As working moms and dads bring their sons and daughters to the office on Thursday for Take Your Child to Work Day, I’d like to share my rule for riding the seesaw of a successful career and happy family.
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As the Chief Revenue Officer for a fast-growing technology company, I spend a good part of my day managing the sales, marketing and operational support for a company that sees $60 million in annual revenue generated by almost 1000 employees around the globe. As a mom of five little girls between the ages of 8 and 14, I spend the rest of my day figuring out how to keep lots of little humans alive.
Because I have both of those two big jobs, I often get asked, “How do you do it all?” The question implies that I am part of some secret cadre of working moms that knows something other working moms do not. Maybe they even believe we get together a few times a month to drink wine and laugh about how everyone else hasn’t figured it out yet.
But in reality, my answer is the catch: I don’t do it all.
One day, when my daughters are working and have children of their own, I will remind them of this. On many days I will tell them, when you were young I reduced my standards to simple survival. I let my little princesses walk out the door in whatever mismatched socks they chose for the day, and I felt a sense of accomplishment, and relief, that they could finally all tie their own shoes.
How do I manage the bits that do get done? I multi-task. On most mornings, Kennedy, my precocious 10-year-old with long dark hair, wants braids – two of them – tied with pink hair ties that she can’t find. Sophie, my 9-year-old fashionista, picks out the highest heels she can find in my closet – and insists I wear them. Spending time together, getting ourselves ready for the day, we listen to music and I teeter toward the front door while I schedule the next doctor’s appointment or return a call to my mom.
How does it look like so much does get done? I outsource. The truth is, I only have 24 hours in a day, and I’m only human. I don’t have time to do it all. Like 80 percent of Americans (according to Harvard Business Review research), I don’t have the time to do everything I want each day.
The study found that time makes people happier than money; and I’m of that mindset. For me, this means I spend money to save time. I have a live-in au pair who coordinates science fair projects and moves the clothes to the dryer just in time to put them in the kids’ gym bags. I hire a yard crew to mow my grass and a cleaning team to sanitize behind my germ-laden family.
My dry cleaning goes to the place next door to where the car gets washed. I have restaurants on speed dial to deliver sushi and lots of pizza. And I am fortunate enough to have an amazing partner in life who, for some reason I can’t understand, enjoys buying the groceries.
I recognize that I am immensely fortunate to have all of this help. There are so many working moms around the country who, by necessity or choice, mow their own lawns and clean their own houses and still manage to cook for their children every night. And honestly, I’d like to go to their late-night get-togethers and learn their secrets.
Still, I imagine that these moms, like me, have to rely on resources where they can find them. I also imagine they must have mastered a skill I have as well – how to say no.
We don’t, for example, have a dog. Yes, I know they want a dog. Yes, I know they need a dog to grow up to be fully adjusted responsible animal lovers. But I can’t have one more thing to feed and bathe.
I don’t do the PTA. Yes, I know that parental involvement in the Christmas wrapping paper sale is important. No, I don’t have time to sell wrapping paper.
And I don’t make every work happy hour. Yes, I know the future of my career could ride on that one big introduction I might miss. But I can’t always get there.
Because I want, and I need, to be home when I can. I must spend as much time as I can now with those amazing little people whose days are packed with birthday parties and sports lessons and who are killing me slowly with their first attempts at the clarinet, violin and trumpet. I also want to be home next to the man who makes it all possible. He’s supposed to get some of me, too.
I forgive myself for what I am not doing. And I pray I am teaching my little girls that they don’t have to do it all either.
Juggle multiple things when you need to. Say no a little more often. Do what you can, and let that be enough.
Heather Combs is a mother of five and Chief Revenue Officer of 3Pillar Global.