Being a working mom is really hard. I'm not going to sugarcoat it; it can be completely overwhelming at times. And I have the double-whammy title of "single working mom." So for me, finding balance between my career, my five-year-old, my friends and finding time for myself is as elusive as finding the perfect-fitting pair of jeans.
On a weekend away with dear friends from college, all of whom are working moms, I was surprised to find I wasn't alone. We were all on this quest to find a healthy work-life balance while trying to overcome feelings of parental inadequacy, regardless of our occupation, location, or marital status.
This prompted me to host a roundtable discussion with some of my most trusted working mom friends, all of whom are successfully pounding on the glass ceiling of corporate success while raising their little ones. My objective: to learn how they face their obstacles and fears to meet their family and business goals.
Besties since our days at Villanova University, Mariclare Hayes, deputy district attorney with three little ones, Maria Mignogna, first grade teacher with two under three years old, Claire Moore, COO and momma to a newborn, Alyssa Pianelli, lawyer with two young ones, Alanna Strohecker, engineer and a Progressive Railroading "Rising Star" with a four-year-old and one-year-old at home, shared their challenges and tips for moving up while holding down the proverbial fort.
Q: What unexpected obstacles have you faced as a working mom?
Maria: I was not a competitive or anxious person by nature until I became a working mom. I'm a teacher and find myself noticing kids' parents who thought of things I would never have thought of, or have the time for. Homemade granola ... what's that? Snacks in fancy, labeled containers instead of baggies, moms who volunteer and are eager to be at every activity during the school day. I had to put blinders on to focus on what other moms do, otherwise I was allowing it to make me feel inadequate.
Alanna: The guilt is the hardest one to deal with -- it can trip you up at the most inopportune time. You feel guilty that you like your job too much, that you might not be there when something important happens to your kids, that your child's development isn't measuring up to other kids; it could go on and on.
Mariclare: After having my children relatively close together, I had a notion that things would get easier as they got older. I'm finding that this is not necessarily true. Most of the time, everyone sleeps through the night, however, now they are involved in after-school activities several nights a week. Balancing work, my children and their crazy schedules has been more of a learning curve than I expected.
Q: How do you balance career goals with parenting goals?
Alanna: Parenting goals are easy: you want to raise well-adjusted individuals who can do well in the world. Career goals that don't interfere with your parenting goals? That is tough. I have a panel of "important" advisors who I turn to when trying to make a career decision. The sum of their trusted advice helps me decide if a particular career move is going to align with my parenting goals.
Alyssa: I am not afraid to ask for help at home or at work. No one can do it all and no one should have to. I learned to ask for help when I need it, instead of thinking I can do it all myself and then ending up stressed and overwhelmed - causing me to snap at my coworkers, husband or kids.
Q: What one thing would you like your children to take away from the experience of having a working mother?
Mariclare: I think every parent strives to instill a belief in their children that they can make a difference. My greatest hope is that they grow up believing that they are important people who can do anything they choose. I am passionate and proud of what I do and try to share that with them in an age-appropriate way. I want to help them understand that I'm not just going out the door because I have to, but because I believe what I'm doing is important. In the simplest terms, I hope I inspire them to find what it is that they feel they are meant to do.
Alanna: I want my children to know that women are fantastic and they can do anything. Appreciating that both Mom and Dad have careers is as important to me as my children learning not to tell a lie. As a female engineer in the railroad industry, I'm a minority in my field. So being a great role model for my children and other women in my field is very important to me.
Alyssa: The best perspective about having a working mom is that it's a totally normal thing -- my kids consider it part of their everyday life. When people ask me, "What do your kids think about you traveling?" I always reply, "They don't think anything, because they don't know any different." The best perspective any kid can have is that it is totally normal (and cool!) to have a mom that works.
Claire: I want my child to take away exactly what I took away watching my mom work -- that nothing is free, hard work is valued, and a strong work ethic is important in life. My mom worked throughout our childhoods, and always remained the best mother we could have asked for. I want my kids to see how important that is that parenting and providing is a balance between both partners in the relationship.
Q: What is your best hack for working moms?
Maria: Don't be ashamed to raise the white flag and call in reinforcements when needed. When I was a new mom, I was too proud to admit I was drowning when others offered to bring us dinner, watch the kids for an hour, etc. Now I schedule a sitter regularly as a way to have time built in for me, for my marriage, or even to get those few chores done so I can then spend quality, guilt-free time with my children.
Alyssa: At work, I have priority and organizational systems that help me determine what can get done during the day so I can be out the door by 5:00 and home by dinner. At home, we keep the same routine during the school week and everyone knows what is happening and when, and we don't forget things. It is also very important to our family that we devote time to our kids between 5:30 and 8:30 every night. We try to stay off our phones, email, and Facebook and hold off on doing work or housework during that time. There is time for those things once the kids are in bed.
Alanna: I try to put most information from my family on my work calendar so that it is all together. We have Sunday calendar meetings where we figure out what's going on that week.
The underlying insight we took away from our conversation is that support among working moms is absolutely crucial, whether it is a girls' weekend away or simply an encouraging text. I noticed that none of my friends focused on achieving the lofty ideal of "having it all," which can make the best of us feel inadequate, and instead focused on practical solutions to finding balance in their everyday lives.
Contributors are all Villanova University, Philadelphia, alumnus friends who have supported each other, , through the years since college graduation:
Mariclare Hayes, Deputy District Attorney, Special Victims Unit, Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office
Maria Mignogna, First Grade Teacher
Claire Moore, Chief Operating Officer, International Carwash Association
Alyssa Pianelli, Claims Counsel, Beazley Group
Alanna Strohecker, Associate Vice President - Freight Rail / Transit, AECOM