Notes from the Un-Empty Nest

by Susan Nemetz, March 2021

My son, Jonathan, calls it “Mom-toring” — professional mothers (or parental surrogates) mentoring their adult professional kids. It applies whether or not those kids live at home, but there seems to be a specific and new shared experience when, thanks to the pandemic, the generations are back together living under the same roof.

The more I considered it — and the more I spoke with my peer group over “deck wine,” the attempt by friends to connect in a socially-distanced way outside — the more I thought there is something here that warrants some conversation — some e-conversation at that.

Moms as Mentors

In a prior e-conversation, we shared the benefits of Reverse Mentoring. So, what is different when a mom becomes a mentor during a pandemic? I decided to reach out and ask a few mothers from my network who have had the benefit of that experience over the past year, realizing that the mere fact we can have the conversation in this way defines the privilege most of us enjoy, both in terms of our own careers and those of our children. (That observation continues to prompt our focus on giving back.)

Our “data set” consisted of four moms and 10 children — all professionals, with the kids early in their careers (the oldest was 29), across various industries and professions, including life sciences.

Some of the new experiences were less about mentoring per se and more just a reflection of living and working in close proximity. Things like shared IT or Wi-Fi problems, crossing paths in “the breakroom” (aka, kitchen), or overhearing each other’s “work voices” on countless calls (proud moms for sure).

Others truly did fall under the heading of Mom-toring:

  • Real-time play-by-play coaching throughout the day/week
  • Skills and capability-building discussions over dinner
  • Empathy and a listening ear regarding the reality of work politics and culture
  • Love, compassion, and affectionate intrusiveness

More specifically, here are some of the observations and gems of Mom-toring wisdom that I captured (including some of my own). How can we apply some of these learnings to our biopharma teams?

Perspective

“Our children are not just new in their roles; they are new in the workplace overall. They are unversed at reading between the lines and tend to treat every bump in the road as an emergency, if not a crisis.”

“When an issue arises at work, we can listen and help them see the bigger picture. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of showing empathy, and other times, it’s offering solutions. I can’t tell you how many “feedback” emails I’ve looked at and opined upon!”

“I try to remind them that over the long term, none of the daily fire drills will matter. Everything is a building block, and this won’t be the only job they will ever have.”

Office Politics/Culture

“Workplace culture — and its less benign cousin, office politics — are new concepts for those whose social ecosystems to date have been mostly limited to family, friends, school, and part-time jobs. Some cultures are ‘team-based;’ some are ‘divide and conquer,’ where folks work independently and report back; others are ‘hunger games,’ where survival depends on winning. You need to find one that fits for you.”

“Company leaders need to remember that some of their employees were only in the office a short time before the pandemic hit; they never got the chance to establish real ‘relationships’ with coworkers or managers. Mentoring needs to be more deliberate than ever since it won’t happen organically over coffee (Mom-tors have been filling this gap).”

Teaching

“Storytelling is an awesome tool for giving advice. Simply sharing past experiences — about layoffs, victories and stumbles, work/life balance, and the general ups and downs of a career — helps our kids develop a sense of calm during unfamiliar storms and understand that some aspects of the workplace are not easy.”

“We know them better than anyone; we know what is likely to make them happy. Mirroring back what they have shared while understanding their values is something a Mom-tor can do in a safe environment.”

Intergenerational Understanding and Appreciation

“My ‘mom-demic’ experience with my three kids at home for several months gave me a glimpse into their adult lives that I would never have otherwise had. I got to see how they get up and get ready, how they show up on time, and how hard they work. I had no idea. I gained a new respect for them as highly functioning adults!”

“Our time together reminded me that my most important role is to listen and not offer advice. Likewise, I think my kids were reminded that their successful mom has some valuable things to share. We have all become more comfortable asking for and offering each other’s help and support.”

“Our daughters recognize that the time we are spending together is a gift that we wouldn’t have under any other circumstances (until I am old and decrepit and move in with one of them).”

Leadership

“Time with my kids has made me more empathetic as a leader of others. We need to specifically talk to the young people in our organizations and say it is okay to fit a workout into your day. It is okay to ask a manager who sends you something late Friday afternoon for Monday morning turnaround whether the timeline is rigid. It is okay, and even imperative, that everyone has ‘permission’ to take time off.”

“I experienced a familial ‘WeWork’ environment by sharing full-time work amongst five adults over four months, communicating the ‘rose and thorns’ of everyone’s days. It has made me a more empathetic executive as I work with others who are their age and are living their challenges.”

“Moving back home, as nice as it has been, has turned back the clock on our kids’ independence. When they leave again, they will need time, support, and understanding (from both managers and parents) as they transition back to life outside the home — just as they did the first time they flew the nest.”

Conclusion

One thing that seems universal among all of our offspring is a high degree of angst that goes along with their demonstrated commitment to the work and motivation to contribute (I have no idea where they got that from!). What can we do in our organizations to address this balance so they can contribute fully?

What if we treated the people in our organizations as we have our children these past many months? — giving them an extra break; listening more and talking less; encouraging them to take a risk, confront a problem, and roll with the punches knowing that today’s worries will fade into the background soon enough.

As one of the moms said:

“If I could talk to my kids’ bosses, I would remind them that everyone is someone’s child (no matter how old they are). These are special humans, working hard and doing their best. With your support and development, they can become the amazing employees you want and need.”

My thanks go out to these talented and caring women — the Mom-tors — who were willing to share their thoughts and insights.


Posted in All Categories, Organizational Development and Culture, Other, Relationship Building