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Kids & Career: 5 Ways to Have It All

A recent Atlantic cover story argues that you can't hold a top job and be a good mom. But I beg to differ.

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In my own bio I claim to have not given up the notion that I can "do it all"--have a fulfilling career and raise a family. So, I read with great interest the recent cover story in The Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All." I was predisposed to hate the article, given the title. And yet I found the author Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former State Department official, made some great points about the struggles of balancing motherhood with a big career.

But I do beg to differ on the overall conclusion. There are, of course, cases where a certain job and motherhood don't mix, like Slaughter's foreign policy job, which required she be out of town five days per week and see her kids only on the weekends. But that situation wouldn't work for many dads or even childless executives either.

Working parents--along with those who want to hire us--can't just throw up our hands and say, "That's it, I can't have it all." Like any sea change, it takes persistence by those to whom it matters most to drive a change in attitude and redefine the landscape.

When my mom--a teacher--was pregnant with my brother 40 some years ago, the school told her that she would not be able to teach while pregnant. That's right, teachers had to go on leave (without pay) as soon as they started to show because it didn't look good. Hard to imagine now, but times they do change.

In my last article, "Five Reasons Your Company Needs More Moms," I gave some advice to leaders on the value of hiring moms. And now moms, here are some things you can do to combine professional success with satisfaction in your commitment to family. You can have it all. Here's how:

Make big strides early.

These days, most women are having kids a bit later, so take advantage of the time before they come. Work your ass off. Work longer, work harder, sacrifice some play time. You will move up quicker, gain more experience, and you'll feel much better about taking some of the time back when you do have children.

Set your priorities and stand by them.

Make your intentions known.  If you know you can't be in early or stay late, make it clear and don't hide it. Don't take a job that requires 8 a.m.-7 p.m. face time and figure you'll slip in and out. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook (a.k.a. BIG job) says, "I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I'm home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I've been doing that since I had kids."  Come and go when you need to with your head held high, knowing that people respect your contribution AND your choices.

Don't suck.

If you need to work less or differently than the rest of the team, you better be damn good when you do work. Don't hang out at the water cooler, never ever put out sub-par work, and always be responsive to crucial stuff when it comes up, even if it means plopping your little one in front of the TV once in a while, which brings me to...

Skip the guilt.

My daughter eats far more mac & cheese and hotdog dinners than I ever anticipated, and yes, on some days she watches more than the recommended 30 minutes max of TV. So far she's surviving just fine, and worrying about it doesn't do anyone any good. (For more on this topic, I love this blog post "Apologies to the Parents I Judged Four Years Ago.")

Be flexible in your career choice. 

You may not be able to be a high-ranking official in the White House, but I'd argue that's not a requirement for "having it all." There are situations that will support your goal, so find them. The culture at my company--ServiceMax--explicitly values life/work balance and ALL of our leaders support it. It's much easier to find a situation that works for you than trying to change an established culture that isn't mom-friendly. And don't lose faith: Someday the moms will change them all.

Last updated: Jul 2, 2012

STACEY EPSTEIN: Stacey is VP of Marketing at ServiceMax, a leading SaaS start-up. Previously she was VP of Global Marketing Communications at SuccessFactors, where she was instrumental in the company's successful IPO.
@staceyepstein




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