I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. It wasn’t a mom.
When I was 6 or 7 years old, I decided I wanted to make commercials for television. I loved TV commercials and memorized many of the scripts and taglines. In college, my dream job evolved into running marketing for a large organization as a Chief Marketing Officer. Upon graduation, I started to pursue my highest professional potential and I prioritized my career to try to reach that goal.
If you had asked me for a list of goals, motherhood would not have been on the list.
Becoming a Mom
About 9 years into my career, I got pregnant with my son. It wasn’t a debate in my mind if I would go back to work after having my baby. Of course, I would. People warned me about falling in love with motherhood and having a pregnancy brain fog over all working knowledge of my job. I knew that wasn’t me.
My mom moved in and served as my son’s nanny for the first six months of his life so I could get back to work just six short weeks after his birth. It was seamless to fall back into work. My first week back, I recalled details for an out of home campaign for Burger King with ease. The hard part was pumping at work and on work trips; simultaneously being a professional and a provider and not feeling successful at either.
When my son was less than five months old, I left him for a week to complete a graduate course in negotiation in Vietnam. It was a requirement to graduate so I pumped one last time on the way to the airport and left my mom with as much of a frozen milk stash as possible. Of course I felt guilty that an MBA requirement dictated the timing of my son’s transition to formula.
The Longest Commutes
From July of 2016 through March of 2020, I commuted to work outside of my Texas home base, initially to Florida and then to California. The schedule was I would leave my son Monday through Thursday with my ex husband and I would fly back to Dallas Thursday night to spend the weekend with him.
In the almost 4 years of commuting, there wasn’t a Sunday night where I didn’t feel guilty about leaving. I would cry in my window seat wondering if I was doing the right thing. I would brainstorm scenarios where I would quit my job. And then what? I would write letters to my son which were maybe more journal entries to sort through my own guilt.
But then when I landed in “work mode” I was able to be laser focused on everything I was trying to build professionally. Because of the sacrifice on the family side of the equation, I really tried to max out my time away and would work excessive hours to justify the time away.
It Takes A Village
My mom has always been my biggest cheerleader and supporter. When I was initially contemplating “the longest commute”, she did the math on the number of hours I would be missing during the week and encouraged me to make them up over the weekends and be fully present when I was able to be with my son. She called it a “bold move” but she would always tell me “if anyone can do it, you can.” Her “permission” to really push and pursue my career helped me get through the times when I felt like I was failing on all sides.
In addition to my supportive mom, I also had a supportive spouse. By the time I was considering “the longest commute” he was an ex-husband but still all-around super-dad and supportive co-parent. Instead of uprooting everything, we made the decision to keep him and my son stable in Texas while I commuted multiple states away. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, she dedicates an entire chapter to partnership and says, “I don’t know one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully — and I mean fully — supportive of her career. No exceptions.”
In the same chapter, Sandberg talks about a 50/50 rule where partners truly split household and family duties. It is sad that a book written in 2013 would have to explain the value and rationale of a 50/50 household. Can we normalize men stepping up to carry more where it’s appropriate to do so? My split has been closer to 70/30 with me carrying a lighter load. I would not have been able to get to the C-Level or stay there with sanity if I did not have this split and the support of my ex-husband.
Sharing is Caring
In the summers, when my son would spend time with me in my work world, I would often bring him to the office. He would sit in my office at YouFit Health Clubs, mostly playing games. Sometimes listening.
As a six-year-old, he would sit with me in meetings and was able to understand some of what was going on. He added to a CRM flow on our white board wall. He would ask questions and one day described me as the “third biggest boss.” When I moved on to start KickHouse, he asked “so now you’re the biggest boss, now?”. Yes, bud. I am.
Blurring the lines between work and family has been one of the ways I’ve coped with the inability to “have it all.” Whenever I can share my work with him, I do. At 11, he can explain franchising and will approach anyone with a free class card at an event. He knows I am gone often but he also knows why. He asks good questions about what I’m building and he is proud when his gym teacher rocks his KickHouse gear at school.
The pandemic and work-from-home life has been a blessing in disguise for me. It eliminated my commute and created slightly more work life balance. I can get to mid-week baseball games or take him for an after school Sonic run. But even though I am in the same state all week long, some weeks still function the same as they had before with minimal time together during the week and catch-up time over the weekends.
I know there are parents who don’t go a night without saying “goodnight” to their children. I think that’s amazing, but that hasn’t been me since my son was five months old. I share all of this knowing it won’t make sense to many, but I more so share this to show the ambitious moms how unconventional tactics have worked in my family.
At this point, I’ve been a mom for 11 years and a C-Level mom for 5 years. There are many things I wish I knew before embarking on this journey, including detailed examples of exactly how to balance motherhood with an ambitious career. The reality is, it’s far from a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s messy. It’s challenging. But it’s possible, especially if you’re willing to break with convention.
If you’ve read this far, please accept this as formal permission to find the unconventional working mom structure that enables you to be your best professional self and the best mom at the same time. You’ve got this!