Over the last couple of months, I have made an effort to attend networking lunches and reach out to other successful working mothers (for whom I have the utmost respect) to hear about their experiences as female leaders, and as working moms.
In all honesty, I have just been wanting to hear from other more seasoned working moms that it is entirely possible to 1) be a great worker and 2) be a great mother. While I acknowledge work can and often does provide a much needed “break” in the day, it does not keep me from missing my daughter each and every day. On the flip side, I know I would not have as many opportunities to miss her as a stay-at-home mom, and knowing myself I would probably be clamoring to get back to the office. As mothers, we are all in the trenches and nothing is ever easy.
At our last networking lunch, one of the female leaders on campus (who has had a lucrative career and held executive high-level positions for Fortune 500 companies in the private sector) was invited to speak to a group of about 50 women. You could just feel the energy and enthusiasm from all of the women in the audience. She made it a point to share briefly about her children and her experience as a working mom, and had we been in a more informal setting chatting over coffee, I would have asked her about 20 questions: “What’s your secret? How did you do it? If you had to do it all over again, would you be a working mom?” And the million-dollar question: “How do you handle the work-life balance?”
But I just asked her one:
“My working mom friends have shared that they never feel like they are giving 100% to any one area of their lives (work vs. family). Would you agree?”
And she went on to share a bit more background about her work and her family, some suggestions for working moms, and an anecdote. She was always there for her kids’ scheduled meetings and events: sports games, awards nights, concerts, parent-teacher conferences, etc. Even with her busy schedule, she never missed a single event. What she did miss were are all of the unscheduled moments: being there when her kids fell down; witnessing all of their milestones first-hand; taking them out to movies after school; collecting sand on the beach for a school project.
She cried. And I cried.
What I have gathered from these women are some suggestions I hope will be helpful for other working moms:
- Support System – If you are going to be successful at work, you need a strong support system. For many (myself included), their primary support comes from their spouse/partner/significant other. I can confidently say I would not be where I am in my career without my husband’s support and encouragement. When there are evening or weekends I am required to work, he will play single daddy for the day without hassle or complaint (and vice versa). There are many others in my “village” who make up this support system, and give me confidence as a working mom each day.
- Childcare – You need to have a good childcare system in place, one you have confidence in, and caregivers you feel comfortable with leaving your child during the day. I have been extremely fortunate to have my family around to watch Sassafras these last two years.
- Draw Boundaries – Leave your work at work. I will be the first to admit I am terrible at this. My first mistake was connecting my work e-mail to my iPhone so I could always be connected. What I must remind myself is nothing needs to be answered at 10 PM. The work will still be there when I arrive at the office in the morning. Evenings and weekends are for my family, and I want to be fully present when I am at home.
- Self Care – As mothers, it is our natural inclination to put everyone else’s needs before our own. And as a working mom, when I come home after a full day of work, I am in a rush to get dinner on the table, give Sassafras a bath, play, begin her bedtime routine, clean the house, and rest before I do it all over again the next day. By 9 or 10 PM, I want to do nothing. And so I let my body atrophy whilst snacking and watching trashy reality television shows or playing games on my phone. This is another area in which I would like to grow – in taking better care of myself, spending time in life-giving friendships, and doing things that energize rather than deplete me.
- Be Proud of Your Work / Love What You Do – This is more of a luxury than a necessity/tip/recommendation, but it does help to love what you do at work. I am proud of the work I do, and this helps fuel me to continue doing what I do.
Do you have any tips for handling the work-life balance?