How to Overcome the “3 p.m. Disadvantage”

In a perfect world, no one would be asked to choose between their family and their career. Unfortunately, in this not-so-perfect world, we are often asked to make difficult decisions, and in this case, the family responsibilities fall most frequently on women. Even with new family-friendly workplace policies and resources, many working moms still have to face the “3 p.m. disadvantage.”

While other coworkers work 9 to 5, the working mom arrives early and leaves early to pick up kids from school, catching up on work at home in the evenings. This is the 3 p.m. disadvantage: everyone sees her leaving, but no one sees all the work she puts in outside of regular work hours. The key to countering this disadvantage boils down to two things: constructive communication and setting goals.

In a relationship, you can sometimes feel like the majority of the family work is on you, but the moment you start feeling that way, talk about it with your partner! Set aside any accusations and hurt feelings to plan effectively together. Consider in which areas each of you is strongest and in which areas you can encourage the other to grow. Is your husband a morning person? Then suggest he help get the kids ready in the morning while you leave to get a headstart on work before picking them up after school. Maybe you’re a better teacher and he’s a better cook, so you help with homework while he prepares dinner. Think about what works for you, then divvy out the responsibilities while allowing others to chime in on how they’d like to contribute.

You want to maintain the sense of community in your family. My mom was doing too much, and I saw the pressure she was under. And later on, she was very clear on who would carry on these family traditions. It was me! And my sister-in-law. And now we’re unconsciously passing on these things to our daughters, but better communication can help.

You also want to communicate about the ultimate goal; what do you hope to achieve? You probably already know, but communicating it aloud will help keep you focused. Maybe you have a child who needs structure and supervision. There’s not just one way to give them that. If you talk to people who have worked while raising a family before, you can find different solutions and learn what works for you. Maybe your child needs extra support after school. Maybe they need to be picked up, maybe they need to develop the right habits with you at home. Maybe they need to go to a study group to figure out how to carry themselves in the classroom. Whatever solution you find, you have to first look at what your goal is to get there.

The 3 p.m. disadvantage is only one if we allow it to be. When you foster a sense of community in your family with a united goal, you’ll find you’re no longer overworked and that you can really shine at work and at home.

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