So, You’ve Decided to Have It All
Part one in a six-part series, Creative Parenting for the Working Mom, from Reinventing the Working Mom®
Having it all. It’s become a catchall, a cliché. It’s a criticism (“She left the meeting early; I guess that’s what they mean by ‘having it all.’”) It’s well-meaning, if patronizing advice. (“Just don’t try to have it all.”) And it’s the dream of countless women. (“Could I really have it all?”)
The answer is, of course you can.
Welcome to Creative Parenting for the Working Mom, a six-part series that will help you navigate the often thorny landscape that is balancing career and family. It’s not easy. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. But every day, amazing women make it happen. Valerie Jarret, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, blocked out time for her daughter and arranged work meetings around that. Multiple-Grammy-Awarded singer Adele schedules one afternoon a week for herself — without her son. And the late, great, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who advanced the cause of women like few in history, said she owed her law school success to dividing her time between studying and caring for her 14-month-old daughter. “I felt each part of my life gave me respite from the other.”
The Choice Is Yours
Some women choose not to have children. Others choose to be stay-at-home moms. If your decision is honest, heartfelt, and the product of serious, quiet reflection, good for you! But this series is written for the others — the many professional women who approach me anywhere from the boardroom to the playground, women who desperately want children but don’t know where to start. Women who are terrified of losing all they’ve worked for. Women who know I own my own law firm and am raising two happy, healthy children. Women who say, “I wish I could do what you’ve done,” or “You give me hope for having my own kids someday,” or the ever-present, ‘How did you ever manage it?”
The good news? You already have the tools you need. Once you apply your professional skills to your personal life, both suddenly seem…well…manageable. Think about your job: you delegate, handle budgets, evaluate risks, set strategies, formulate short- and long-term plans, multitask, juggle multiple demands efficiently and, maybe most importantly, assemble teams you can trust.
Parenting works the same way.
I was always taught that we have two sides, professional and personal, and you don’t ever bring your personal side to work. My custom-made business wear was styled like men’s suits — I thought being successful meant being like a man and doing what men do. But truly successful women don’t have to fight — or copy — the system. They can create their own.
Do I have all the answers? Not even close. But applying my business solutions to my family life worked for me. Whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I readjust those solutions to solve my current problem. My advice isn’t one-size-fits-all; you’ll need to make your own adjustments and ask your own questions. But I’m a firm believer in mentorships, role models, good partners, and good friends; I couldn’t have managed without mine, and now I can return what I was given.
But the first step is making sure you know what you want. Start with what my friend calls a brain cleanse. It’s where you shake the cobwebs off, turn down life’s incessant volume, take a deep breath, and listen to yourself. For her, this usually means taking a lengthy trip alone; for me, it’s three little words.
Stop. Think. Reflect.
Stop whatever you’re doing. Find a quiet place. A beach. A park. A favorite corner of your home. Anywhere you can hear your own heart. Think about what’s missing in your life. What makes you happy? Unhappy? Is there anyone you’re jealous of? (That’s probably the lifestyle you should have.) Reflect on how this will fit into your own big picture. How much will it change your life? Are you prepared to make those changes? Do you have a plan B? How would you feel if this never happens?
Elizabeth had been blissfully single for a while, living a low-paid, but well-traveled life that felt like a dream. But one day, she realized she had turned 38 without noticing. “I got scared,” she recalled. “I had never actually wanted children, but I was still terrified of future regret. I always thought the “normal gene” would kick in at some point, which it didn’t, but I didn’t want to miss my chance just because I was careless.” She had even hoped a doctor would tell her children weren’t possible, just so the decision wasn’t hers to make. But then she took the time to stop, think, and reflect.
Stop. She told me she and her notebook found a quiet spot and sat for a while. Think. She wrote a list of everything she wanted to do before she died. “It was countries I hadn’t been to, books I hadn’t read, and languages I didn’t speak,” she said. “There was nothing about children. Reflect. She was living exactly the life she wanted, and it eased her mind. “I never worried about it again.”
Kelly had the opposite problem. A successful CFO of a major private equity firm in NYC, she had wanted a child for years, but kept putting it off. Soon…she would be established in her career. Soon…she would be financially secure. Soon…things would slow down at work. Soon…she would meet the right person. By the time she was ready, her biological moment had passed. She endured years of unsuccessful IVF only to have her manager mention one day, “You’re a much better business person than you ever would be a mother.” She was floored. “I thought, maybe he was right. Maybe that’s why I can’t get pregnant, that I belong in the office.” She is filled with regret now, but has aged out of most adoption agencies. And she wishes she could turn back the clock.
I never had any doubt about having a child, but even for me, it wasn’t a straight line. I was a successful attorney who had fled the kind of marriage that makes you give up two houses and a million dollars and still think you came out ahead. I was single again, rebuilding my life with the less than $700 I had left, and running out of child-bearing years. But I knew what I wanted; now I needed a strategy. The first step? The same advice I would give any career woman who wants children — announce your intentions and make your plans.
Now Make It Happen
Intent is a powerful force, and saying it out loud makes it real, whatever it is. It’s like having an accountability partner for diet or exercise; it codifies your objective and gives you a reason to go ahead. Suddenly, taking care of your health, saving your money, and improving your habits go from vague ideas to clear, stated goals.
I started building up my finances and concentrating on exercise and nutrition to prepare my body for pregnancy. I told my then boyfriend I wanted a child, and that his level of involvement was up to him. In the meantime, I sold off stock from my previous employer, so when the time finally came, I managed to be a single, stay-at-home mom for the first year of my son Matthew’s life.
But while I was (and am) truly grateful for our uninterrupted bonding time, I also never left the house. My sweatpants had become a uniform, and a tired, saggy one at that. Worse, my brain was starting to atrophy. My friend Rachel, an Israeli immigrant and mother of three, shook me out of it. “I’ll never understand this about American women,” she would say. “Why do US moms think they should stay home to be better parents? Why don’t they think they can do both equally well?”
She was right. The best way to serve both my son and me was to go back to work. Finding childcare, leaving my son at home, and readjusting to an office again were formidable challenges. But I also met my soulmate, got married again, and had a second child at 44. But while you should never close any romantic doors, don’t ever let being single be an obstacle to motherhood. If you want a family, you can have a family. With planning, preparation, and the transfer of skill sets, anything is possible.
Being a working mom is not easy, but neither is being a C-level executive, a top attorney, a cabinet member, a medical chief of staff, a tenured professor, an elite athlete, or first chair in an orchestra. You’ve managed that, right? Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who along with Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier won the 2020 Nobel Prize for chemistry for their work in gene editing, calls her son Andrew “her greatest experiment.”
And that’s the point. Being a working mom just may be the most rewarding thing you ever do, transforming your life beyond all recognition. When that happens, embrace it.
Working Moms Are Good for All of Us
The fact is, working mothers are good for children and good for society. A 2015 Harvard Business School study found that daughters of working mothers are usually better educated, have higher-level employment, and earn more money than daughters of women who did not work. And the boys? Sons whose mothers worked spent more time doing household chores and caring for family members than did their counterparts. So, being a working mom is better for you, it’s better for your kids, and it’s better for society at large? It’s hard to see a downside here.
You know that old saying, attributed to many, that “no one ever died wishing they had spent more time at the office?” True or not, I know a number of people who wanted children who then regretted not having them.
Of course, it’s still hard. After all, careful planning doesn’t put you in control of anything. But it does give you the tools to face any challenge that comes your way.
The Creative Parenting for the Working Mom series will help you with strategies to make your days easier and your decisions more manageable. I’ll discuss how you can build your support teams, how to keep yourself healthy and happy, and how to advocate for yourself at work and at home. You’ll still have days where you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, and even days where you question your life decisions. But ask most working moms out there, and they’ll probably say frazzled is how they like it.
Having kids is the best thing that ever happened to me. Every day, they teach me how to be present and how to be kind. They have made me a better businesswoman and a better person. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
But this is all easier if you have the right job, which brings us to Part Two: Want to be a Working Mom? Pick the Right Job, coming soon.
Can’t wait for the next installment? Get the Creative Parenting for the Working Mom e-book today, complete with worksheets, checklists, and practical tips, from Reinventing the Working Mom.® Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.