All mothers are working mothers. This, in 2021, isn’t a fact that should be up for debate. But working outside the home, in addition to raising small humans within it, carries unique challenges, even today. There’s still no rule book out there — not really — for growing a family and growing a successful career simultaneously.
But while we may not have a rule book, we do have the example of plenty of mothers who’ve reached new career heights all while caring for little ones. This Mother’s Day, we heard from nine of them about their biggest pieces of advice to other moms pursuing executive-level careers and what’s helped them find success, both at work and outside of it.
Define your personal values, and hold them close.
“I have watched so many of my executive friends, moms all, become dissatisfied with their careers as they juggle balancing family and work,” Abby Ha, Head of Marketing at WellPCB, said. “As a new mom myself, I know there’s a cost to giving up your identity and everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve in your career just because you have a baby.”
When priorities feel competing, what’s helped Ha is maintaining a clear sense of her values and letting those guide her.
“I think what has helped me the most in finding success and fulfillment is having a clear head, defined set of values and goals, and paying attention to both my family and my business,” she said.
While some work-life separation is important, know that it’s also OK to bring your kids into your career.
“Involving my 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter in my work by allowing them to see firsthand what I do has helped,” Jaclyn Strauss, CPA and Founder of My Macro Memoir, said. “I do this by allowing them to be present when I take work phone calls, (letting them) simply say ‘hi’ to a colleague over Zoom or, in the rare circumstance, meet a client at a seminar.”
For Strauss, this has also opened the door to conversations with her kids about how “everything that I do is for them, ultimately.”
“They see me having fun doing it, they have grown to appreciate and respect it, and I believe they will be better for it,” she said.
Do what you love — and show your kids that they can, too.
Belma McCaffrey, CEO and Founder of Work Bigger, knows it’s possible to both “love your children with your whole being and still do the thing that feeds your soul.” For her, that’s meant pursuing entrepreneurship and building a mission-driven business while also having two small kids at home. By setting this kind of example, she believes she’s teaching them an important lesson about going after what you want.
“I try to teach my kids that doing what you love and following your calling is a privilege and an opportunity worth pursuing. I want them to see that what they want is possible for them. I want them to put aside the fear and go for it. The best way for me to teach this is by example,” she said. “I feel really proud of the work I do and feel so proud to share it with my kids. At night, I tell my 6 year old stories of times I failed and pushed through. He loves hearing about the growth and the challenges. I hope he finds some inspiration in it and learns to always go for what he wants.”
Enforce an end to the work day for yourself (as best you can).
As Sr. VP of Sales at Icon Agility, with a successful 28-year career behind her, Stella O’Brien understands all too well how hard it can be to shut down your executive brain at the end of the day and leave work behind you. As a mom of five kids, though, she also understands how necessary those boundaries are to maintain.
“Combining a family and career is very doable and rewarding, but if I could do a few things over, I would. First I would be home by 6 p.m. every night and have dinner with my family — some nights, I would not get home until 8 or 9 p.m.,” she said. “Second, I would stay home with the kids when they were sick. They needed me more than my work did.”
And for high-pressure times in your career when you really can’t get away, do your best to show you love them in other ways.
“A small gift you can give each child is to know their love languages and do the little things to show them how much you love, value and care for them, as often as you can,” she said.
Know that balance will ebb and flow.
Jessica Principe, Founder and CEO of All Girl Shave Club, became disillusioned by all the advice out there emphasizing work-life balance for executive-level moms. For her, focusing on something else has worked.
“In the early stages of my business, there wasn’t a lot of ‘work-life balance’ that I kept hearing about. Instead of chasing elusive balance, I learned to embrace seasons,” she said. “There are seasons where I need to pour more energy into my work and seasons where I get to give even more to my family… knowing that the pendulum will swing in both directions allows me to flow with it, rather than resist it. These seasons have helped me grow my business in sprints and have helped me find success and fulfillment in other areas of my life, as well.”
Maintain some perspective.
As the founder and CEO of an IT consulting company, founder of a nonprofit helping houseless women, and mom to two boys and a (mostly) housebroken puppy, Dana Marlowe, Principal Partner at Accessibility Partners, jokes that her friends “ask me when I sleep.” Marlowe says she’s admittedly “just as stressed and harried as anyone else out there doing what they love,” but incorporating one thing has helped.
“I have my secret recipe: perspective,” she said. “My stepdad gave me advice a number of years ago that I still value now. He shared two words: ‘Everything counts.’ This helps me keep perspective that everything is important, no matter the size. You certainly don’t have to do it all, and especially not all at once. I’m trying to take stock of what I have accomplished with pride but not bravado. Looking back in the forest after working so hard in the trees, that’s a fantastic feeling… realize that each moment is worth it, big and small.”
Partner with supportive people, at work and at home.
As a working parent with an executive-level career, you need supportive partners at work as well as at home. For entrepreneur Sharon Ureña, going into business with her best friend is one way she’s found the support she needs while growing their company, Paint and Sip Live.
“I founded this company with my best friend and her husband. Our families are very close. What better way to delve deeper into my love for art than to do so with my favorite people?” Ureña said. “Working with people who support me and having true authority and independence has boosted my drive to push through the fatigue and hard days. I have three children, so you can imagine I end many days pretty exhausted. On top of that, I work full-time for the city and am pursuing another degree. When my kids watch me — which they can do because I work from home these days — grinding and building the best foundation I can for myself and them, I know I am inspiring them.”
Ask your kids which activities are important to them — and then lose the mom guilt about missing the rest.
As Katie Ostreko, VP of Sales & Marketing at Quality Edge, knows from experience, there are going to be some nights and weekends where you’re working late or away from home. Even still, you have to find a way to “drive out mom guilt.”
“There will be things that you have to miss that your kids are doing. If that becomes a dominant tape that plays in your head, it will cause you to think differently about short-term decisions versus long-term things important for your career,” she said. “Talking to your child to prioritize the things they want you to be present for — and as an executive, you often can control or adjust your schedule — lets your kid know you are there when they need you. And technology is great when you are on the road to stay connected. I’ve helped with homework or talked to a teacher while I was in a hotel room.”
At the end of the day, just own it.
“Being a successful working mom is owning it,” summed up Nicole Middendorf, CEO of Prosperwell Financial.
“Life isn’t perfect,” she added. “It’s being present when you are with your kids and being present when you are in your working world. It’s delegating everything you possibly can. Realizing that life is short and it is all about the memories, experiences and happiness. As a single mom, it is putting lots of structure and having a great support system in place. It is surrounding yourself with systems and people that help you make it all happen and be Super Mom!”