I admit it. I shamelessly pimp out my kids. Not all of the time, I actually only do it at work. Ironically, it’s my kids who help me create instant chemistry with my colleagues and clients.
I realized this early on when I mentioned my leaking, nursing nipples to a colleague, who also happened to be a new mom. She was one of those women at work who never had a kind word to say to me pre-baby. But suddenly, after my declaration of lactating leakage an instant bond was created. Kabang! I had a work friend. Amazed by the power of the breast to unite, I started sharing other intimate details about new motherhood from my surprising ability to tolerate poopy diapers and my baby boredom to my non existent sex life. Too much information? Perhaps for some, but I found a whole new fertile territory in which to bond. It’s utterly disarming when you mention your malfunctioning breast pump right before a meeting. With the colic, the sleepless nights, the binky and bottle obsessions and the “momnesia,” I actually found that many of these topics were surprisingly gender neutral – I could connect with men as well as with women.
Yes, some of these areas do make people squeamish and you should know your audience before explaining in explicit detail the pain of your episiotomy, but by playing the mommy card, I have created surprisingly personal and long lasting relationships in the office.
Seven years later, I’ve found that sharing my tales of both parental woe and those fleeting moments of maternal bliss continue to be extraordinarily useful in connecting with even my most emotionally aloof clients. It seems that everyone’s kids today have some issues. And in our YouTube age where women feel free to post even the most private details of their marriages or divorces, it shouldn’t be such a surprise that sharing and connecting on all of these once behind-closed door-issues is now all the rage.
While I don’t at all suggest exploiting your child’s fetishes, developmental delays or quirky mannerisms so you can make friends at work or get a promotion, I have found that by letting people know that your life and your children aren’t Rockwellian perfect, can be incredibly helpful on both personally and professionally. On a practical level, I feel like I’ve been able to slip in and out of work for my kids’ school events more easily because my colleagues all know about my children. I don’t keep them a secret. Everyone knows that my daughter broke my toe with a bowling ball last summer. This explains my frequent podiatry appointments. And many know that my soon to be seven-year-old son wants a “High School Musical” themed birthday party. Do I give in or will he be forever be ridiculed? Sharing some personal details do create sympathy.
We have come a long way baby. It was only recently when women felt confident enough at work to display photos of their progeny. In fact, it was as recently at the 1970s when pregnant teachers were fired as soon as they started to show a bump. Times have changed. In my office today there are no fewer than seven photos of my children along with their artwork proudly displayed and framed.
A while back I read a great book, The Girls on the Van, about Hillary Clinton’s first senate election campaign. The author shares an anecdote about how when she was talking to fellow reporters about potty training her daughter during her break from election coverage, Hillary apparently overheard the conversation and then shared in great detail how she potty trained Chelsea. From that moment on, many of the reporters on the bus started to view Hillary differently. Hillary was a mom! She too potty trains! It reminds me of the US Weekly magazine photos that catch celebrities in the act of doing normal things like pumping gas and looking unattractive at the grocery store. Those photos help us to connect with those seemingly glamorous, perfect people.
So while trotting out all your family’s dirty laundry is probably not what’s going to ultimately get you ahead at work, selectively sharing can be incredibly effective.