"You're a mom, you have a big career, you're active in your community and you ‘never’ miss a basketball game when your daughter is playing!"
My answer: "I just do."
But it's not fully true. It's far more complicated than that.
Being a working mom is a challenge and an honor. It's daily sacrifices and lots of little wins. It's a series of choices that begins when you wake up and continues through your dreams—particularly if you're stuck in my head! Yes, that's right: even when I'm sleeping, I am contemplating and planning for the moves ahead.
I'm one of 71 percent of mothers in the U.S. who make up a big chunk of the labor market. And 92 percent of dads are workers as well. What does this mean? Well, it means that I'm not the only person who "does it all," and that I share in this intense honor and challenge with so many other people.
I recently caught up with a friend who has a beautiful 19 month-old baby. She is a senior level executive and her career very important to her. She told me she's been thinking about Baby No. 2, but isn't quite sure how she would make it work; so she asked me the question about how I make it work. And I gave her my stock answer: "I just do, and you will too."
Growing up, I didn't think too much about my career. I wanted to be a Mom. It was all I cared about. I "decided" I'd have a boy, then a girl. Just like my Mom had. I had names picked out for my future babies by the time I was 10. I practiced being a great mom with my Cabbage Patch Kid dolls. I was set and ready to go.
And then life happened. I was lucky enough to meet the love of my life when I was 22 and we got married when I was 24. He had a good job at a small company, and I was the head of recruiting for an Internet startup. We were "living it up" in New York City and earning just enough to eat out twice a week. It felt good to be hustling, and it was the first time I got the taste of career success. I had never expected to want or love a career. That wasn't part of the plan.
I was promoted to VP just before I got pregnant with my first baby. I was elated and freaked out. I worked as hard as my body would allow so that nobody would think the pregnancy was "affecting me." Showing any "weakness" was not OK, and focusing on the pregnancy over my work seemed quite taboo in 2005.
I built a team at work that I loved. I promoted a strong manager to director. I had an incredible relationship with the group president, and I was her trusted business partner. This baby was not going to change me at all. I'd deliver this boy, take my maternity leave and jump right back in to my leadership role.
I learned quickly that I wasn't in charge anymore. At 30 weeks pregnant, my doctor put me on bed rest. There was no more commuting, no more in-person attendance at meetings with the group president. When my baby was born premature, he was a SHE! A perfect, beautiful, baby girl. What?! I had a girl first, not a boy? I didn't go full term? I left work sooner than anticipated? What about my plan???
Well, welcome to the world of parenthood, self. I did not have all the power anymore, and I needed a new mindset. I would need to be more flexible, more agile, more adaptable. I'd need to focus on change and how to manage it productively. I'd need to see the world as a set of opportunities, not set plans. I would learn that as a working parent, priorities shift multiple times throughout any given day.
Fast forward to today. I am the proud mom of a 12-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy. She's a basketball star and he wants to be a Broadway star. I am here to support every dream they have, and I do my best to teach them that you can't plan for everything. There are bumps and turns and hurdles that jump in the way, and each one can be a deterrent or an opportunity. It's up to all of us and our mindset.
I'm not even at the "halfway mark" of their childhood, so I'm still in the game. But here are the biggest lessons I've learned so far on how to "do it all:"
1. Every day offers new decisions as a working caregiver.
The choices don't get easier, but you become more accustomed to making the decisions. Sometimes, you'll pick the marketing review meeting and sometimes you'll pick the girl scout meeting. Try to find the balance the feels best to you.
2. Don't beat yourself up.
If you spend time feeling guilty about the choice you didn't make, you lose the opportunity to fully enjoy, engage and perform where you are. You are #human, and you can’t be in two places at once. (Trust me: I’ve tried. It can’t be done.) So, be proud when you can make it and be kind to yourself when you can’t.
Believe me, showing up at your son's school play and spending the whole time answering emails on your phone is not worth it. If you only get to attend the school play once a year, be present. Enjoy it. Take photos. Tell your son how happy you are to be there with him. Conversely, if you decide to attend the client meeting, you better be focused on the business topic at hand!
4. You’re not alone.
You don’t have to do this yourself. You can (and should) share these challenges with your partner, your co-workers, your boss, your friends and even your kids! Show vulnerability and honesty about the fact that you want to show up as much as possible, and let your support network help you. If you share your challenges, people are more likely to empathize, support, share their own experiences and give you meaningful insights.
5. Reframe your idea of “doing it all."
Maybe you adopt the concept that “done is better than perfect." Or perhaps, you rethink what “all” really means to you. Or maybe, like, me, you decide that experiencing this struggle out loud does not make you weak at all; it makes you human.
Whatever it is, know that your life is rich and full, and that is what it means to have it all. Think of all the people who would look at your situation and envy your good fortune.
So, do I “do it all?" I now say that I do. It’s different from what I expected when I was 10, but the picture is just as full. Just as beautiful. Just as exciting. And I am so blessed. The journey continues …