Leaning In To Your Career When You Have Young Children

In high school I dreamed of being an executive in a board room wearing Jcrew suits and making impactful decisions. Then I had kids. I wasn't sure what to do with myself and my dreams. Today I'm sharing the many challenges I faced, the way my focus shifted and how I've continued to grow in my career even with young children. 

First I want to say that I am very lucky to have a husband who 100% supports me. I realize if you are a single parent and are reading this then this might look a lot different for you. To all the parents out there who are doing this alone, I applaud you and pray you have a tribe around you that supports you and your family.

Here's a breakdown of my career after having children. After I had my first child I didn't want to go back to work. I want to mention that I had quit my job before I went on maternity leave so there wasn't anything for me to go back to you. However, Alex, insisted I go back to work because our family needed it financially. Long story short I found a job at State Farm not in Marketing but as an adjuster. Basically I handled car accidents and got yelled at every day. However, my goal the entire time was to get in to the marketing department. After a year as an adjuster I landed a role in marketing after job shadows, hours of networking and multiple interviews. While in this marketing position I became pregnant and had Walt and Whitney. It was the perfect role because I worked from home most days and the job was not very demanding. I would say that at times I was coasting, which was perfect because I barely slept and was raising newborn twins. I enjoyed having a job that wasn't stressful, and most days I did not take my work home with me.

When Walt and Whitney were about 8 months old I begin looking outside of State Farm, because I was hitting a wall there and wasn't moving up at the speed I wanted. Here I leaned in. If you've ever actively pursued a new role, you know it's A LOT of work. Searching for jobs online, filling out long applications, writing cover letters, and all the interviewing that goes with each role (the higher the role the more extensive the interview process). For some interviews I would have to take a whole day or at least half a day off of work. After a few months of searching I landed a job in marketing at Big Red in Austin. This entire search was very exhausting having three small children (Turner was 3.5 and my twins were 10 months old at the time).

While at Big Red I worked very hard, and managed to stay afloat with kids, traveling and taking much of my work home with me. I won't go in to the details but after about a year and a half I made the decision I wanted to leave. Once again the search for a new role began, my children were 2 and 5. It took me 5 months and over 30 interviews with multiple companies before I landed my current role at IBM. Fun fact, I got my foot in the door through an Instagram follower who I now consider a friend. Never forget, you are ALWAYS networking (check out my post on how to network like a pro). Here I stand today proud of the hills I've climbed even with the lack of sleep.

When my children were very small (0-2) I honestly thought that there would be no way I could ever be in a leadership role and also have a family. I believed I couldn't be a manager and also be a good mom. I think many women who have young children believe this, because it's hard to see past that stage. When life is blurry, your emotions are everywhere and your children need you 24/7. But what I'm realizing now is I don't have to choose. I can have a seat in the board room and also raise my family well. Yes, there will be some games missed or some meetings you'll need to leave early but you make it work. I also know depending on the type of industry you are in, being a working mom is tougher than others. There are restraints including travel, strenuous schedules, large workloads and more.

If you are wanting to lean in to your career, and you have the energy, space and freedom to do it....do it! What is holding you back? Fear of the unknown? Fear you might fail? Fear your family will struggle? You never know until you try.

Why do you want to lean in? What is your end game? I was a manager of a small team while at Big Red, but at IBM it's going to take a few more years of experience for me to become a manager. I want to be part of building a team up and fostering an environment where they can grow, be challenged, and ultimately enjoy life and work simultaneously. I want to use my skill sets to make business decisions that directly and positively impact the company and our consumers. A higher wage also helps ; ) Gotta pay for college tuition and my retirement fund. P.S. my goal is to retire before 60.

Having help and strong support behind you is an absolute must. I hope you have a partner that comes along side you and encourages you to pursue your goals. Alex has been at Apple for almost 8 years and would also like to be a manager one day. We are both leaning in, and thankfully Alex doesn't have to travel for work. The only issue we run into is when a child is sick. We both evaluate who has a more important day at work, and then swap out if we need to be home for multiple days with our child.

Your boss also is very important. Not all managers value you being a working mom. I've had the best job with the worst boss, and the worst job with the best boss. Which company do you think I ended up staying longer at? The one with the better boss! A terrible manager can really squash your dreams. Let that anger be the fuel that fires you up. Let it motivate you to never be like them, and be better so one day you can be a manager that supports working moms. I would also highly recommend finding a mentor. If you are at a large company and are hoping to stay I would recommend a mentor within the company, and if you are at a smaller company you might need to look outside of it. My mentor and I meet once a month, and I leave motivated after every conversation.

Know when to say yes and no. Some nights you might have the bandwidth and energy to stay up late and apply for jobs or deepen your knowledge/education. Some nights you might have had a rough day and your kids need extra attention. Snuggle with them, the job can wait. If you have specific goals in mind, write them down and start planning. What are small steps you can take to get to that goal?

Do you struggle with imposter syndrome? Do you question if you're smart enough? Do you hold back on conference calls because you are afraid of saying something wrong? I believe most women have been there, but it's time to say to hell with that! Show your team why they hired you, and why you are the right person for the job. I wrote a blog post about pushing through fear at work!

I read this quote from Olivia Wilde a while back and it stopped me in my tracks, "You are no less of a mother because you pursue your dreams." MIC DROP! That's pretty much all that needs to be said. Whenever I let a sliver of guilt creep in, I remember how I was raised by two full-time working parents. I never once questioned their love for me, and I had a wonderful childhood. Your children will be fine if you miss a few school parties and show up late to pick them up from the Y. Talk to them about why you work and why it's important to you. They may not understand now, but one day they will look to you as an example.

Photos by Madeline Harper

Good luck in your journey! Follow me on LinkedIn and feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions!

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