This Working Mom Has Had It All – For Eight Years

I am one lucky gal.

For the last eight years, I have been able to work either a four or three-day week while raising my kids. Next week my youngest starts kindergarten and, as per the plan my husband and I decided way back when we started our family, now is the time for me to return to full-time work.

Getting pregnant was not your usual “wham bam thank you Ma’am” affair for my us. It was stressful and scientific, that’s all I have to say. So when that line appeared on the pregnancy test, it was monumental. And I knew that, to protect and sustain this growing ball of cells in my womb, I had to make a serious change to my working life: I had to mitigate my appetite for my career and mute the pace at which I was working. I also knew that being a stay at home Mom wasn’t on the cards for me: both financially and intellectually, I needed to work.

“Having it all” for the last eight years was only possible through the trust and openness of some wonderful people, to whom I am eternally grateful.

Jim Barbagallo was my boss at the time I first became pregnant, eight years ago. Not only did he understand my desire to transition to a four-day week but he was also open to my longer-than-planned maternity leave. And then, when I was ready to return to work, he fought hard to get me my position and schedule back. When I became pregnant with my second child, my desire to cut back my time further coincided with the incredible serendipity of meeting William Agush. William, to me, was and is unique in realizing the winning combination of trusting experienced employees with workplace flexibility. Thanks to William, I enjoyed the working Mom’s hat trick: a three-day work week that was challenging and enjoyable, one whole day to myself every week, and time to be with my young kids. Fast forward to 2010, when I had the good fortunate to be introduced to Meg O’Leary and Beth Monaghan, principals at InkHouse. I was making my next career move but adamant about maintaining my four-day schedule. Beth and Meg, both working mothers themselves, had built this incredible, successful and vibrant PR agency with remarkable skill and talent but also with the humanity to understand that life happens, especially when you are a parent. We took a chance on each other that has paid off in spades.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that balancing being a mother and working a part-time schedule in a demanding, fast-paced industry was always sunshine and flowers. There were definitely compromises made, the never-ending juggling of competing schedules and priorities, stress and surprises. Financially, the cost of preschools, after-school care, and camps was shocking, if not crippling. Yes, there were times that I felt like I was outsourcing my kids in order to get my job done. And I’m sure that my kids thought (and still do think) that I spend as much time with my iPhone as I do with them. And none of this will change when I’m working full-time, I know. But my kids know they are loved. They know that, when they really need me, I am there. Thanks to daycare and preschool, they are sociable, optimistic and creative creatures. They also understand that work = money = toys. Which for them is really all that matters!

There were two other crucial components that made these last eight years possible.

The first is my husband. We went into parenthood – naive like most – but with an understanding that it was a joint mission and that both our careers and workaholic tendencies would have to modify. Fortunately, he works from home and sets his own schedule. For the first two years of each of our kid’s lives, he was able to be a stay at home Dad – on Mondays – giving him the unique appreciation of all that goes into caring for and entertaining a baby/toddler in the course of a day. He admits to it being both terrifying and incredibly special! The combination of my husband’s flexible work schedule, his uncontested commitment to his career and his success, his unfaltering support of my career choices – and quite frankly the wonderful man that he is – has made this journey feasible, practical and enjoyable.

The second element is my work ethic combined with my passion for my industry. To put it succinctly, I work hard and I am experienced at what I do. Getting to this point required determination, self-awareness, conviction, give and take, and plenty of hard graft. To working Moms or Moms-to-be who are weighing their priorities and maybe considering a shorter work-week, I offer this advice (while understanding that everyone’s situations and choices are distinct:)

  • Work your butt off in your 20s and 30s so that no-one can ever question your productivity, skills, desire and results when the time comes that you wish to change your work schedule.
  • Pay it forward: go the extra mile for team mates, put in the extra hours, be proactive, go for the win. I call it credit in the bank that you can tap into when you need to take that extra hour to participate in your kid’s classroom activity or take him to a dentist appointment.
  • Never make anyone feel short-changed by your work schedule.
  • Be accessible, even when you are not technically working. But at the same time, establish boundaries so that, when you are with your family, you can focus on them.
  • Be prepared for compromise. Something has to give.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • When you are working, work!

With both my kids now in elementary school, it is time for me to work a full week once again. I realize this will bring a new set of challenges and that I’m going to have to figure out how to carve out some me-time in this new world order. But I’m excited. With this extra day, I feel like I will be able to contribute more, achieve more, focus more on the parts of my work that I really love.

Hello Fridays, are you ready for me?

The Shocking Cost of Being a Working Parent

(This post first appeared on the Framingham Patch.)

There’s a lot about parenthood that I was not at all prepared for (see my earlier post 25 Unexpected Realities of Parenthood.) One of these things was just how crazy expensive it is caring for these little people.

I’m not talking diapers, food (gosh, I have to feed them over and over and over) and clothes (they just keep on growing) but the shocking cost of daycare, after school care and camps.

I’m fully aware that I could have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. There are days when staying home with my kids sounds like nirvana. But I am a working mom, a career woman; its part of who I am. I found my niche, I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate about it. And, lucky for me and my family, it pays well too.

But like many other working parents, I’m forever assessing whether the delta between what my husband and I bring home, and what’s left in our bank accounts after paying for preschool, full day kindergarten, afterschool program, early release cover and camps, is really worth it.

This summer is the first that we’ve put both kids into camp (previously my daughter’s preschool continued through the summer months.) First off, selecting from the variety of programs offered was incredibly overwhelming. But then, oh my, the costs! And to think, we have to fill nine weeks of school vacation. Plus extended day. Plus busing. The whole process gives me severe heartburn. Surely all that diligent financial planning before and ever since the kids came out of the womb would have readied us for this? But no.

I think back to the summers of my own childhood and wonder about the fiscal choices my parents made. My mother did not work so we kids were home. I remember going away to the occasional two-week camp – probably a welcome very break for my Mom. Maybe she was going stir crazy the whole time we were home but there was never the need to pack us off for the full nine weeks so that she could pursue a career.

There are days that I wonder whether working parents are being ripped off. Is someone making a profit out of working parents like me who pay other people or institutions to take care of our kids so we can put in an eight-hour day at the office? Is this some kind of penalty we must accept for the fact that we have chosen the professional route? Academically, I understand why child care costs so much. But surely there has to be a more cost-effective way to do this?

For me, working is a choice I make. There are many for whom it is a necessity. I cannot imagine the financial strain they must face finding the balance between making enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, clothe and equip their families and finding affordable childcare so they can do their jobs.

Maybe it’s our culture that needs fixing?

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