St.Louis Business Journal
Can You Be A Successful Parent And Still Be A Success?
By Anna Navarro
Author's note: Client stories in this column are based on actual situations fictionalized to protect privacy and told with permission.
As the demands of the work place keep increasing, so do the complexities of raising children. The question many ambitious men and women face is “Can you be a successful parent and still be a success?”
The answer is “Yes, but....”
First you have to give up the notion there's a universally right way to merge kids and careers because there isn't. You must be willing to make up an answer that works in your particular case at a particular time. When traditional families consisted of men who worked in offices and women who worked at home, there weren't as many variables so there was at least the appearance of a “right” way of doing things.
There was the “Leave It to Beaver” model, if you will. Dad came home at 5:30 p.m.; Mom had dinner ready; the boys bounded down the stairs ready to eat. Today Mom may be traveling; Dad gets home at seven and the kids are at soccer practice and flute lessons.
The reality is that along with abandoning the traditional approach to family and job, you have to stop looking for universal answers. That can be empowering and scary at the same time. There's no yardstick any more.
If Mom is out-of-town and Dad takes the children for a fast-food supper, is the family in disarray? Probably not, although this clearly calls for a different standard than the one Ward and June Cleaver used to define the family dinner hour.
Along with abandoning the search for the right answer, today's working parent must learn to give up the guilt that comes with having conscious or unconscious expectations of how one "should" balance two very demanding priorities--children and career.
Sometimes a twinge of guilt can serve a useful function if it signals something is out of whack in your balancing act. If you're not sleeping or feel tired all the time or have difficulty concentrating on the task at hand, it's wise to take a look at whether you're trying to do too many things in too many realms.
However the guilt that comes out of not matching expectations of how things should be doesn't serve a useful purpose. A friend of mine tells the story of driving to the office while her pediatrician/husband stayed home with their feverish three-month-old. She knew her daughter was in the best care and also realized she should be grateful to her husband for pitching in, so why did she break into tears in the parking garage? Because she felt like she "should" have stayed home with her sick child. The daughter is now grown and healthy and my friend shrugs as she tells the story as an example of wasted guilt.
The question working parents constantly ask is "Can I have it all--success at home and at work?" The realistic response is that you probably can get most of what you want but you may not get it all at once.
Being a successful working parent calls for a discipline of deferred gratification. Learning to say "no" definitely is an important part of most people's solutions. You may not want to go for that MBA degree until your child can drive him or herself. Or you might not want to chair the school auction if your company is a takeover target.
Sometimes it's important to remember that both parenting and career development are dynamic situations. Time changes your needs and those of your children and your career. The care and feeding of a newborn is much more physically demanding than the concerns of raising a 10-year-old just as the pressures you face as a new manager are different from those of a senior vice president.
One test of how to decide priorities is to take a long-range view and look at what will matter most five years down the road. Most crises, viewed from a five-year perspective, don't seem such a big deal. Here are some examples of very different approaches to the parenting/career conundrum.
One of my clients, a woman lawyer from Seattle, was a senior partner in her firm married to an emergency room technician. She had married late and deeply wanted children, yet was uncertain about how she could handle the demands of her growing legal
practice and those of parenting a young child.
While her husband's job was viewed as lower achieving position, he liked what he was doing more than she did. She realized she loved the intellectual challenge of her post but didn't care for the politics of the firm or the long hours and days filled with travel.
The couple decided to downsize their lives. He kept his job and she resigned her partnership but stayed at the firm in the position of mentoring young lawyers.
Another client, a partner at a Big Four accounting firm on the East Coast was married to a teacher. She was ambitious and, knowing she excelled both in the profession and in business development, had her eye on becoming a managing partner. Her husband, who made less money and was less driven by success, decided to become a house-husband.
This still didn't solve the problem.
She pursued her career with intensity, filling her calendar with night meetings, travel, outside commitments to community groups which would lead to business development, but she wasn't happy and the marriage began showing strains. My client performed radical surgery on her work schedule and outside commitments. She focused on the professional aspects of her work and gave up rainmaking. She vowed to be home by 5:30 and learned to say "no" to friends, civic obligations and professional groups. Her husband continued to stay home. Only by making all these changes were they able to find a solution.
In another situation, I worked with two MBAs, both of whom graduated at the top of their business school class and had excellent jobs after graduation. They both wanted children and, after much soul searching, decided they were committed to having a full-time parent at home. They decided the husband would focus on his career while the wife remained home for about 10 years putting her career on hold to have and raise kids.
Sometimes new demands create new solutions as in the case of a household with three single parents and seven children. A widowed professor, her divorced, engineer brother, plus another woman who was willing to stay home and take care of the children came up with a solution where the stay-at-home parent was paid for childcare. The brother and sister had inherited a home large enough for all three families. This unusual arrangement worked in no small part because of the very specific agreements they had, including health insurance provisions for the stay-at-home parent and her children.
These examples underscore the importance of finding your own way through the parenting career maze. It is doable if you remember to:
1. Figure out what’s important both in terms of work and raising children.
2. Give yourself permission and professional support to experiment and come up with solutions that fit your unique needs; and
3. Pat yourself on the back for being the pioneer every working parent has to become.
Anna Navarro is the founder of Work Transitions, a nationwide career consulting firm that trains independent career strategists and consults with individual clients.
This column was originally published by the St. Louis Business Journal. The actual title of the column and date in which it appeared in the Business Journal may be slightly different from what appears on WorkTransitions.com.