Since having my first child six years ago, I’ve been fascinated by moms who manage to bring home the bacon and fry it up.
How do they achieve the elusive work-life balance?
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What about the other 70.5% of American moms in the labor force with kids under the age of 18? It's probably fair to say that everyone's balance, if it does indeed exist, looks a little different—from moms who take time away from work to stay home to moms who run Fortune 200 companies.
To get an idea of how moms across the country—both with and without partners—juggle their children and their jobs, we asked five moms how exactly they divide up their days (and nights) between work and family.
Cecilia, 34, Manager, Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Kids: Eighteen-month-old son, a baby on the way and a 10-year-old stepdaughter (who lives with her mother during the week and with us on weekends, school breaks and summers)
My day starts around 5:30 a.m. In the first few hours, I nurse my son, do a few chores and then put my son in his jogging stroller and run three to five miles with my husband. I push the stroller halfway, then switch with my husband and he pushes it back. It's a wonderful way to start the day, and my son loves his morning "runs." After everyone is cleaned up, my husband gets our son dressed and usually prepares breakfast for us all. He’s a business owner who's recently returned to school, so he’s gone a lot. By 7:30 a.m., my work phone starts ringing.
I work eight hours a day, usually between 9:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. When emergencies arise at the airport, I don’t have an official start or ending time.
How do I make it happen? A live-in nanny! You give up privacy but gain sanity (especially with a job that doesn’t have set hours and revolves around a 24/7 operation).
Our nanny's main responsibility is child care, but sometimes she cooks, does laundry or cleans (usually the chores I never have time to do, like washing windows and cleaning toilets). I handle all the shopping, errands and fixing problems around the house. She will help me if I ask her, but generally I'm with my son in the morning, and she takes him right before I leave for work once he's dressed, fed and ready to start his day. If I get work calls and the baby is in the background, I don't mind ... sometimes it's nice for people on the other end to realize that you are still home starting your day (what do they expect when calling at 7:00 a.m.?).
I run a quick errand on the way home from work, and my son and I hang out while I cook dinner (sometimes the nanny cooks dinner while I catch up with my son). When my husband gets home from school around 8:30 p.m., we eat a healthy dinner together. My son, who takes a late nap so I’ll have more time with him, goes to sleep at 9:30 p.m. I follow him to bed an hour later.
I usually don’t work weekends, and try to handle as much from home via the Blackberry in the mornings and evenings.
My husband and I both have jobs that require a lot of travel. Most of the time I bring our nanny and my son so he can be near me—I pay out of pocket for their flights. Right now it's cheap because it's just the nanny's ticket (my son is free until age 2), but we stay in the same hotel room. He flew 26 flights last year, and I’ve been on two work trips without him this year.
Jennifer, 38, Attorney
Kids: Six-year-old son and two-year-old daughter
There is no typical day. I’m a telecommuting attorney and work anywhere from a few hours to 30 hours a week. My husband, a professor, has a schedule that is flexible but changes every semester. We’re coparents and completely integral to the other’s day.
We each take a child to school, and then both head to work (my office just happens to be at home). We have a carpool arrangement for kindergarten pick-up, and I try to get my youngest at preschool by 4:00 p.m. If the day turns out to be a crunch, my husband may handle pick-up.
Work is like water and will fill any space you let it. I keep pick-up times and other activities as calendar appointments.
For the past few months, we've had an afterschool babysitter at least once a week on a carpool day, and she'll stay until 10 p.m. so I can go out to dinner or a movie with my husband.
Most nights my son does homework after school, we eat dinner around 5:30 and get the kids to bed by 8 p.m. Many times my husband and I then go back to work for a few hours. On days that aren’t so busy, I run errands, do laundry, empty the dishwasher and all of those other little chores.
I make concessions all the time. Work is like water and will fill any space you let it. I try to keep pick-up times and other activities (like chaperoning class trips) as appointments on my calendar.
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My work comes when it comes, and I try to figure out how I can get it done. I’m paid hourly, which takes a lot of pressure off.
I think there’s a myth that people who telecommute are doing it with their kids around. I couldn’t possibly do my job while also caring for two kids. I need to pay for child care just the same as if I were in the office.
Puja, 38, Five Part-Time Jobs
Kids: Six-year-old and four-year old daughters
Our schedule changes depending on the day of the week and what shift my husband, a state trooper, is working.
I’m usually working four to five part-time jobs. Some jobs are as little as one hour a week, some jobs can be as much as 24 hours a week. I substitute teach, work at a gym day care, coach gymnastics, do a merchandising job, and have my own small business making girls‘ hair bows.
My day starts at 6:30 a.m. By 8:20, I drop my oldest off at kindergarten and head to the gym day care (my youngest joins me three times a week when she’s not in preschool). After my shift, I will leave my daughter in the day care and have a quick workout of my own. I usually try to get some more work done at home before we leave for kindergarten pick-up at 3:00 p.m.
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My daughters have gymnastics three times a week, and I coach an overlapping class. Other nights we do homework, and the kids play while I get dinner ready. I’ll sometimes work on hair bows for a few hours after the girls go to bed at 8:00 p.m.
I work a merchandising job every Friday and sometimes work the night shift at the gym child care center until 10:00 p.m.
We haven’t been willing to compromise on child care and have always refused to have anybody other than my husband's parents or, on the rare occasion, close friends watch our kids.
My husband plays a major role in the way we live. When his schedule allows, I substitute teach, and he does the morning routine. He makes dinner on days when I’m working, takes care of the girls’ schedule, cleans and does whatever needs doing to keep our house running smoothly.
Melissa, 45, Nonprofit Development and Event Planning
Buffalo, New York
Kids: 14-year-old son and 11-year-old twin daughters
Before having children, I taught school for seven years, with the bulk of my experience in first and second grade (although I have a master's degree in education and am certified to teach English through twelfth grade). After my children were born, I stayed home until they were in school. During that time, I became increasingly involved with the charity my family founded in memory of my dad; The Richard Knights-Sue Kaderli Memorial Fund gives money to financially burdened cancer patients.
In 2007, I went through a difficult (and unexpected) divorce.
I’ve been blessed to be able to work part-time as we’ve all adjusted to our new reality. Though their dad lives nearby, he’s not involved with my children’s day-to-day care and I don’t have family available to assist, so working around the kids’ schedules has been a function of necessity as much as it’s been what I've wanted.
My children’s school days are staggered, which compresses the hours I can work during the day. Next year, when my twins start middle school, the kids will once again be on the same schedule. I am hoping this will allow a little more flexibility and let me plan to pursue a more regular, permanent work schedule. I've recently agreed to be on the committee to plan a 5K for a nonprofit in the fall, which has the potential to become a part-time development/events position.
Throughout this school year, I have selectively looked for part-time work in the field of nonprofit events, fund-raising and development. Most recently I was teaching preschool part-time and working as a special events coordinator for Gilda's Club. I have sought out and interviewed for only those jobs that will allow me to work and manage my home and kids without help.
There have been event-planning jobs I would have loved to pursue with large charity organizations, like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation or the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, but they were just too much for my family to handle at this stage and I had to pass them up. They would have involved days that either started before my children were in school or ended well after they came home, in addition to the evenings and weekends of the events themselves.
One of the things I've learned in this process of reentering the workforce and balancing family life is that I will not sacrifice being present to get my kids off to school in the morning. Since there isn't another parent in the house, I feel it's so important that I be there to make sure that everyone gets up on time, eats breakfast, has everything they need and gets where they're going as smoothly as possible. This sets the tone of the day for us all.
Ultimately, I hope I can model balance for my children, though it is a daily work in progress.
Heather, 42, Attorney at a Nonprofit
Kids: Seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son
I try not to spend a lot of time thinking about "balancing" because I don’t think there’s a perfect balance. I do what I need to do each day both at home and at work. Some days, I feel pretty good about both. Other days, not so good.
My husband is the key to our household running. He and I both have pretty flexible jobs, so we "divide" the day.
On a regular day, I’m responsible for getting the kids up, dressed and out to school while my husband starts work early. At the end of the day, my husband is responsible for getting the kids from school, and depending on how late I need to work, getting them dinner and ready for bed.
I try not to stay at work too late and travel as infrequently as possible (about once a month). When I do, I try to take on more of my husband’s responsibilities other days that week.
I’m also lucky that I’ve been at my job for a long time and have enough goodwill built up that I’m trusted to get my job done without being at my desk for a certain number of hours.
I may work in the evenings or on weekends, but that means that I can attend an activity or appointment for my kids during business hours. I also have the flexibility to work from home when necessary.