Many working moms struggle with feelings of guilt and anxiety as they navigate their personal and professional lives. Maria Wallace shares her advice for balancing work and family and her take on why being a working mom is so worthwhile.
As a young girl, I assumed a fulfilling life would consist of both a family and a career because that’s the example I saw from my parents.
My parents immigrated to the United States from Italy shortly after they were married. At the time, my mom was 5 months pregnant with me. They worked two and three jobs to support my siblings and me. Regardless of how much they worked, they always had time for us. Seeing their hard work inspired me. It made me want to have a successful career while raising a family. I knew if they could do it, I could too.
My career began as an accounts payable clerk. I was eager to learn and grow. I observed the people I worked with and tried to gain as much knowledge as I could. A few years passed and I was promoted to Accounting Lead. I was proud of myself and the career I was creating. I wanted to be a person others came to, a leader who continued achieving bigger things.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I understood my goal of balancing a career and family was going to be more difficult than I expected.
I began questioning myself. I didn’t know how I was going to juggle both. I started to think back to my parents. I started to imagine how they must have felt as they journeyed over to the United States and started their life in a new country whose language they barely knew.
I worked up until the day before I had my son, William (I call him Billy). I was home for a couple of months on maternity leave and I knew I had a decision to make. I could either go back to work or be a stay-at-home mom. Regardless of my hesitations, I promised myself I was going to make it work just like my parents did. I decided to be a working mom. I wanted to set an example for my son. I wanted to show him I could do it so that someday he knew he could do it too.
With great support from my husband, Bill, we found a daycare for Billy. But, emotions still clouded my mind. I remember dropping Billy off on his first day and crying in my car. My little guy was now in the hands of total strangers. I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice. Somehow, I managed to drive away. I went to work and started my life as a working mom. It was not easy and there were many days when my heart was torn. Three years later, I experienced the same emotions when my daughter, Ashley, was born.
As mothers, we want to support our children as much as possible. We want to be the best for our kids. I know many others struggle with similar feelings of guilt or anxiety. Over the years, I’ve learned that building a career doesn’t make you a bad mom. It sets a good example for your children. They watch and learn how you work and create a family balance. And, daycares, afterschool programs, and summer camps, allow kids to grow and socialize.
Here are a few pieces of advice for all of the working moms out there.
1. Find a boss that values family.
Billy’s first several weeks at daycare were the toughest. He was sick frequently. I remember crying over the fact that I needed to tell my boss I had to leave to get my son again. But, my boss, Jim, was always understanding. He told me, “Everything is going to be okay. Your family comes first.”
Having a boss like Jim has been one of the greatest blessings. Being the family man he is, he has always encouraged me to keep striving for the best in both my career and as a mother. He has become my greatest mentor. A boss like Jim really makes a world of a difference.
2. Plan and prepare ahead of time.
My husband, Bill, was and still is very supportive of my career. We worked as a team and created systems to balance our careers and our family. If I dropped the kids off at school in the morning, he would pick them up at night. We prepared lunches, diaper bags and all other necessities the night before, which allowed for calmer mornings. Dinners were prepared for the week on the weekends. Planning and preparing have been the keys to our success.
As the kids got older and our schedules got busier, this became even more important. Both of my kids played sports year-round and participated in extracurricular activities. With a lot of preparation and communication, we made it work. We made sure that one of us was always present to support our children. If you’re in a similar situation, create an agenda from day to day, week to week to help you stay organized and focused.
3. Schedule dedicated family time.
Family time is a huge part of my life and my biggest priority. My husband and I made sure the four of us sat at the dinner table as a family every night. On Sundays, we had dinner with our extended family. To this day, we continue to follow these traditions. Planning dedicated family time like this ensures you spend time together even with your busy schedules.
4. Find a support system.
Create a strong support system. There will be days when you need help (days off, sick days, half days at school, etc.). And, every once in a while, you need some time for yourself too. My parents and mother-in-law were always a phone call away if we needed them. They alleviated some of the stress and pressure of balancing work and parenting. You can also find this kind of support in a trusted neighbor or friend.
5. Remember, it won’t be difficult forever.
As my kids got older and depended on me less, things blossomed for me at work. My attention was able to fully shift back to my career. Life became less of a balancing act. I was promoted to Accounting Manager and then to Controller.
Never in a million years did I think I would be where I am today.
Once I was a little girl of immigrant parents. Now, I am a leader and a teacher in many ways. The best advice I can give to all women, whether you are a current mother, an aspiring mother, or a young woman entering her career, is: don’t ever give up. If you are determined to make it work, all the pieces in your puzzle of life will fall into place.
When I look back, I am proud of what my husband and I accomplished together. My kids are now grown adults who are beginning their own careers and families. I hope I set the same example my parents set for me.
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