We take a day out each year to specifically honor our mothers, yet we know that every day there are struggles, and achievements that go unnoticed. WE SEE YOU. We are you. We thought it would be interesting to ask the following questions to five different women, each trying to work out their lives, family, career in their own way.
- How has being a mom developed you as a professional?
- What choices did you make to achieve your goals for your career and family?
- What advice would you give a new mom to help her balance motherhood and a career?
We wondered if there would be similarities in their answers, and also what the differences would be. Some concentrated on defining their career before they had kids, some have a career that exploded since having kids. Some have remained focused on their initial career; others have found their professional life has taken a different trajectory.
We know not every mom chooses to have a career and family. We completely respect that decision. For the purpose of this blog, we are going to focus on moms that have chosen to work outside the home. We hope you enjoy and know you might see yourself in some of their insights and strategies.
Being a mom has reshaped my professional life in a major way. Prior to parenthood, I always felt that I was career driven. I had big sights and wanted to do a lot of things but sometimes never fully committed to them because I felt that I could get to it later, that I had time. Now as a parent, I want my son to see that his mom is hardworking and successful. I don’t just want to be successful; I NEED to be successful. If there is something that I want, like a new job, promotion or position, I prepare myself fully and I go for it. I have also realized that my time is important. I schedule my day for maximum impact, and I go about it efficiently. When I get home, I want to be present with my family.
I always knew that when I had a child, going back to work was not a question. My career gives me a sense of purpose and satisfaction. However, when I actually had my child, I knew that I was going to have to make it all fit in an efficient way. When I am at work, I am fully committed to the tasks at hand between working hours. But when I get home, that is family time. It’s time for me to be present with my son and my husband. Gone are the days of happy hours after work! There is a lot of scheduling going on behind the scenes with my husband via a shared calendar so we can both take work trips when necessary or complete work tasks while balancing our son’s calendar. Date nights are in that calendar, too. Scheduling has become a way of life for us to make it all work successfully.
My advice is this—If your career is important to you, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you want. And when you’re at work, know that your family comes first. There are going to be days when work is going to take the wheel, but don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate what works for you and your family. The days sometimes feel long, but the years are short, and time is precious. Schedule, schedule, schedule! Rather than feeling lost like you have a million things to do and not enough time to do it, write it down so you know what’s going on with your day and your life. If you still don’t have enough time to get it all done, prioritize what’s truly important and what needs to get done immediately vs what can wait. And don’t forget that your little people are watching what you do – you are shaping the future. Lastly, don’t forget about yourself. It’s easy to get lost trying to juggle your career and your home life, it can quickly feel like you are working 24/7 and result in burn-out. Schedule time for self-care, you are important, and a happy mom makes a happy family.
Being a mom has allowed me to develop two very specific skills in my professional skill set; efficiency and focus. Every part of my day must have purpose whether it is being with my kids or being in the office. I do not have the luxury of being able to catch up on things later if I am not efficient with my work in the office. “Later” is already reserved for dinner, playing trains, or reading at bedtime. After bedtime is already reserved for laundry, dishes, and preparing for the following day. Each part of the day is accounted for and therefore I am not able to let anything slip. For that reason, I have gotten very good at budgeting my time in the office and knowing exactly how long a project may take. I must stay focused on whatever is in front of me. I keep my meetings and calls planned for times I know will make the most sense in my day. I find that as I have perfected this skill, it has in turn greatly benefited my clients as my turnaround time is dependable and timely.
Being a CPA can be a very demanding career and easily not very family friendly. I was very conscious that if becoming a CPA was a goal of mine, it needed to happen before I became a mom. I joke that I almost failed the CPA exam because my husband was too distracting. I can’t imagine how much more distracting having kids would have been. I made the choice to front load a big career goal before having kids, but I know moms who have accomplished similar achievements while simultaneously being a mom. I am in awe of them. Additionally, I was very conscious to apply for and work with firms and people that were family first. The easiest way to have the right culture fit at work is to surround yourself with people that either have the same values or respect each other’s personal values. I am very lucky to work with the people that I do.
Every day you are going to wake up and have to make a conscious decision about how you are going to balance being a mom and your career. Every day is going to be a different balance. Some days will be all about your kids, some days you will have a long day that is all about work, and quite a few will be some combination of the two. Each day make a decision about what that day’s balance is going to look like and then commit. I spent too long feeling like I should be with my kids when I was at work and that I should be working when I was home with my kids. When you are at work, focus on your career and being the best you can be. When you are home, focus on your kids and being the best mom you can be. You can’t “have it all” at the same time. The best way to “have it all” is to be fully present wherever you are.
I think the biggest “a-ha” moment I had as I drew parallels between motherhood and work, has been expectation-setting. I remember when my son was very young and I, as a lot of first-time mothers, tended to do everything for him. I wanted to make it easy. But, as he’s grown and I’ve had another child, I’ve realized that often the best thing I can do as a mom is to set the expectation and then step back. As individuals we are all capable of a lot more than we tell ourselves we are. But, if we don’t allow those we manage (or parent) to work independently, we can inadvertently stifle growth. Laying out an expectation of behavior or achievement, with regular check-ins to ensure proper support for success, proves to be a much more meaningful way to foster desired outcomes.
My career and parenting paths have not followed what I would call an “expected” trajectory (I have yet to meet someone whose did!). I had kids relatively young and this is something I’ve never regretted. They are the best part of my life. My husband and I divorced about 2 years ago, and single parenthood was definitely not part of the plan. But I have found a balance in my life that fits us well. However, I had to advocate for myself. I accepted my current job about 16 months ago and was very upfront about what I needed – and what they would gain by having me. It’s been a perfect situation for both me and the company. I’ve never felt that I had to choose between success or family and I’m grateful to my bosses for that.
What I would say is this: Some days are going to be hard. You will wonder if you can do it all. I’d encourage you to step outside of the imposter syndrome ( a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud ) you’re feeling as a mother and worker, and truly recognize how much you have to offer. And, remember, it’s okay to ask for what you need, at work and at home. You don’t have to do it all alone. Be careful with social media. Everyone else’s perfect-looking life isn’t really that perfect, so don’t spend your days comparing yourself to others. Be the best mom and mom-boss you can be. The rest is outside your control anyway.
I have been able to lean into my natural strengths more to help me be a successful mom and professional. I have always loved organizing, structure and rearranging. I make sure that everything is documented on my calendar and I review it daily. I write down everything that needs to be done at work, at home and for the kids. If it is not on my list or on the calendar- it doesn’t happen! I feel like I am even more productive with my time at work. I focus to get my work done and when I catch up with my friends at work it is while we are eating or walking to a meeting. I make the most out of every minute so I can leave work at work and focus on the kids when I get home.
I made sure that my work environment is a great professional culture fit for me, but also for my family. My workplace is amazing – ensuring I can leave when needed to get the kids. In return I make sure to give work my all.
My advice to a new working mom is to know that you will never feel balanced. Some days you will feel like you are the best employee at your company, other days you will feel like you are the best mom in the world and there will be some special days/weeks where you feel like you are a rock star at both. Remember to high-five yourself at the end of the day for the things that you rocked at, whether that was a presentation you did at work or that you got your baby to daycare with their favorite blankie.
You discover as a parent, that a certain type of parenting strategy may work for a period of time, or with a certain child, but at other times or with other children you may have to be flexible and readjust. It’s the same in any job or career. You need to understand who you are working with and adjust accordingly, there is no one size fits all way of dealing with people – or your kids. There is also no one size fits all career path. My professional trajectory was more like, well, a scribble then a straight line. Being a mom has taught me patience, going through motherhood a second time with grown children out the door gave me the confidence (and hindsight) to understand that things work out, and to let the little things go to keep your emotional and physical energy for the big stuff. It allows me to be calm in the midst of someone else’s storm, key to working with multiple clients in very different professions.
Throughout my life I’ve worn many hats. Each one has been the right choice for a particular time in my life to maximize my career satisfaction and my family time. When my older kids were little, I taught preschool so they could come along with me. As they got older and needed me less and could get themselves places, I worked in an events company. My next career jump was working at a national landmark on the peninsula, and then a move to the East Bay led me to work with a special needs advocate and then marketing for a local food bank. The real game changer came however, not from my own kids, but when – as many of us baby boomers are finding – I found myself needing to be a caregiver for my mother who was diagnosed with Dementia, and shortly thereafter the same diagnosis for my dad. I still had one child at home and was navigating two parents with Dementia. I realized I would not be able to maintain regular office hours and knew my career path was going to need to change yet again if they were going to have the quality of life they deserved. I needed to drive my own schedule and that was the impetus for starting my own business. It was clear to me that all those hats had found a home, coming together to provide a very useful skillset, allowing me to create a business that was flexible and mobile and provided me with a way to work and take care of my family. Tip: Don’t be afraid to change gears in your career!
It will all work out. It really will. You want a career – go for it. Your kids will adjust, you will adjust. Don’t be afraid to let them see you working out problems, or making a mistake, or having to change directions in your career or your parenting, think about involving them if appropriate. You do not have to be perfect. Maybe you’ll model valuable problem-solving skills in the process. Hey, by making mistakes and working your way through them – you just might be a better parent and co-worker than you thought.
Holian Associates provides strategy, resources and coaching for every stage of your career. If you need help with job search strategy, career transition, resume creation, LinkedIn development, interview preparation, professional strengths coaching, or navigating your job search as a college student or recent college grad, email us at Julia@holianassociates.com or give us a call at (925) 451-3183.