The great debate over “Can women have IT ALL?” is likely to continue for years to come. In the last couple years, I have come to believe that you can BUT you just might need to redefine what ‘IT ALL’ means for you. Everyone knows that being a working mom is hard but unless you’ve been there, juggling a kid in one arm and a client on the phone in another, it may not sink in just how hard. So here are just a few pieces of advice and lessons learned that I found to be invaluable as I continue to get comfortable with my role as a mom AND a traveling consultant.
Set Boundaries (and Stick to Them).
One thing I have surely realized (and have been told over and over by others) is that no one will set the boundaries for you. However, people tend to respect them once you make them known. The key is to stick to them with a level of conviction that makes people realize what to expect. Unless something is really ‘ON FIRE’, I will NOT answer my work phone on the weekend, and I don’t respond to emails on Saturday. Perhaps some partners are keeping tally in a little book somewhere about who is uber-responsive on weekends but unless people find you generally non-responsive or unreliable you aren’t losing anything major. IF something IS ACTUALLY on fire… break your rule… don’t be THAT mom.
I think it is important to remember that you can stay ambitious and hard-working while accepting that you may not be that over-achiever you once were. If you continue to compare yourself to your single, childless peers (the ‘you’ from X years ago) you will either be constantly disappointed or have to be ok to sacrifice something from the personal side (unless you just don’t need to sleep). There are only 24 hours in a day… be OK with that.
Don’t Make Excuses.
This is easier said than done, but the only way to break the stereotype that moms are less hardworking and less reliable is to NEVER let being a mom become an excuse for what is actually just poor planning or poor performance.
If you have a soccer game, do your part and plan ahead so that you can enjoy that game. If you don’t plan ahead, don’t blame the soccer game; blame your time management skills – in which case I would suggest you get done what is expected of you and catch the next game.
Know when you have to sacrifice and what you can/can’t live with missing out on, because sometimes you will have to. It would be great to attend every game, recital and school picnic but you also have a job to do (a demanding one) and well…you really can’t have it all (again, unless you require no sleep).
Find a Mentor.
You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last consultant to have a family. Hearing from others (men and women) has been one of the most helpful things I have done. I have gotten great ideas for keeping in touch on the road, creating a support network, communicating with your spouse and much more. I have heard from women who took all different paths once they came back and worked to balance a family with the demands of consulting and the constant travel. One thing I have gathered from all my experiences is that you don’t know what will work for you or what you will want until you are in the situation, you understand the system in place around you, and then you give it a little trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try plan B.
Be Comfortable with the Consequences.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, accept the consequences that come with all off the above. In 20 years it likely won’t matter if you got a ‘2’ performance rating instead of a ‘1’. You will likely be watching your kids graduate from college thinking “where did the time go?” and NOT “Oh, I wish I spent less time with them so I could get promoted faster.”
Put things in perspective… or don’t… the answer isn’t right for everyone!
Are you a working mom or consulting? Share your experiences and tips in the comments box below – so that we can all just learn from each other.
Danielle Zille is a consultant at a leading global consulting firm where she focuses on helping companies plan and implement large-scale HR transformations. Danielle lives in Chicago (when she isn’t ‘living’ in a Starwood hotel) with her amazingly supportive husband and son, and she continues to strive to balance the demands of motherhood and consulting life.
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