Your babysitter quits because her class schedule has changed. Your boss tells you he needs to move up the due date on an project he wants finished. Your child calls you to tell you his bus didn't show up at the stop and he needs someone to pick him up. Of course all of these things happen simultaneously and it hits you like a giant mommy tsunami. Ugh!
Mommy tsunamis are common this time of year when school and business gear up at the same time, triggering new routines and bigger workloads.
I wish I could say I came up with the phrase mommy tsunami myself, but I can't really take credit. I heard it used when Karen Rundle interviewed Joanna Schwartz, CEO of EarlyShares, for a WLRN Segment on Women in Business in the Sunshine Economy. EarlyShares is a major player in the “real estate crowdfunding” industry. This is how Joanna, mother of two daughters, described a mommy tsunami to Karen:
"A mommy tsunami usually comes a few times a year -- usually at beginning or end of the school year when there is some transition in the troop movement of our household. When it happens you just want to say, 'This is insane, what the heck am I doing?' But it has happened enough times and you get through it. It doesn't last that long. You recognize it and say 'Okay I am in a mommy tsunami and it will last two or three weeks and I will power through it.' I talk to a lot moms who have similar positions and we all relate to that very much."
Today, Karen, who conducted the radio interview, told me she has just been hit with a mommy tsunami. As the mother of a young daughter, she is dealing with a series of unfortunate events that has challenged her work life balance and that she is trying to power through. Having lived through many mommy tsunami's my advice to Karen was "hang in there!"
To me, mommy tsunami's make us realize that the romanticized version of what motherhood should be existed only in some alternate universe. The reality of modern motherhood can be stressful and exhausting.
When you are hit by a mommy tsunami, little things make a big difference. For example, flexibility is one of them. As Joanna explained to Karen, the real challenge for working mothers have is when they are trying to balance the not being (able to be ) in two places at once...when kids need time at school or need to go to the doctor and they are stuck chained to their desk. She believes companies need to understand that work and family are interconnected and "to extent that you support someone's family life you are supporting someone being a terrific employee."
Along with flexibility (or an understanding boss) you also need is a mommy network. When the mommy tsunami engulfs you, you need to tap your network to find someone to vent to, someone to pass along resources or someone who will take your turn picking up the carpool.
Lastly, you need to turn to your spouse and scream, HELP! As I wrote in my Miami Herald column today, when both parents work together to divvy up childcare responsibilities it makes balancing work and family much easier. The new school year and adjusting to a new routine can be stressful for parents and children. Today, more than 60 percent of two-parent households with children under age 18 have two working parents, according to Pew Research Center's 2013 Modern Parenthood Study. When dads exert the flexibility in their work schedules and pitch in with monitoring homework, driving to the pediatrician's office or attending a teacher conference it can make a huge difference in family harmony.
As I noted in my article, many couples underestimate the sheer amount of coordination involved in modern parenthood — until their child is unprepared for a test or gets to football practice without his cleats. A little collaboration between parents can go a long way.
If you feel a mommy tsunami about to hit, brace yourself. You will get through it. Like Joanna says, mommy tsunamis are inevitable. You will never be fully prepared. Balancing work and family can be overwhelming, but it also has payoffs that are well worth finding the endurance you will need to survive.