Invisible work. What is it? And how do you make it visible to your parents?
My previous video was on how recent college grads and young professionals can move in with their parents without losing their independence and autonomy. It offered several tips for integrating into a flexible family structure. This video expands on why making your invisible work visible to your parents is essential.
Invisible work, in this case, is the work you do to advance your career or personal goals, but that does not get recognized because it's done out of sight. Knowledge workers and professionals do a lot of invisible work. It's often quiet, sedentary, and on the computer or a smart device like a phone or tablet.
Identifying and naming invisible work is essential for first-gen professionals, those of you who are the first in your family to go to college and hold a professional job. And those of you with parents who do the most labor-intensive jobs like fieldwork, construction, retail, and service work.
Some parents with physical jobs have difficulty recognizing and appreciating the invisible work of a knowledge worker because they do their work behind a computer in an office. The tips shared in this video are to teach you how to show this invisible work.
The term invisible work comes from sociologist Arlene Daniels. She defines invisible work as all the unpaid labor that women do that goes unnoticed and is unappreciated in the home, family, and relationships. The concept has been applied to many aspects of our lives, including careers. In this case, we'll apply it to the work you'll be doing as a young professional living at home trying to get your career off the ground.
Why Should Your Parents See Your Invisible Work?
In 2022, the choice to return home to live with your parents after graduation is hard for many reasons. Most young adults worry about the impact of family dynamics on their independence and decisions. Whether you live with your parents for the short or long term, you'll eventually get uneasy. Some of the uneasiness will be your anxiety because you perceive moving back as taking a step back. And some of it will come from your parents. Slowly, your parents will directly and indirectly start to worry about your future, career goals, and where you are going if they don't see forward movement.
Some of you have parents who will happily have you living with them long-term. Some of you will have parents who want to ensure you don't fall behind and are progressing in your career. They'll want to see you find a job if you don't have one or make career advancement while living with them and, eventually, moving out.
Invisible labor is the work you do at home that your parents don't see with their eyes. They'll start to worry if they don't SEE you advancing your career and personal goals. A parent's biggest fear is seeing their child stalled.
Once they perceive or believe you are stalled or flailing, they start to bring the pressure. It's often unnecessary pressure. And it all comes down to the fact that they don't understand what you're doing and why you're doing it. And what actions you are taking, especially if you are the first in your family to hold a professional degree.
And since most of your work is on the computer, smartphone, or tablet, it is easy for your parents to assume you're not using your professional tools to advance your career goals.
The relationship with tools that used to be only for work has changed. Now, our tools have transitioned into tools of play, too. Most people use their computers and smartphones as their primary tools for fun - connecting with others through social media or relaxing by watching movies and streaming shows. So, you need to separate work time from play time when using the same tools. No one wants to hear their parents reproach their computer usage when they've been hard at work.
So, How Do You Make Invisible Work Visible To Your Parents?
I've got 12 simple and easy tips. Although, some will be harder to implement if you don't have a strong relationship with your parents. You can, however, use the more subtle options.
But the main takeaway is to tell everyone you are working constantly. How deep you need to share depends on the type of parent or family members who live with you.
1. Share your completed action plan with your parents.
My previous video on moving in with your parents without losing your independence and autonomy provides an overview of an action plan and accompanying document. The key point is that you complete an action plan before moving in with your parents that outlines how you intend to spend your time, how you'll contribute to the household, and what it will be like to have you back in their home. By sharing a physical copy of your action plan with your parents, they'll see and know the tentative goals you'll work towards while you live with them.
It also allows you to negotiate expectations like which household duties you are expected to contribute to or your economic contribution while living with them. It also lays a good foundation for future discussions about your career or personal goals. And if they want to support your career goals, it gives them an entry point for offering assistance and resources.
2. Share your plans and your schedule with your family verbally.
If providing a completed action plan is too intimidating, you can share a weekly schedule with your plan for the week. It doesn't have to be fancy, a notebook with listed weekly tasks or goals and little check boxes to cross off.
3. Set up a schedule or calendar in a public place in your home.
It could be your room, the living room, or the kitchen. Find a public place where your family can see your schedule. It's a subtle way to show your family how busy you will be and what you will do during the week.
It also helps you align with your parents if they have their plans and expect you to engage in family outings. It's something they can reference when you're busy.
4. Let Them Know You're a Night Owl
If you are a night owl and plan to spend daytime hours working or socializing because your best and most productive work time is at night, you're parents need to know this information.
Be direct. A simple, "Hey, Mom and Dad, my most productive work windows are at night, so you'll likely see me out during the day and working at night. Although I can work during the day when I need to, it takes me twice as long to focus and finish a project. So, when I can, I do my deep work at night. I thought you should know, so you don't worry about my late nights."
You might get some pushback because some parents refuse to believe that nighttime productivity is an option for professionals. You can warm them up to this working style by sharing your nighttime accomplishments the next day.
"I was able to focus last night and finished my resume. I also completed an application for a job at X company." Just share a little about the work you complete while everyone is sleeping so they don't automatically assume that you're on your computer having fun watching movies or binging shows all the time. I want all household members to know that you are using your nights to make progress in your career or personal milestones.
5. Work in Common Areas in Your Home
Although not always appropriate or practical, working in a shared or public space in your home easily shows your family that you are working. Choose your tasks appropriately and work in the living room, kitchen, or dining room. Working in a public space allows your parents to ask you what you're working on, and you have the same chance to respond to their questions about your work or your progress in meeting your goals. Who knows, they may ask you a question you haven't thought about or offer a solution you haven't considered.
Working in a shared space doesn't mean you have to complete all your work there. You can start in the kitchen and move to a private or quieter location when deciding which projects need your undivided attention.
A simple, "Hey, Dad, I'm taking a few calls in my room. If you need me, send me a text," is enough.
6. Celebrate Accomplishments Publically
This tip may be difficult for first-generation professionals. If you are like me, a first-gen eldest daughter who was figuring out life on her own and not making time to celebrate her achievements until she realized that her tempered reactions had to do with not wanting to be judged for being ambitious or making other people feel inadequate, it will take effort and courage to learn to celebrate yourself.
It is important to publicly celebrate your completed tasks, project milestones, and goals achieved while living at home. It doesn't have to be an over-the-top celebration. You hear me, first-gen professionals?
It can be a simple "Yes! I'm done with my resume." Or say, "done with my tasks for the day" in front of your family. Or, "Who wants takeout? I just completed my project and feel like celebrating."
If kids are around, you can ask for a high five and explain that you've completed a specific project. I love to celebrate with food, so my default is inviting people to eat out with me.
If you have a good relationship with your parents, you can tell them you want to do something to celebrate a task or project you're about to complete.
You can also make an announcement the day you start a project. "Hey, We're going to dinner at X (your favorite restaurant) when I finish this project."
7. Tells Others Your Working
If sharing your accomplishments with your parents is challenging because you have a strained relationship and doing a public celebration is not an option, tell others about it. You can call a friend and tell them what you've accomplished and the challenges you worked through. Share so that the people in your home overhear your conversation.
Remember, I'm offering these tips so your parents are consistently reminded that you are moving forward and taking action while living with them. This reminder is critical for professionals with strained parental relationships who can't talk to them directly.
8. Share on Social Media
Social media is another way to share and celebrate a project's completion publicly. Find out which social media apps your parents and family use frequently, and share a quick update on what you've been working on. It's an easy way for busy families to be updated as most people end their night scrolling through their favorite social media app.
A simple update of a photo of your tea or coffee with the caption, "I'm enjoying this coffee as I finish working on my resume." Or "tea and snacks will keep me awake through this coding workshop."
Trying to share your achievements on social media to keep your parents updated on your life while living with them may seem silly to some. But the reality is that many young professionals don't have a healthy relationship with their parents. They feel unsafe sharing their goals and accomplishments in person because these moments of joy can lead to disappointing conversations. Some parents are critical, others are disconnected, others are uninterested in their children's lives, and others are jealous of their children's success. Therefore, taking the conversation into a public forum offers safety for some.
Another benefit of sharing on social media for young professionals who must return home to critical, jealous, or gossipy parents is the storytelling power of sharing your side. Some parents tell negative stories about their children to gain sympathy from their community. If you find yourself or expect this to be your experience, get comfortable sharing on social so your friends, cousins, aunts, and others in your network hear from you first. Consistently sharing your day, projects, productivity, and path toward accomplishing your personal and career goals online will preemptively protect you from untrue stories.
9. Create a Simple Do Not Disturb Sign
A simple do not disturb sign or an in-a-meeting sign on your bedroom door is an easy way to tell your parents that you're working. Get creative. Add images if kids live in the house and need to understand the note.
When I was a student working as an office assistant at UC Berkeley, I created an in-a-meeting sign for my college counselor so we knew when he was meeting with a student. His office was always open for questions, but we needed to know when he was working or meeting with a student because his office didn't have windows, and we didn't want to intrude on student conversations. That simple sign stayed there for years, fulfilling its simple purpose.
10. Share While Offering Your Time
Another subtle way to discuss the invisible work you're doing while living at home is through conversation. The formula is simple. Tell your parents what you're doing and follow up with an offer to do something for them.
"Hey, I'll be done prepping for my interviews today. Do you need me to do something?" Or, "Hey, I've completed my work project. Do you need me to run any errands?"
If a new project will take up a lot of your time, you can offer your time before you start your project. "Hey, Mom, I'm starting a 3-day online workshop on Tuesday. It's going to take up a lot of my time. Do you need me to do anything before I get started?"
This option may work best for those of you who have parents who take pride in doing labor-intensive jobs and have connected work to movement. Offering your time to complete chores or run errands is a solid way to connect with parents around work. You can keep them updated on your work, which on the surface seems sedentary, and offer to help them with an active job.
11. Ask for their advice or thoughts.
A brave way to connect with your parents around your career is to bring them into your world. You can ask for their advice or to help you solve a problem. They don't need to be experts in your field to help you think through an idea or problem-solve. Sometimes, the best conversations and solutions come from discussions with people who don't have experience on a topic. An inexperienced person will ask many fundamental questions, forcing you to return to the basics and the broader picture.
So, share enough context so your parents understand your work product and what type of feedback you need. I've done this with my husband, friends, and son. I share the project goals and the challenges I'm facing and ask them to ask me questions about it. These conversations slowly trigger new ideas or perspectives or remind me about a fundamental idea I've forgotten.
I've asked my son, who's in his twenties, to listen to me read an article I've written. I've asked him if he can follow my argument and if the flow is smooth. I ask him to stop me if he gets confused or if something disrupts his concentration. I ask for specific feedback when I bring him into my work process. And it helps us both.
When my mother lived with me and wondered about my work, I'd share my current project, its goals, and a sequential list of tasks I needed to complete to consider the project done. Sometimes, she had nothing to say, and other times, she'd say, "Wow, that's a lot of work" or "I guess there's no such thing as an easy job."
Taking the time to share my work with her helped her understand the sedentary work I do on the computer is much more complicated than what she perceived it to be, as she'd see me sitting all day in my home office.
12. Track Your Completed Projects Publically
If the other tips are too much work or feel wrong, consider keeping a running list of completed projects in a semi-public space. You write them down once they've been completed instead of as you work through them.
You can put a chart, whiteboard, or poster on your wall to write down completed projects while you're there. You can include personal goals (e.g., went to the beach with Maria and Cecilia) or career goals (e.g., letter of recommendation secured). That way, your parents can reference the list of the things you've been completing while living with them. Most people love checking off lists; this is an easy way for your parents to see your daily visible work.
What is the GOAL of consistently sharing your invisible with your parents?
These tips aim to make your invisible work visible to your parents so you're all on the same page. Getting your parents to know or understand your career will help them support your goals even if you work in a niche field.
These tips also give your parents the language to tell others about you and your work to their networks and community. A parent who can share what's going on in their child's life feels more connected to them. If an old family friend stopped your parents at a grocery store and they asked about you, what could they share? Could they say anything meaningful about your life at that moment? Or would they struggle?
The ideal outcome is that your parents have a response to the most common question: How is Rosamaria doing? If they could say, "She graduated this year and decided to move in for six months while she decides on her next steps. She's rebuilding her networks here and trying to figure out if there are any opportunities in this city. She's also trying to decide if grad school is an appropriate option. She's been contacting professors at different universities to determine if she should focus on getting into a graduate school program or if finding a job is the better option. So, she's doing very well. She's having fun and working through some tough choices. Having her home and watching her move through this process has been great."
A concise response like this helps your parents articulate your current phase of life to themselves and others. There's no ambiguity about your life while living with them.
On the one hand, you should always want the people you love to understand what you're doing and why you're doing it and be able to give them the language to share with others. On the other hand, you need to control your story if you have a complicated parental relationship. If you can't trust your parents to share a truthful story about you, you want others to hear about your life, achievements, and success directly from you.
Let me know which tip you'll try. And if you have an update, please share. I always want to know how my tips impact the lives of my readers.