How to Manage Up With Regard to Family Commitments

how to manage up with regard to family commitmentsHere’s a suggestion for a topic we got from folks who took the survey a while back: how can working moms “manage up” with regard to family commitments? Along similar lines, “how to explain your new life choices to an employer who is used to you working long hours”? I can’t wait to hear what you guys say — what’s YOUR best advice on managing up once you become a working mom, ladies?

(Pictured: Hall & Oates women’s tshirt (I Can’t Go for That- No Can Do), available at Etsy through Exit343design’s shop.) (Affiliate link.)

Just to throw in my $.02 of tips, I think a lot of it comes back to general advice on how to manage up:

  • Be on the same page as your boss. Understand your boss’s expectations, either by asking questions, making him or her communicate them to you, or repeating things back to the boss so s/he knows that YOU know what s/he expects.
  • If any expectations can’t/won’t be met, make it extremely clear, as early as possible, why that is. This can be the difficult part because it’s 100% possible that the reason is “because you’re unreasonable.” For example, I remember a time in my past where I was so grateful the senior associate talked the junior partner out of making everyone stay to work on Thanksgiving weekend — when a lot of us had flights that very night. This isn’t to say that it’s always unreasonable — there may be a real fire that requires the team to work — but in that particular case it wasn’t, and the matter waited until Monday. (I may have done a bit of work that weekend from afar, but I don’t remember, which tells me it wasn’t too bad.) If there are frequent fires — or frequent fire drills — that may be a sign that it’s time to move on from that work relationship or even that job. (Update: as commenters note — and as we’ve noted before — wherever possible, give a reason OTHER than your kids when you need an excuse for a last-minute absence like a sick day.)
  • Suggest adjustments and solutions. “I can’t come to a 4:45 meeting [because I have a hard deadline at 5:00 to pick my child up from daycare,] but I can try to hop on a conference call at 5:45 once I get her home.” One of my colleagues and friends when I was working as a lawyer was a man who had a hard deadline at 6:00 every day for daycare pickup — he made it known well ahead of time to everyone he worked with. (He also made it clear to everyone that his wife did morning dropoff so he could be at work earlier every day — and he was.) He wasn’t taking it easy for the rest of the night, of course — he would hop back on to email and the computer as soon as he was out of the weeds with the kids — and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hear partners grumble about it — but it was a definite and hard deadline that everyone knew he had to meet. (Side note: I now call this time period the “bedtime funnel” — it’s those several hours that start at pickup, goes through dinner, bath, and ends when your kid is in bed for the night. For our family the bedtime funnel takes about 3 hours and I’m rarely available during it, even for something simple like approving comments. For those of you who need to hop back into work mode after the bedtime funnel, any tips on how you do it? Has anyone managed to abbreviate the bedtime funnel so you can get away reliably earlier than 8 PM?)
  • Be honest with yourself if it’s not a good fit. If there is often a real mismatch between what your boss wants and what you want to give, it’s time to look for a new job, or consider a more flexible work arrangement at the job you’ve got.

Readers, what are your tips for how to manage up with regard to family commitments and work-life balance? Have you learned best practices on managing up from watching superiors or colleagues — or did you find another resource to be helpful?

Further Reading on Managing Up:

  • What Executive Assistants Know at Managing Up [HBR]
  • 10 Commitments of People Achieving Successful Work-Life Integration [Forbes]
  • Managing Up: The lesson that transformed my work life [UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School]

how to manage up with regard to family commitments - advice for working moms

Something a lot of new working moms worry about is this: will their boss accept that circumstances have changed? What are the best practices for managing up with regard to family commitments and work-life balance? A lot of it comes down to general advice for managing up, but we talked to our readers of lawyer moms and more to get their thoughts!


  1. HHNYC says:

    I find it is easier not to mention what personal time is being used for. “Sick day” is nice and generic and covers both when I am sick and if a kid is sick. Same with “doctor’s appointment.” “Family commitment” is nice and vague too.

    • Cornellian says:

      Agreed. I don’t really mention what it is for unless necessary. “I’m out of pocket from x to y…” or “I can join a call at 7…”

  2. I love the Mighty Girls website for suggestions on empowering books for my daughter. Does anyone have suggestions on similar type books for young boys? Or any suggestions on books that deal with it being ok to make mistakes for the elementary school set?

  3. I need that tee. Source please? Thanks!

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