By: Ingrid Burton
I posted this blog on Medium two years ago, thought I’d share a slight rework of it with all the Mothers and Makers out there again.
It’s Mother’s Day, and today is when I count my blessings. I am the mother of a wonderful blended family. I have four children of my own, and three stepchildren. Do the math… that’s 7! They are all great young adults that are either entering college, graduating, working grown-up jobs, or doing post-graduate work. They are an eclectic and crazy bunch that I love dearly. Really, no two of them are alike. We have everything from a computer science whiz, to a soon-to-be Ph.D. therapist, to a couple of global business and marketing guys, to comms and middle eastern studies student, to materials physics guru, and then there is the aspiring fashion and design student who wants to join the FBI. Let me tell you, it can’t get any more diverse than that! They have all grown up to be good citizens of this world. I am so proud of each and every one of them.
When family and kids come up in conversations with people in business, both men and women, are really surprised that I not only became a senior executive but that I did it as a mother of so many kids. They want to know how I managed to juggle it all, rise up the corporate ladder, and keep it all together i.e. my sanity. Well, not sure I kept my sanity all the time, but yes, you can do it all. Here are a few insights that I want to pass on to the next generation of working parents:
1. Prioritize everything.
The trick is to juggle priorities and to look across the long view. This isn’t work/life balance; it is prioritizing what’s important. Know when to be at a work event, school activity or family milestone. In my mind, you simply did not miss birthdays if at all possible. I did have to fly out on one of my son’s birthdays in order to be at CES the next morning. He still jokes with me about that. Key school or after school activities are important as well, but you can’t be at all of them, especially when you have just one of you and so many of them. I tried my hardest to be there at almost everything. Apparently, I succeeded or so they think. My children have since told me that they are amazed at how many events of theirs I went to while working. I apparently never missed a ballet performance in 10 years, cheered at nearly every cross country meet, every ski race, every soccer game according to my kids. They didn’t know that I was doing conference calls from the soccer field. It simply mattered to them that I was there. I believe I missed more than they remember, but according to one daughter, she was secretly relieved that I wasn’t at one of her piano recitals. As for work, I passed on a lot of international travel and sent others. I flew at ungodly hours for years to be with my kids on weekends and those days that it really mattered. I kept my managers informed about my whereabouts and constantly communicated with my teams. It was a juggle, but it was and is doable.
2. Keep perspective and focus.
My work does not define me. My work is a passion of mine, but I also try to keep it in perspective. Work early in my career was our sole income, we needed it as a family. The great news is that I love what I do, and I’ve always kept focused on what needed to get done today, this week, this quarter, or the year. I also don’t believe I ever stressed about the next promotion since I knew if I could do a great job, the rewards would come. And they did. I also am a big believer in taking a deep breath when the going gets tough and ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” The world isn’t coming to an end. Speed bumps at work happen, but just keep motoring through them and you will get through it. Stay laser focused and keep your sense of humor, and you will get through it.
3. Open communication with everyone.
I had very open dialogues with my kids as to why I needed to travel, work late hours or be apart from them. They understood from a very young age, that this was simply what we all needed to do. They tell me that they were proud of me and understood. I also kept my management informed when I needed to tradeoff a family event overwork. Everyone appreciated open communication.
4. No guilt.
So many women of my generation expressed guilt about going back to work after having children. I never felt guilt, but many times I had some incredible sadness. I missed being with my children, but then when I got home and spent time with them, I believe it was always great. I love spending time with them always, and as they have grown up, our relationships are strong and meaningful.
5. Ask for help.
I have to thank so many people, including my amazing husband, friends, family, extended family, the schools, people in the community for helping when I needed help. I started asking for a lot help when I became a single mom of four when the youngest was seven and the oldest was fourteen. I needed more help than ever before. Simply asking the school to help keep my kids a little longer after school, or asking another parent to help with pickups and drop-offs was key. When one of my kids was critically ill, I asked to work from home which I did for nearly 2 months, but I also offered to go on leave if I couldn’t keep up. Somehow I did, and my management told me I was always there on email and phone to keep things running. I so appreciate that many of the companies I have worked for gave me the flexibility and freedom to take care of family when it absolutely mattered. It was a tough time, but we all made it through. Dear managers, please pay it forward for people who need time to take care of their family whether aging parent, sick partner or child. Again, I have so many people to thank including the people I worked with that were very understanding and wanted to achieve a good life balance as well.
6. Take care of You.
Sleep, eating well, faith and exercise are part of you and, therefore, very important. Don’t give up on any of these. I tend to prioritize sleep and exercise. Simply walking every day before the madness of the day starts was always enough for me. Now I run. Getting outside daily was also key. Feeling the sun on my face gives me renewed energy. Ok, and I love my 2 o’clock lattes! The point is to take care of yourself and do what makes you feel better physically, emotionally and spiritually. You’ll know what works for you.
So, when asked, “can you have it all?”, I always say, yes, and smile.