They didn’t pay me to say that!), and I want them to see what our lives were like when they were little, but I also want to keep it mainly in our family. I don’t want them to think that I overshared (“Mom I wish you hadn’t shared that!”) Because the world wide web is what it is – a giant web of information and sharing, who knows where your stuff will end up? Many images are shared across multiple platforms and a lot of times you’d lose credit for it, and it can get altered by whoever gets their hands on the image.

Think about that the next time you share a picture of your baby.