The Celebrating Moms and Their Choices Series
Sitting on my bed, mind numbingly exhausted from around the clock breastfeeding and completely enchanted by my new baby, I put together the marketing budgets for my nonprofit membership organization. Six weeks after giving birth to my older son by C-section my journey as a working Mom began. It was budgeting season and I had recently been promoted to marketing director. Deadlines needed to be met and since I could do it from my bed, it made sense for me to take care of it rather than ask someone else to figure it out.
Our maternity policy was being able to use as much of our sick and annual leave as we wanted and to request leave without pay for any additional time. We needed my salary for our growing family and I was grateful that my nonprofit was flexible with working mothers. It was a win-win that during the transition after giving birth I could occasionally bring my beautiful baby to my downtown Washington, DC office and share the joys, anxiety, and exhaustion with my colleagues. We were lucky that my husband’s work as a scientist at NIH gave us access to the outstanding, nurturing NIH Day Care Center once our baby was old enough to start.
As many parents in urban areas experience, I lived the long frenzied commute from home to daycare to office an hour and a half each way. Struggling to get to early morning meetings and work around the hours of the day care center. When like any new parent here were days it seemed difficult to just get outside of my front door. With my son and all his things packed for the day.
But I was committed to my nonprofit’s mission of public service and loved working with our members. I cherished the friendships and mentoring from slightly older women colleagues who shared their parenting wisdom, much as they comforted me when I went through two difficult miscarriages. While my organization had always been very family friendly, I was among women who broke new ground in gaining the flexibility to telecommute when my son was sick. That was a lifesaver when we found out he had a birth defect that required emergency surgery and other issues that meant time with specialists and therapists.
Just as we were wrestling with difficult kindergarten choices that we felt weren’t right for our son, my husband was given a great opportunity in Cleveland. While hesitant to move away from my mother who I’m very close to, and my roots where I grew up, moving was the right choice for our family’s future. Those changes led me to the next chapter of my career – proposing to my nonprofit that I continue my marketing director position as a full-time telecommuter from Cleveland. Just as I drafted a detailed maternity work transition plan before each of my sons was born, now I crafted a telecommuting proposal for how I would manage the different aspects of my job from my Cleveland home office.
Our deputy executive director, who has been one of my greatest mentors, encouraged me when I first brought up the possibilities of telecommuting. She gave me excellent advice to write a proposal asking for what I really wanted in a thoughtful, professional way, and address likely concerns. I remember sitting nervously tapping my feet waiting with her outside of my executive director’s office to present my proposal. My sense was that he had a very traditional working perspective, yet he was a very positive, creative leader. So I didn’t know how he’d react. He was very thoughtful and saw the value in retaining my experience. He agreed to my proposal as written, which included my parameters for how they’d be able to measure that I was reaching goals.
For me it was a huge benefit to retain my job in telecommuting mode while going through the stress of moving to a new city where I knew no one, and also was caring for a young child with special needs. It gave me the flexibility I needed to adjust, find the right community to live in, and get my son the help he needed. We knew we wanted another child so this paved the way for my next son. I worked from home and could be available for school meetings, therapist appointments, and inevitable sick child days (which usually included me catching whatever they had!).
It was wonderful in a crazy hybrid way of trying to have it all — work, home, and quality time with my kids and husband, which was so important to me. But the catch was that I worked crazy hours since my job was very much full time. And as the work was always at home with me, I didn’t have any separation between work and home. Most nonprofits have tight budgets and infinite mission to accomplish, so there was always so much more to do than time allowed. And since I felt the telecommuting was such a gift I was very committed to working my heart out to give them as much value as I could in return. To my own detriment.
When I was with my kids, I tried to give them my all, but the truth is I often felt tempted to check email, finish one more document, prep for one more meeting. I took a few hours off to do dinner and bedtime routines with that occasional sneaky side working. Once they were in bed, I started a second shift of work that kept me up late at night. With impeccable timing, as soon as I’d head to the bed one or both sons would have middle of the night needs. I embraced caffeine starting with coffee in the morning and transitioning to Diet Coke at lunch time.
I missed the in person connections with people, yet was too busy taking care of my children and work commitments. It was difficult to make time to do as much connecting locally as I wanted to. I was grateful to not have a long commute anymore, especially on days with a last minute sick child or broken appliance. But long hours in my home working endlessly made me feel like a hermit at times.
I’m grateful for everything the women who came before me in my mother’s generation did to make a place for women at the business table. I grew up assuming that I could do anything I wanted if I had the talent and determination to do it. Because I always wanted children so badly and was lucky to meet my wonderful husband when I was 26, I wanted to have both my special family time and a fulfilling career, which for me meant working for a nonprofit with a mission that I was dedicated to. My approach through my children’s younger years was creating this hybrid of working from home in a very full time, challenging position. But the long hours and lack of sleep took their toll, and while I had more quality of time and space with my sons, there were times when I felt like I couldn’t meet expectations for either family or work.
My arrangement worked so well that a number of other staff started telecommuting, including those whose spouses’ new career opportunities required them moving out of the DC area. I took pride in blazing the trail. During the first six to eight years things went very smoothly, and became easier as technology improved options for working virtually. Initially I spent time at my headquarters office once every four to eight weeks. Over time especially after having my second son, this became too challenging and I reduced my travel. That helped my family life but over time it did affect relationships with staff. But I did the telecommuting for 12 years until the peak of the recession caused a large layoff right at my 20th anniversary with the organization.
I had thought fleetingly about doing something different over the years, but was too busy to pursue it. I loved my organization’s mission and the stability of a “regular job.” When people suggested I consider consulting or starting a business, I was nervous about taking the risk. I liked the security of a nonprofit job — you traded a slightly lower paycheck for the mission and stability. I read the book Linchpin by Seth Godin and loved his reality check that we are all the managers of our own careers now, that we have to ensure that we have the unique skills and career opportunities that we want. Security is a thing of the past, a fact reinforced by being laid off at my 20th anniversary.
So when my sister and I started brainstorming ideas for starting a business together, I was nervous but excited. I had already started a social media and marketing consulting practice. Launching Gooseling to help children learn social and life skills through video games brought together what I love the most — children, education, technology, and helping families. Having the opportunity to write our own story and use what we have learned from our respective careers and parenting journeys while voraciously learning new things every day is the chance of a lifetime. While continuing an important ethic at the heart of my career, that my family comes first, so I can spend the time I want to with my sons and husband. And my sister who means the world to me, growing our business to help other families.