Achieving work-life balance is a pervasive challenge — especially if you’re a mom who also works outside the home. When you’re a mom who’s also a CEO, entrepreneur, doctor, lawyer, designer, teacher, accountant, administrator, coach … or any other career professional, the challenge intensifies even more.
In celebration of Mother’s Day, we reached out to several accomplished moms — women at the top of their professional game who have managed to lead a company, grow their career AND raise a family — and asked them: How in the world do you do it?
Their responses, including how guilt enters (or is absent from) the work-life balance equation, how they juggle competing priorities, and how their roles influence their identity are featured below.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Arment Dietrich, Inc.
“I’m supposed to have guilt; why don’t I?”
I really hate to say it, but I rarely feel guilty. I’ve struggled to figure out why that is — I’m supposed to have guilt; why don’t I? I don’t know if it’s because I became a mom later in life, because I work from home so I have more flexibility than most, because I’ve built a business that supports work/life balance (and didn’t become a mom until it could support that decision), or because I’ve managed to figure out how to be on at work during business hours and how to ignore work during mom hours.
Compartmentalizing, prioritizing and staying accountable …
Compartmentalizing allows me to handle competing commitments; I get up a 5 a.m. to write and I know I have only two hours to do so. At 7:00, I get the small one up and ready for school. Then I ride my bike and am back at my desk and ready to work by 9:00. I work in blocks of time, with my priorities for the day clearly outlined. Meetings are part of those blocks, as well.
Internally, we do a daily check-in that includes our top three priorities for the day, which holds all of us accountable to a productive day. Of course, there are days when the school nurse calls and you have a client meeting that interferes with pick-up, but I try really hard to make family the priority and have worked hard to work with clients who understand that and do the same.
My identity and priorities overlap—but they’re not the same.
I am a CEO, cyclist, and then mom, which is probably why I don’t have a lot of guilt. My family is always, always first and I’ve given up paid speaking engagements and client work to put them first, but I don’t identify first as a mom.
Owner, Salon Vie Rebelle
Guilt drives and derails on a moment-to-moment basis.
Technology helps save the day, especially when I’m on the road. I use the app Marco Polo to check in with them so they don’t get sad since I miss story time. I also remind myself that it’s important to show my family that what I do makes a difference in other people’s lives — that helps tremendously to counter the guilt I feel when I’m away from home.
Tuning out the critics …
I always lead with my heart and try not to listen to other people’s opinions about what I should be doing. I look to other working moms for guidance and strength.
I wear all the hats of mom and CEO and wife, friend, that I am not just one so they are all my identity. I try and tune out the critics inside and outside and focus on my family and business.
My mom and Nonnie are my role models; they both ran produce companies and raised their kids, so seeing them be able to “do it all” drove me to want it all. The best advice they gave me was “Be you; everyone else is taken!”
Owner, Kemora Landscapes
“It’s not about me.”
When I struggle with guilt over having to miss my kids’ events due to scheduling conflicts, I remind myself that most of the kids at these events don’t have both parents in attendance all the time and some none at all. I make a point to ask them how it went and make sure they know I’m interested — but also help them recognize that it is their event, and is not about me or my presence.
When everything feels like a priority, I typically just take a deep breath, really analyze what is the most pertinent thing at that moment, and just try to focus in on one thing at a time. It’s not easy, but I make a pointed effort to not let the overwhelming list of other things distract me from accomplishing the task at hand.
A blended identity
I feel that my identity is a variation of both CEO and mom, making sure that my employees feel seen, supported, and cared for as I do for my children. I also try to make my children understand the importance of their role and responsibilities, as well as have them understand what it means to be a good employee for someone else. I, to some degree, have the same level of expectations of my kids in the house as I do for my employees at the office.
Executive and Career Coach, Jody Michael Associates
Planning affords flexibility
I do my best to plan ahead and keep to a schedule. If I know I have something big coming up in a few weeks’ time — and I am able to estimate how much time it will take for me to complete that project — I find an hour here or there in the weeks ahead of my deadline and mark them off on my calendar to make sure I’m not feeling frantic as the days accelerate close to the deadline.
Because neither work nor parenthood always proceeds as planned, I try to be flexible to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. When new priorities emerge, it doesn’t usually feel too overwhelming or stressful because I have built in a little wiggle room.
Keeping values in perspective
I tend to experience guilt when I feel like I have to let go of something that I value in one area to ensure that I get something else done in another area. For example, food and healthy nutrition is a strong value for me. But occasionally, I opt to feed the kids a store-bought meal instead of one that I made at home.
In instances like this, I can feel the guilt surfacing; however, I try to remember the big picture and remind myself that on average, in the larger scheme, I am keeping my family healthy. I try to loosen the rigidity in some areas when another priority is rising.
It’s a balancing act at times, but I also highly value peace and tranquility — and I have found that I cannot have peace when I focus on my guilt.
Activities vs Identity
Compartmentalizing is one strategy that allows me to achieve balance; while at work, I feel like a professional and keep myself focused on work activities; while at home, I feel like a mom, and try to maintain focus on home activities.
However, there are times when the roles overlap and I am wearing both hats: answering emails while sitting on the sidelines of a soccer practice, or finishing a project during the kids’ homework time. Because technology can blur the lines between work and family life, it’s up to me to create — and maintain — boundaries.
To me, work-life balance involves more than juggling all the things I want (and need) to do at work, at home and for my own wellness; it’s about integrating my values, my roles and my priorities into my identity.