I grew up in Peru with a mother who had a master's degree and held positions of power at a time when women were supposed to stay home and take care of the kids. Eventually, she decided to hang up the corporate hat to concentrate on raising our family. However, she didn't fit the typical stay-at-home-mom mold. She was always out-and-about, busy with volunteer work. Mom gave up the workplace, but not her work ethic. Her volunteering involved working with the first lady of Peru in establishing soup kitchens, starting a rehabilitation center for disabled children and hosting dignitaries and ambassadors at parties several times a year. I watched how hard she worked and grew to admire her dedication and desire to make our community better.
Mom had always been a rock star in my eyes, so you can imagine my surprise as she lay in a hospital bed and said, "I'm sorry for not always being there. I know I got busy with my volunteer work and I wasn't always around like the other moms, and well, I'm sorry." Her vulnerability and raw guilt was gut wrenching. What I saw in her eyes prevented one of my typical witty remarks and instead, I said, "Mom, I don't remember a time when you weren't there. You were there when it mattered, and that's what counts."
Her tearful 'thank you' felt misplaced since I was the one that should be thankful for the superwoman who gave me so much in terms of being a professional, a mom and a woman. I wouldn't understand until years later that the guilt of a working mother transcends time and cultures.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of being in a panel discussion about how to navigate the changing technology landscape. It was amazing to see all the women in technology come together and support each other, but what stayed with me years later is the concern many young attendees expressed in their questions about the balance between career and family.
I can tell you, like I did that day to those amazing young professionals, that balance isn't something you achieve on a daily basis. Balance in life is an ongoing battle. What's important is to communicate the plan to your family and to respect the commitments.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you're struggling with the realities of work and life: 1. Don't underestimate your support system. At some point, you've heard the saying, "Behind every successful man, there's a woman." The same can be said today about every successful woman, but what hasn't changed throughout the years is that behind successful individuals is a support system. To some, it's the spouse taking care of the home, or the partner encouraging you to pursue dreams, or parents helping take care of the grandkids. Whatever the case may be, there's always some sort of support system that gives you the ability to focus on professional achievements.
2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Let's understand and be grateful to our predecessors who allowed us to have a choice on what's available to women today. Let's not criticize the choices. Let's respect them and work hard to be the best at what we decide to become. Let's aim for excellence and have tolerance for the failures along the way, because there are always failures on the road to success. For the woman choosing to stay at home, let's compliment her for the amazing homemade cupcakes and seek her advice on the best after-hour activities for our children. And for the woman choosing to work, let's compliment her on the way she handles a meeting and seek her advice on something relevant to her field. Let's stop complimenting each other solely on our clothes or jewelry, and instead make the effort to say, "I really liked your presentation, it definitely brought clarity to the issue at hand." And if we must, add as an afterthought, "and I love your shoes!"
3. Reflect. Furthermore, I challenge all of us to take a second and think about how behind each one of our peers' accomplishments -- a succulent pie or a flawless presentation - that there are sacrifices made we don't know about. For even the strongest of women out there, the ones that we always thought were invincible, they too will come to a moment in their lives when they'll turn to you with raw guilt and say, "I'm sorry, I should have done more."
When the time comes (and it will come) that it's you looking to the ones you love and in complete vulnerability tell them how hard you tried and how you're sorry you couldn't do more, that you believe them when they say, "You did your best and it was more than enough."
That's all that matters.