Let’s get one thing straight right away: If you choose to have a family, the notion that this is an “all or nothing” career decision is ludicrous at best – sinister at worst.
That said, it does require sacrifices. There will be times when you have to leave work to deal with your kids and times when you have to leave your kids to deal with your work. There is guilt in both, but you will save yourself a lot of heartache if you decide – upfront – that “having it all” doesn’t mean being it all.
If your every day is spent running full-steam from dawn until dusk, it’s time to look in the mirror and admit that you’re not serving you, your kids, or your career. So let’s change that. Starting now.
Go for the “big money.”
In other words, what can you do that will be the most important, the most visible, and have the most impact? (When it comes to prioritizing time, your kids aren’t all that different from your boss in this respect.) If your kids are old enough, just ask them. For example: “It looks like I can only make one event this month–either the lunch or the assembly. Which one would you prefer I attend?”
The fact that they have a voice in the decision will help them feel better about it—not to mention they’re learning a valuable lesson in time management too. If you’re on a crazy air-tight schedule, don’t allow yourself to get talked into anything behind-the-scenes. You may get a gold star from the PTA for selling the most raffle tickets, but your daughter probably couldn’t care less. So before you commit to anything, think about whether she will notice. If the answer is no, well, there’s your answer.
Know what’s important, even if your kids don’t tell you.
If your kid senses you’re completely stressed out, he may downplay the significance of things he really does care about. This could include the school bus trip you just blew off, but it could also be something of greater significance like unwanted peer pressure or the rejection of a first crush. The way your kids need you has as much to do with what’s going on in their lives as what’s going on the “family calendar,” so you can’t get out of tune with that–regardless of how full your inbox is.
It’s nothing more than shooting yourself in the face for falling short of what you think you should be doing. Did you catch that? It’s self-induced. So put down the gun. The only thing that matters is the relationship you have with your child and if that’s all good, everything else is all good. The comparison game isn’t worth it because there will always be moms who seem to juggle life effortlessly and still make time for Zumba. If your version of “success” is based on who made pecan sandies from scratch or who spent the most time volunteering, you’ll never win because you’ll never feel good “enough.”
Note: If you still can’t shake your guilt, try keeping a journal of your finer parenting moments. You’ll not only have something to bring you back around when you feel like a loser, but you can give it to your kids as a memento down the road. (Ha! History is written by the victors, remember?) Also, you’re probably not going through anything a little malbec and a lot of trench stories with other working moms can’t fix. So schedule a girls’ night ASAP. Trust me, it’s way cheaper than therapy.
Put the end game first.
Just like you do at the office, focus on details without losing sight of the bigger picture. Are your kids happy and well-adjusted? Again, if your relationship is strong and they’re not in juvie, who the bloody hell cares if no one had a hot breakfast this morning? “Mom Capital” has deposits and withdrawals all the time but if no one’s in the ER and the house didn’t burn down, life is good. This isn’t a day-by-day or week-by-week gig so forgive yourself (and your boss) if you occasionally have to miss out on something cool because your job needs you. (Take it from a woman who missed her son’s Kindergarten graduation.) If your kids are old enough, use it as a chance to explain that you are responsible for something at work and you want to do your best so you can be proud of the result–and yourself.
Unapologetically guard your calendar.
It’s often a bellwether of your happiness. (Really.)
Emily Bennington is a bestselling career author and the founder of Awake Exec, mindful leadership coaching for professional women. This post is excerpted from her latest book, “Who Says It’s a Man’s World: The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination “(AMACOM, 2013). Emily can be found online at www.emilybennington.com.