MacKenzie Nicholson is a non-profit professional working in the health advocacy space. She has a bachelor’s degree in family studies: child advocacy and public policy and a master’s degree in public policy, both from the University of New Hampshire. She lives in southern New Hampshire with her husband and two children. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
(CNN)Between July 2020 and April 2021, I applied for more than 30 positions, had dozens of interviews and nearly made it past the finish line a handful of times. During each interview, I would sit anxiously in front of the screen and camera, hoping that the kids would uphold their end of their deal to be quiet and not come into my home office.
I would quickly mute myself at the sounds of them fighting over snacks and toys, praying that no one could hear them. Despite the best planning, a few interviews ended with the kids on my lap, waving and making faces at the interviewers. MacKenzie NicholsonAs the pandemic started unfolding around the world last spring, I stood in my kitchen, worrying if I would be able to hold it all together as I read an email from my son’s school that said they were closing for the rest of the week. Before we knew it, my husband was furloughed, my son was in remote school indefinitely, and my daughter’s child care shuttered. I did what any mom would do: I adapted. We settled into the new routine of balancing school, work, Zoom meetings and life in quarantine, and then, in June, my world turned upside down again: I was laid off.As a young professional, I’ve spent the majority of the last decade doing the “right things” for my career: working hard, earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and growing my skills and network. I worked hard to ensure that my family would be in a settled, stable place — meant to withstand any storm. In other words, layoff proof.Read MoreThe real reason employers can't hire enough workersBut nothing, as we have all learned, is guaranteed during a pandemic. So now, again, I began the painstaking process of looking for work. With two kids needing attention, if I could sneak away for an hour each day to collect my thoughts, organize a quick cover letter, my resume and anything else that a job application might require, I was lucky.After each interview, there were hopeful moments where I thought “this is FINALLY going to be it!” but it never seemed to be my time. Each time the email hit my inbox that started with “we regret to inform you …” a piece of me broke inside. I spent months trying to keep our heads above water and making sure everyone else was OK, but the truth is: I was not. I began to question everything I thought I knew about my abilities as a mom, as a partner and as a worker. One night, after a particularly rough day with the kids, I said to my husband “this has been the worst year of my life” — and I meant it. Saying that out loud sent me into a full-fledged panic attack. While trying to balance the needs of home life with my mental health, I was still uploading resumes and clicking the submit button on applications. But during one of my last interviews, an employer surprised me. “I want to make sure you’re evaluating us, for fit, too,” she said. They wanted to know what kind of support and flexibility I would need from them in order to do the job to the best of my ability. After all the interviews I had participated in, this was the first time in my life that an organization considered me and my family life when evaluating whether I was right for them — and asked me to do the same.In reality, I probably would have taken any job in my field because we needed a second income. Many people do this — just say yes to a job offer and figure out the logistics of it all later. But having been asked that question now, I have realized how crucial it is for employers to offer and encourage flexibility and support, because families shouldn’t be forced to choose between work and home life.In order to be a great mom, partner and employee, I need help. At the end of the day, I want to be part of an organization that values me as a person, recognizes that I am only human, and offers the flexibility and support I need to manage a balance between my work and family life. Everyone should have the same choice. Families come with all kinds of hiccups — the last-minute doctor’s appointment, sports games and school projects. I’ve learned that even though I may want to do it all, I’m only one person. Get our free weekly newsletter
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Given all that we’ve been through over the past year, I consider my family to be one of the lucky ones. I finally feel hopeful again because I’ve finally made it over the finish line and been offered a full-time position in my field, from the organization that wanted to be sure I was evaluating them for fit just as they were for me. There will be flexibility for me if I need to shift my hours to take care of family. We are all human — my experiences are not unique to me. It’s time for employers to see their employees as people who have whole lives outside of work.