1 votedvote

Still figuring it out

I never thought I would be a stay at home mom. My career was such a big part of who I was and wanted to be. I worked a lot, and loved it. I worked on a crazy international project leading up to having my son, I would prop my swollen feet on my desk once everyone else was gone. When I popped over to my Dr.’s office for a checkup one day and I was told to go to the hospital to be induced for medical reasons, I went back to my office first to get my laptop. I worked while I was in labor. I loved my career and the work.

I hired a nanny and went back to work just as planned. Weekends became filled with a million errands and squeezing in a much quality time as possible.  My employer was really amazing overall, my team, not so much. I was told that “I need to leave to let the nanny go” was not fair to the rest of my team and that it wasn’t a valid reason to miss last minute after hours meetings.

I was assigned to a new team and went part-time. It was the best of both worlds, I got to do work I loved, spend more time with my son, and take care of many of the errands that ate up a lot of our weekend.

I struggled with the career limitation of  being part-time. I felt like I was in a holding pattern, but I felt like I still had a foot in the door so I could continue to move forward/ upward once my kids were in school full-time.

I returned home one evening and upon entering the house my older son said, “Mom, the nanny hurt me.” I resigned the next day. I cried when I resigned. I loved my job and my employer had been so wonderful to me.  Opting out was the right thing for my family, but it was still hard to do.

Being home with the kids was a gift I didn’t know I wanted. I loved the time I was able to spend with them. I loved being class mom and chaperoning almost every field trip and attending PTA meetings after drop-off. I loved not trying to squeeze an activity into every available moment and learned to really enjoy the quiet time.

I recently started a consulting firm and doing some project work. I certainly miss the camaraderie of working on a team and the satisfaction of bringing big projects to life but I haven’t quite figured out manage that type of work and manage my kids and household.

 

 

4 votedvote

The Best Laid Plans…

If you asked me for my work/life balance plan five years ago, I would have said I was waiting until my early 30′s to have kids and then staying in the work force full time while continuing my new role as a mom. Life, however, had other plans for me.

Two years ago, after my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I went through genetic testing and was found positive for a cancer marker called Lynch Syndrome which puts me at a much higher risk for uterine and ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer in particular is a scary, silent killer that is often asymptomatic until it has reached stage 4. The best defense? A hysterectomy by 35 – or as soon as my child rearing days were over. My husband and I made the decision to start trying for our first child earlier than we had planned so I could significantly reduce my lifetime cancer risk in the long run.

I had just started a new “dream” job as a client services and product specialist at a tech start up, after fighting hard for years to transition from roles in non profit and private event planning that were no longer fulfilling for me. Around the time I hit my one year mark, we started trying for our first child and I was pregnant less than six months afterwards.

My original plan was to take 3 months maternity leave alongside my husband who is lucky enough to have 2 months in banked PTO with his employer, then come back full time and place the baby in daycare. We started looking at local day care options and adjusting our monthly budget accordingly to make our new life plan work.

Then, at the 20 week ultrasound, another curve ball in our long term plans. Our son had a congenital heart defect called tetralogy of fallot. He will face potentially multiple open heart surgeries and need closer monitoring and care in his first months of life, although we are incredibly lucky that once he has a full surgical repair of his heart, we will have a happy, healthy, “normal” kid on our hands.

It was clear to me immediately that our child care and back to work plans would have to change. My husband was just wrapping up his residency in psychiatry and heading into a two year fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry. Because these training years are crucial for his career as a physician, it was not possible for him to scale back or take time off. As the partner with the more flexible career path, I would need to step up and adapt. The alternative would be to try to find specialized in home care, which we didn’t feel comfortable with and quite honestly, I wanted to be the one physically there for my son during this time.

My work was fantastic every step of the way. I told them I would now not be able to return full time, to my normal, heavily client facing role after maternity leave as previously planned. Rather than telling me my services were no longer needed, we worked out a way for me to stay home but at least continue part time with non-client facing, project based work done on my own schedule.  I attribute a lot of this flexibility and understanding to the fact that my job is at a small female lead start up.

My path forward is unknown – I may ramp up back to full time when my son is fully recovered and fit for standard childcare options, or I may find during the time off that I need to walk away and fully opt out for some time during these crucial younger years. I’m open to either, and I’m happy to be at a workplace that understands the uncertainty I face at this time. Sometimes, the entire universe is just screaming at you to take a step back and focus on your family, and I’m not going to ignore those signs.

3 votedvote

Working and Homeschooling

When I married my husband, I was a single Mom who had been working as an educator. Marriage meant moving, and I took a part time job at a private school, so that I could spend more time with my son, helping him adjust to his new family. People asked me if I was considering just staying home, and I scoffed. I’d only managed to stay home a few months after my son was born before I started going stir crazy.

Then we found out we were expecting. In anticipation of a new baby, I quit my part time position, fully planning to return by the next year. The transition wasn’t going so smoothly for my barely 5 year old, who was due to start kindergarten in the fall. After going round and round with the preschool he’d been attending, we decided I would spend the next year homeschooling him to get him ready to enter school by first grade.

But I fell in love. With homeschooling. I loved the education freedom it allowed for my son. Since I had been teaching special education, I had some opinions on where things went wrong for so many kids, and I felt like homeschooling answered so many of those concerns. So, I became an educator at home for the next 11 years, and I gave birth to 5 more students for our little “school” in that time.

Then in May of 2009, with our youngest turning 1 in a few weeks, my husband was laid off from his corporate software programming position. He spent a few weeks looking for a new position, and during that time we discussed pulling the trigger on his dream of owning his own SEO business. He’d been blogging about SEO for about 5 years at that point in time. We’d even bought a second vehicle from the money we made blogging about the 2006 Turin Olympics.

There was only one small issue. We were planning to sell SEO services to small business, and my husband is a pretty typical programmer -networking and sales are not really his thing. But they are mine. So, I became a somewhat hesitant “business owner”.

For months, I really viewed myself as just “helping out my husband with his business”. Somewhere along the way, I became the face of the business, and people are much more likely to associate me with our business than my husband. And I began to view myself as a business owner, instead of just my husband’s helper.

Our clients have become increasingly out of town, so I’m home on the phone as often now as out networking in person. We still homeschool. Our kids are pretty self-sufficient in their education in many ways, but we definitely still spend time with the younger ones on a regular basis and with the older ones when they have questions.

I love being a homeschooling Mom AND a business owner. Being a business owner has definitely changed what homeschooling looks like in our house. We don’t take as many field trips. We don’t do as many projects. But my kids have gotten to have Dad as much as, and sometimes more than, Mom. They’ve gotten to see you don’t always have to choose between working and having kids or even homeschooling.

3 votedvote

Rose tinted glasses

I’m an optimist. I think the future will be rosy.

My twins were born in Feb 2003. At that time, I was running an Ecommerce consulting business and juggling board work. My career was on a high even during those dot com bust days.   But it was time to focus on my babies.  I closed the door on the business & scaled back the board work to observer role.

It would be 18 months later before I had a night of uninterrupted sleep.  By the time Matt & Kate were 2-1/2, I was getting itchy – what was I going to do for the rest of my life?  There was no way I could go back to corporate work, with the prospect of not being able to manage the family schedule.  I made a snap decision to go back to college and do my JD.   Looking through rose tinted glasses, I thought a new career as a lawyer would be great (what was I thinking?). I applied and within 2 weeks got accepted. I started a full time 2 yr JD just before the twins 3rd birthday. At least I knew my schedule and I could manage child care, classes, and assignments.  Somehow, I graduated.  the blur of writing papers at 3am and pulling in all nighters to complete gruelling take home exams was finally over. I then embarked on another challenge – spending the next 2 years working for law firms.  I had no idea what I was in for.  It was tougher doing this than getting qualified – because of the conflicts with family schedules.  Getting across town every morning to drop the kids at kinder / school and then be at my desk by 9am was not easy. In the end, I no longer wanted to do it. I needed to reclaim my own time.  After 2-1/2 years of doing this, I had my own ticket, I could now start a law firm, but I realised what I missed was working in product development and in tech. That was where my heart was. And with it a ferocious need to reclaim my schedule.

One morning a few months before opting out of the law firms,  I was walking my daughter to her class and like many parents doing the school drop off,  I asked her: ” what are you going to do at school today Kate?” She was so excited – “mum we’re making cupcakes and we’re making profits.” She and her classmates were running a microbusiness.  She was 7 yrs old.  Hmm, I thought.  These kids were receiving real world education.  Learning business is as important as learning English.  It’s the language of the real world.  Getting good grades at  school and college was what I was trained to do.  We weren’t trained at school to think like business owners.  Yet there was my 7 yr old talking about profits.

I did my research and knew this was something that needed codifying – someone one day would develop a platform to help kids set up businesses.  So I took the leap again. This time back into tech.  I found a tech co-founder, joined an accelerator and a few months ago won a global award for our startup.  This is now my third baby.  Yes, I do startup hours.  And its become visceral.   But I am a mum – my kids need me to be present in the present, not lost in thoughts about my work or at the office working late.  I try my best.

Looking back,  my decision to opt out in the early days of child rearing eventually gave me a new sense of purpose for work and career.  But the places I travelled were completely unexpected.   I had no specific  career plan after giving birth to my children.   What evolved was going with the flow, and trusting my intuition (and rose tinted glasses). My decision to opt out of law firms and back into tech – this time edtech – is to contribute in the best way I can  to all kids and their education.   It is meant to be.

In some respects, choosing to study and then building a startup is a way of seizing the opportunity to create a working life  around family schedules,  perhaps not always perfectly but I feel like I am in the drivers seat.

I want to opt out again in 2 yrs time when Matt & Kate reach their teen years.  Hopefully the rose tinted glasses will be on and life will flow beautifully.

 

 

13 votedvote

Onward.

You create your own choices.

My children are 18 and 15 now. As I write this, I am in San Francisco.  I’m the founder and CEO of a startup that’s been accepted to an accelerator program here. I’m writing to tell you, yes, there is a way back.

When my boys were small I was a stay at home mom. That was a choice I knew would be risky for the career I wanted to have . At age 23, I decided it was more valuable to follow what I believed, then to fit into a path of ‘supposed to’ choices. I am glad for that time.

Fast forward a few years, the boys got bigger, the marriage went sour. The business that I created as a consultant (working with breastfeeding mothers and babies) was not going to scale to the level of income that I needed. I decided to write instead, and took on small jobs to earn respect through excellence. Many folks told me to quit, to settle for something safe that would pay the bills and not be taxing. “You’re going to fail.”  “You’re never going to catch up.”

Line in the sand, “No.”

As a single mom, the model I demonstrated to the boys had to be one of relentless determination. And more importantly, that respect is earned through effort. It was not easy. I was lucky for the friends that made introductions. I remember when I got a call from the HR director offering me an interview. “Just to be fair I want to tell you-  this is really only a courtesy interview.”

“Thank you, and I’ll see you Monday.”

I nailed that interview and went on to take the role. You have to create opportunities. And when that door opens a little bit you have to demonstrate commitment and effort. This part is not easy. Be creative. Ask for help. Build a network of folks who can support you. About 2 years later our department was closed and everyone on our team laid off. I got that phone call at the airport. I turned it into a pitch call for other roles in the company. I got interviews and made friendships.

Fast forward a few more years. Married my best friend- we met at a failed startup. More roles, wider responsibility. Patterns kept emerging- ‘Don’t think so big, don’t care so much.” I didn’t want to be part of an engine solving a problem in a predefined way. This was not how I wanted to spend my life. And this was not the model I wanted to show my sons.

Again, line in the sand, “No.”

I started a company. I saw a problem, and I was driven to fix it. Again, a lot of negativity, this is not the ‘supposed to’ path. “Why do you think you will succeed?” “What makes you think you can do this?” These are not questions you only get from investors. They are also questions you get from family, from friends.

“My life is my choices.”

“But doesn’t that scare the hell out of you- I mean don’t you want security and stability? I mean do you know what is going to happen next what if it doesn’t work out?”

Hmm. I have the skill of adapting. I have the skill of constantly learning. I have the skill of building a network of colleagues and friends. I have the skill of giving and of listening. I can solve problems and create new opportunities. I will make this work, as I always have.

For women who are caught in the struggle- I empathize.

It is not easy to go forward. Don’t focus on what frustrates you, focus on what you can do to move forward. Folks will judge your choices, this hurts a lot. Especially when they make unkind or untrue assumptions. You learn to weather that. You learn that you -can- go forward. Every day you have choices. Every day you can make them to define your path.

It is doable. And you are not alone in doing it. You are not without other women who want to see you succeed, and who will help you in the effort for getting there. Grit earns respect, and in the company of women, our shared persistence is the thread that weaves us together.

 

 

13 votedvote

Opting Out. Opting In.

In five years, 40% of the American workforce will be made up of freelancers. As our personal and work lives are becoming more and more intertwined, many women (including me) grapple daily with thoughts about staying home full-time with children. Now that my youngest is in pre-school, I worry that this is my last chance.

For many reasons, mostly financial, it was not possible for me to stay at home with my children. I can’t begin to describe the feelings I had when my maternity leave ended and I had to go back to work after each of my boys was born.

When I started AboutOne, I wanted my company to have a more family friendly culture than the one I’d experienced in my corporate job. That’s why we created the Comeback Mom program for women (and men) who have taken a break from their careers, either to stay home with their children or become caregivers for elderly parents, and are looking for a way to transition back into the workforce.

But this is about more than hiring someone who has had a break in her resume; our whole work culture is built around this concept of flexibility. For example, one of the dads on our team works at home two days a week to be with his small baby. Another dad leaves in the afternoon to do the school run and take part in his children’s activities. One of the moms on our team regularly visits her adult daughter in another state and works remotely from that location. Another mom works from home so she can be there with her small children. We also have several team members who work part-time as a way of partially “opting out” or “opting in”.

We advertise our open jobs and successful applicants start work with us in an intern-type role. We assign work based on their skills and passions, then decide with them if they are a fit with our company and that role. To date, we have had more than 10 Comeback Moms and 50% of our employees have come through this program. It’s proven to be our best talent acquisition program.

3 votedvote

Pamela Stone’s Opting Out + Resources

Hunter College Professor Pamela Stone examined the Opting Out question in detail in her 2007 book Opting Out and she continues to do research on the topic.  I began my career break when the company I was working for collapsed while I was on maternity leave with my first child.  I did project work for 5 years while I had 3 more kids and then left the work force entirely for the next six.  I returned to a full time job for a year and then wrote a book and started a company connecting people returning to work with employers interested in hiring them. We also have a website full of tools and resources for people on career break thinking about returning to work, including over 200 stories of how people returned to work after career breaks ranging from one to 20 years. www.irelaunch.com.  Carol

Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder, iRelaunch

3 votedvote

Flexibility Was the Only Way

Before I was a mom I was married to my job. I worked 80+ hours a week, rarely saw home, and had zero social life. I was happy because I loved my work, but that is ALL I was – my job. That kind of life had zero room for anything else. I hardly ever went home for holidays. Dating? What was that?!

A lot happened in my life between my 80 hour/week working world and now. I left my career to become a full time caregiver. I became a single mom.

When I was ready to jump back into the working world I had no idea how to do it. Admitting that is hard. I needed to find childcare to go on interviews, but without a job I couldn’t afford steady childcare. Working at home started to seem like the only option. I knew I would need to find a company that understood the chaos and my need for flexibility. A place that understood moms. I was beyond lucky to find the team at AboutOne because they have a mom returnship program that seemed like it was custom made for me. I could start with just a few hours and then build up and suddenly the chicken and egg problem that childcare so often is was taken care of.

I have been with AboutOne for over three years and as the company has grown I have been allowed to learn and grow with it. It helps (a lot) that the marketing director and the founder and CEO are also Moms so when I have to reschedule something or work on a project after bedtime everyone gets it. Conference calls are also free from that mom stress. I know my son is just as likely to ask me for a juice box in the middle of a call as one of our CEO’s sons.

I feel invested in my work and the company because I know they made an investment in me on day one. As a woman, as a mom, that feels pretty good. I wish more companies recognized the value of such programs.

3 votedvote

No Regrets

I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to sacrifice an early career for my children, because what I wanted to do more than anything was be a mom. And I think the reason I enjoyed it so much is because I embraced the role as a stay at home mom without feeling like I was sacrificing another important part of myself to do it. I very much admired women who worked, whether it was in a clock-in, clock-out job or as an executive; I saw what they did as much harder than staying home. And when my kids were older, I had no regrets about the time I spent away from building a career and felt complete freedom to pursue my own professional interests.

I do believe, however, that those years out of the workforce and the choices that I made prior to becoming a mother, such as majoring in elementary education when I didn’t really ever want to teach, definitely hurt what doors were possibilities when I wanted a career. I didn’t have a degree that made me employable, and I didn’t have a work history to give me a leg up in an interview. I chose, instead, to employ myself – first as a freelance writer and then as the founder of a startup.

I now own a mobile tech company and have spent the last four and a half years immersed in the intensity of the startup life – learning skills I never needed before to run a company, to raise capital, to market. I love what I’m doing and have discovered things I’m good at that I never knew about myself. I’ve discovered that I actually like being a CEO, that I like public speaking. And I’m really proud of myself for having faced so many fears of inadequacy and of the unknown to do what I’m doing. I’ve grown tremendously and like the new “me” that has emerged through this process. Having very few options in front of me as a mother reentering the workforce served me well, since it forced me to take risks that I wouldn’t have taken had there been easier options.

I have absolutely no regrets for the time I spent at home with my kids. There are only a few years when our children are small, and being able to be there for them and get to know them was a gift. I also have no regrets about going all in with both feet at this point in my life to discover a different side of me and build a career for myself.