This is not a “mommy blog.”  I am 26 years old, about to head back to business school, and nowhere close to having children.  However, there is a high probability that one day I will want to have kids and I will have to figure out how to balance having a family with continuing to pursue the career I have worked so hard for.

This “balancing act” gives me anxiety as I know it does many other young women.  Thus, today I am passing along advice from women I admire and appear to be pulling off the act pretty well.

This past week, I moderated a Women’s Panel at my office.  The topic was “Working Moms and Having It All.”  Three moms from my office answered questions sent in from our female colleagues.  The discussion tackled both challenges and changes at work as well as challenges and changes at home.

This week, I will focus on the challenges and changes at work. Stay tuned for the challenges and changes at home.

Challenges and Changes at Work

Why did you choose to start working when you started having kids?

The three women at my office had similar reasons for coming back to work after having kids.  They each valued adult interactions and “a chance to use their brains.”Balance Road Signs

At the same time, they actually found that staying at home and taking care of their newborns during maternity leave was harder than work in many ways.  When something goes wrong at work, you have a framework for how to solve the problem.  When your baby won’t eat her lunch, you don’t know how to fix it.  Evidently, it is much easier to control work products than it is humans.

During maternity leave, these women found that staying at home wasn’t for them but recognize that it can make a lot of sense for some women.  Both are challenging, and it just depends on what makes you feel fulfilled.

How did you work schedule change after having kids?

As consultants, our schedules vary quite a bit from week to week and project to project.  However, each mom estimated that on average they work less hours than they did than before they have kids.  However, the biggest change is the times that they are working.  Rather than coming in at 8:30 in the morning and working until 6 or 7 at night, many of them come in around 9am and leave around 4:30pm to pick up their children.  They spend from about 5pm to 7pm with their family and then get back online after their children go to bed.

They each noted that they have to be diligent about not checking emails during those two hours they have with their kids each night.  Knowing they work and don’t get to spend all day with their kids, they want to make sure that those few hours they do have together are special.  This means setting expectations with their teams up front that they won’t be available during those times.

Each of these moms also tried working from home for at least some period of time.  One mom has enjoyed working from home one day each week for over a year now.  She likes having the commute time back and being able to grab at least another 20 minutes at lunch with her son.  Another mom found that working from home was too hard once her daughter became mobile.  Her daughter wanted to play with her all day and it just wasn’t productive.

Quick Disclaimer: I am fortunate to work at an extremely flexible firm.  The moms at my office have been able to adjust their work schedules to fit their lives.  They all pointed out that this is not the case at all companies and have seen their friends struggle with this much more.  Even if you aren’t thinking about having kids soon, I recommend trying to find a workplace that values work-life balance and will be flexible when one day you do have children!

How do you continue challenging yourself and moving up in the organization when you can’t necessarily make the work/life sacrifices you may have made in the past?

When I asked this question, the three women laughed.  They had just shared a Glamour article on this topic with each other that explained it perfectly.

According to the article, you should think of your career as interval training.  When you are in your twenties and don’t have children, you should work as hard as you can to push yourself up through the organization.  When you have children, you will slow down for a little bit and can then start pushing the accelerator again when your children are more independent.

This comment reminded us of another piece of advice the women in our office learned when reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In together – Don’t slow down at work in anticipation of having children.  You should keep pushing yourself right up until having kids or else you will fall further behind.

These women also found that they had become more efficient at work since having children.  They may have had to reduce their hours, but the hours they are in the office are super productive as they have had to become more decisive.  Unfortunately, this can mean skipping small chat with colleagues or leaving happy hours early, so they must be conscious of not letting work relationships suffer too significantly.

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