BY LORI KLEIN
Figuring out how to navigate and grow a satisfying career is not easy. Figuring out how to be a parent is one of the hardest and most important things you might ever do. Figuring out how to balance both a career and kids: next level challenging. Having been through it, I can tell you it is worth it. Especially now that my kids are grown. I am so grateful to have a career to keep me passionate and purposeful.
Learning how to tackle a career is a lifelong journey for some, a clearcut path for others. There are schools, podcasts, adult education programs and volumes of books and articles that will help you work a lot of that out. Figuring out how to grow a couple of humans into kind, productive contributors to society (in other words motherhood) is something that you can’t really understand until you’re deep in the trenches. (Why is there not a graduate degree in this?) At least that’s how it was for me. I had stacks of parenting magazines and books on my bedside table from the time I learned I was pregnant. You’d often find me pouring over every warning while my anxiety escalated. “We need to get a security expert to come baby proof the house now or he’s going to come out of my womb and lick the exposed outlets while eating an uncut grape!” This was about 4 months before my due date for my first child.
The Rubik’s Cube that is finding the right balance between career and motherhood can be particularly daunting. I get it.
I was a stay-at-home mom until my kids were 6 and 9. I ran a very organized, clean, happy home filled with enriching activities, entertainment and social opportunities for my kids. Yeah. I was one of those moms. Don’t judge. Our days were spent at zoos, aquariums and kids’ hour at our local book store. Once the kids were in school, afternoons had us going from dance to gymnastics to sports to martial arts. When I suddenly became a single mom everything was turned upside-down and I had to start making money, STAT.
When I first went back to work, I wanted everything to remain as much the same for my kids as possible. I hired a wonderful young woman they’d both known for years to pick them up every day from school to take them to all their activities. I thought that would create a sense of consistency. Every night my kids were weepy at bedtime. When they told me it was because they wanted me to pick them up from school like I always had, and that they didn’t care if that meant we had to give up all the extracurriculars, I was surprised. I got that one completely wrong. I signed them up for the after-school care at their school and began picking them up everyday at 6. They were happy once again. And with me at work, our lives became a lot less chaotic. Ironic, right?
I was really lucky to have developed a successful side business while working full-time (more about that in a future post), which eventually meant I could work from home, greeting my kids when they got off the school bus each day. Fortunately, the business world has evolved enormously thanks to technology, and more and more people are able to work remotely. Still, work is work whether at home with the kids or at the office. There will be times when a career mom feels pulled in more than one direction, and it can feel like you’re doing a lackluster job at both motherhood and the day job.
Here are a few things I learned through trial and error which might help you make the most of balancing motherhood alongside your career:
When you are working, be focused and have a plan for the day and a plan for the week. Know what HAS to get done, and what might have to wait. When you are “off the clock” and with your kids, really BE with them. Leave your phone face down. Focus when they talk about their favorite Angry Bird or anime. I read about a strategy that recommended giving each of your children special “Mom and Me” time for 20 minutes each day where the child gets mom’s full attention and gets to decide what they will do with their time. It might be a light saber battle or constructing a Lego castle. It might be a snuggle on the couch. They pick, and mom complies. I tried this and my kids loved it. It eventually lost traction as they got older but I think it helped when it was needed most.
Seriously. The kids don’t need a floor clean enough to lick. They need you. And they need you to not be stressed about things that don’t really matter. Things don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect.
It takes just as long to serve breakfast on the back porch, the front lawn or the living room floor and call it a picnic as it does to serve it at the table. You don’t have to act serious all the time just because you’re a grown-up. Be silly. Have fun. Nothing will make your kids happier, and your stress levels will drop.
Your kids are listening when they overhear you talk about work. They are really little sponges so why not start including them. When my son was 8 years old, I mentioned that I had placed a full-page print ad for our business in a local weekly publication. He asked me how much it cost. I told him, and then he asked how many people read that publication. I was floored. My little guy was, in his own way, working out the cost per person on an advertising initiative. This shifted my perspective on what to share with them, and they have provided fascinating insights through a lens I simply don’t have. Don’t be afraid to talk above your kids’ level. They will almost certainly rise to it.
To your kids. To your support network if you’re lucky enough to have one. Hire out certain tasks if it will preserve your sanity. When my daughter was 7, she very politely interrupted a work meeting I had in my home office to ask how long she should reheat the chicken breast to go with the rice and broccoli she was preparing. How’s that for independence? And independent kids are very often what working parents raise. Our kids wind up doing things we might have otherwise done for them. And independent kids are confident, more secure and have a sense of mastery that they might not have had otherwise.