Balancing career and family

I just had the joy of taking care of my 20 month old granddaughter for two days. Her day care center was closed this week so my husband and I flew out to LA to have some fun and help out.

It reminded me how hard it can be to balance a career and a young family. Parents take turns getting ready for work while watching small children. Getting kids out of the house with all their necessary supplies can be an organization challenge in itself. One parent does the drop off and the other may handle the pickup. Figuring out who has to be at work by when and who gets done in time is the family dance. If there are long commutes, multiply the challenges and logistics. And then theres the home front again after a long day – get dinner on the table, clean up, do bath time and quiet down for bedtime. And try to squeeze in some relaxed, fun family time.

Its been many years since my husband and I did the same juggling act. My daughters started in daycare centers at 6 weeks old. They were 1 and 4 years old when we moved to the Chicago area; both of us drove long distances in opposite directions to our workplaces. We coordinated daycare center pickups best we could. Im sure we paid our share of late fees.

I was promoted to my first manager job a year later. When they were 6 and 9, I started graduate school for my MBA and did it at night over a four year period – adding coursework to an already busy family and management work schedule. My husband and I shared all the home front duties and somehow made it all work. We had no local support system.

There were moments when I didnt know how I was going to be all things to all people – super manager and super mom. At that time women of my generation worked with many men whose wives did not work outside the home. They didnt necessarily understand what women like me were trying to balance.

There were fewer women in management then. In fact, I was the only woman on the IT management team at one company for a 5 year period. Informal strategy discussions in the bossoffice seemed to start after 5pm just when I had to head out for daycare pickup.

Fortunately, times have changed and there is more support in the workplace for parents doing this family dance.

If you are a young parent and this balancing act sounds familiar, hang in there. It gets better. Make the choices and tradeoffs that work for you and your family. You have plenty of time to grow your career and meet your long term goals.

If you manage parents with young children, be patient and flexible to the extent possible. Doctor appointments, sick kids, and unpredictable daycare situations are a reality that young parents deal with. Have reasonable expectations of when the work day starts and ends and that weekends really are weekends.  Consider offering flexible schedule options. Today, companies need to establish a family friendly environment and policies if they want to attract and retain young talent.

And if you are lucky enough to be a grandparent like me, be helpful and supportive as much as possible. Young parents need support and encouragement. Dont add to the pressure they put on themselves.

27 thoughts on “Balancing career and family

  1. Jennifer Pantoja on said:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I have a 3 and 6 year-old and often I feel like I am drowning (especially after just finishing the MiChart Go-Live!) I always seem to be the ‘last’ Mom picking up the kids at day care. But that said, I left bedside nursing just at the time UM-CareLink was being implemented, and shortly thereafter had my first son. My managers in MCIT have been extremely supportive and flexible throughout. With every new project and turn in my life, it seems that this environment both challenges and supports.
    I truly value that the leaders on our team know and understand the balancing act we all attempt!

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Jennifer, Thanks for sharing your story. Good to know you feel supported by MCIT management. That’s the culture we want to foster.

  2. M Hepner on said:

    Thanks, great post. As a single parent for the last several years, I can say I couldn’t have done it without working with tremendous support from my co-workers and management, and an organization that supported work-life balance issues.

    I am also blessed to received tremendous support from my parents who live 40 minutes away but still make the time to get into Ann Arbor to help me once a week, every week. I’m sure your daughter really appreciated the time you took to help her with last week’s day care closure. It can seem like such a minor challenge to those who don’t have to live through it, but even just a few days of support is a huge help.

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Myron, thanks for sharing your story. Great to hear you’ve been supported by your colleagues in MCIT. That’s the culture we want to foster.

  3. Karen Hollingsworth on said:

    This resonates with me as well! As a young nurse I went back to school for my masters degree. I would leave home with a sleeping baby, drive 30 minutes in the wrong direction and dropped my son at my mother-in-law’s house. Then the oppostie direction to school or work. My husband was running food services at Park City Ski Resort. and that was a diffierent direction from the way i was going. I can remember the support of colleagues as I was doing data collection for my thesis and my son on Bed #1 in the TICU … got through it all with lots of help from family, fellow students and work colleagues. That was pretty amazing support. You are right Sue … it is possible to get through it … smiles all around!

  4. Sheryl Crowley Sypek on said:

    Excellent blog Sue. I did that balancing act for many years and ultimately finished graduate school as a single parent. I often felt that I was falling short either as a parent or CIO but somehow I ended up with two well-adjusted adult children and a successful career. Fortunately we’ve come a long way since you and I had young children and now both working moms AND dads deserve leaders that support a work-life balance.

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Sheryl, Well said — “both working moms and dads deserve leaders that support a work-life balance”! Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Sue, this is a wonderful post that should be required reading for all managers and those contemplating moving into the managerial ranks. I would add, though, that the challenges don’t end when your child enters elementary school, or even middle or high school. As they grow older they still have medical appointments, parent-teacher conferences, etc. that require our presence, and they add on extracurriculars, college visits, etc. that also require our involvement. And of course they still get sick or injured. As my own mother told me, the challenges and needs may change over the years, but they never go away. I am fortunate to have managers and directors who recognize this; it’s one of the reasons I returned to UMHS and why I encourage others to build their careers here.

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Rebecca, Thanks for the additional insight. You are absolutely right that the parenting needs continue for many years! Glad to hear you feel supported at UMHS.

  6. Great post Sue and I appreciate the insightful comments. As new parents, my wife and I are also learning the “juggling act” and trying to do our best for our baby boy, ourselves, and our professional careers; all of which are important to our goals!

  7. Jodi Kay on said:

    Thank you! This is another great example of support from our leadership team.

    I have three beautiful sons (twins that are two and a four year old). It is challenging everyday but my husband and I have the support of our families, including my office family. The things I value most about working at UMHS is the flexibility, the support of my team, and the ability to be a successful working mom. Thank you again!

  8. Karen Wutke on said:

    As one of those young parents juggling the routines of work and family 30+ years ago, my husband and I have had the blessing to a “do-over” by raising our two grandsons in our home the past four years. At their current ages of 8 and 5, we have the same situations where our past experience is both a godsend and a hindrance. I work in a great department that recognizes all personal situations and adapts accordingly. The support I have from my supervisor and co-workers is one of the reasons I have been successful and in turn strengthens my commitment back them.

  9. I enjoyed reading your post, Sue. It certainly resonated with me as I have recently returned from maternity leave. We are very fortunate to have my in-laws living very close by and willing to look after our son. I do agree that workplaces need to be more flexible and in fact am designing sessions for our HR Institutes that speak to managerial flexibility and work-life balance across all industries.

  10. Sarah Danielson on said:

    Hi Sue-

    Thanks for your post on one of the many workplace challenges professionals deal with — child care (and elder care). I have been both experimenting, and actively learning, from my own experiments and those of others, on options that work, as I navigate the working world with two children, now 7.

    If I’ve learned anything, it’s that no two family solutions to make things work are identical, that leadership support and understanding are essential, and that on a few very rare occasions, things just don’t line up at all– and we can recover from this too as well, in time.

    Parents (and adult children acting as caregivers) can be great contributors, but also might be online/contributing at some very unusual times of day (and days!), at times.


    • Sue Schade on said:

      Sarah, thanks for the insight. Know you have particular challenge of consulting travel schedule to add to the mix.

  11. Kate Gamble on said:

    I finally got around to reading this (as a mom of 2-year-old twins, I often have to bookmark blogs & articles). What a great piece – thank you so much for so accurately depicting how hectic life can be for working parents of young children. I’m extremely grateful to have a flexible schedule – I’m not sure how I would survive without it! My husband is in finance and works long hours, so there’s a lot of juggling required, but it’s worth it. I love being a mom and I love my job.
    And here’s the thing, because I have so much flexibility in my schedule, I’m all the more driven to do my best at all times.
    Thank you for bringing awareness to this topic!

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Kate, didn’t realize you had toddler age twins. You must be very grateful for the flexible work schedule! Thanks for the feedback — raising awareness is important.

  12. Allison Benoit on said:

    Ahhhh Sue, love this one and makes me recall the numerous conversations we had about this topic at BWH. You were instrumental in my career growth and always supported my growing family. I’ll never forget the day you came to see me when Connor was born – BICS had been down all day and you took the time to still stop up and say hello and talk about your career, your girls and the constant juggling. I am and always will be grateful for the flexibility that has been granted to me at Partners and BWH – it has allowed me to continue to pursue my career while being a Mom! We sure do miss you. Thanks Sue! :)

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Allison, glad you liked it – figured you would. You are one of my “stories” when I talk about flexibility and balancing family / career choices. You are a great success story!!

  13. Laura Shue on said:

    This blog – which I am just coming across, a full year later – deserves a re-post! On yet another day that the ever-elusive “Mother of the Year Award” slips though my fingers, it is comforting to not only read Sue’s original post, but to see an echo of her experiences in the many comments from people whose career paths I respect.

    While I work for personal satisfaction, and I work where I work because I enjoy making a difference in people’s lives, the single biggest reason I work is to provide a better future and a solid example for those little people who call me “Mom.” In the quest to be an exemplary performer at work, sometimes I lose sight of my primary purpose. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Sue Schade on said:

      Laura, glad you found that blog post from over a year ago and that it still resonated. Just remember, to our kids, we are “mother of the year” every day! Even when we don’t think so or realize it.

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