Coworkers and friends ask me how I manage my career, my marriage, and being a mom to two boys under four years old. The short answer is, you just do it because things have to get done. But that simplifies the struggle, because it really does take a lot of coordination, some tears (typically mine), and a lot of caffeine.
First, I purposely chose this path — I wanted a meaningful career, a partner, and kids. And I took time to think about how it would work.
I always knew I wanted to be a mom. But I also knew that sacrificing my own personal achievement wasn’t something I’d be able to stomach easily. As much as I tried to fight it, I realized I’d never be fulfilled or happy if I took a permanent step back from my career due to having children. I like working. I like collaborating and being part of a company where there is so much opportunity to grow individually, but also as a team. So when it came time to start my family, I had to figure out, how do I have children and further progress my career?
When I first started working, I was a contractor for another big tech company in the Silicon Valley, and I really wasn’t happy. I wanted something with more impact and growth opportunities, so I applied at Walmart. I was hired as a product analyst developing a new product, then the project got scrapped and we moved into the Catalog Enrichment Platform, which is essentially the original version of the team I’m on now, and I became a program manager. I did that until I was asked to be Chief of Staff a little over three years ago. That was a big jump. It was a lot more responsibility, a much more expanded role that required more of my time and energy.
At this point I had a two-year-old, and two months later I’d be going on maternity leave for my second son.
So, I had a very honest conversation with my husband about my long-term goals and his, and how I wanted to be present with my family without allowing my career to suffer.
I knew we wouldn’t both be able to climb the ladder at the same rate, while having one or both of us at home enough, able to do pick-up and drop-off, be present for bath time and bedtime, and all the in-between times. And the truth is, I had accelerated at work quite a bit in a relatively short time. My husband had obviously been watching my career grow, and he let me know he wanted to support it, knowing it would mean taking on more responsibilities at home. So that’s how we decided to move forward.
That conversation was really important, and is still something we do every time there’s a big change or promotion. We’re constantly checking in; it allows us to consider how a new role will affect our lives. We discuss how childcare and family time will work, and bring any issues to the table — this is the time to speak up. We have to make sure we’re on the same page before we can make a decision.
We had the conversation again when I took the director role I’m currently in, and again when the role was expanded to cover Walmart Labs’ Program Management Org. This time it included much more traveling, which is a big deal for a family with little kids. So being very clear and open about how we felt about the changes and how our lives would be affected was really important.
While having that conversation is so valuable, and I know that we’ve made the right choice as we move forward, there is this constant overwhelming feeling of guilt every time I have to work late or leave to travel. In the last six months, I’ve traveled to India twice. It’s hard to leave, and hard on the parent who’s home. And I think a lot of parents feel that guilt, especially moms. I can easily tell a friend, you’ve got to let go of the guilt, your kids are well taken care of. But we tend to have a harder time swallowing our own medicine. Honestly, we just have to find ways to work through it. I’m not perfect at it, but for me, when I’m home with my kids I’m very purposeful about putting my phone away so that I’m present with them. I try not to open my work computer until they’re asleep. And, it’s hard, but I’m really trying to make a conscious effort not to work on the weekends. It’s two full days that we can literally spend all of our time together, and it’s the only two days of the week we get that.
Recently I read Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis, and she basically says that when it comes to “mom guilt,” you just have to get over it. Nobody is going to die. If you have a spouse that’s helpful and there for your kids, just go with it and be thankful. It doesn’t go away fully, but if you can recognize that this is a decision you’re making, and when you’re with your kids you’re making an effort to be present, then just go with it. Remind yourself that’s the most important thing and that’s all they need.
There are other benefits to being a working parent that we just don’t talk about enough. For example, I want to show my boys that women can be the breadwinner and have significant careers. I want that to be a norm, not something women have to keep fighting to have. And while we’ve come a long way in that regard, we still have a long way to go. I hope that by the time my sons grow up and have partners, it won’t be as big of a deal as it is today. And maybe in the long term that will help with mom guilt, because we won’t be looked at as the sole or main caregiver, and hopefully we won’t place that burden on ourselves.
I consider myself lucky to have a partner who is present and active in our kids’ lives, and also puts his money where his mouth is to support my career goals. Some men and women are doing it all on their own, and they are true superheroes. The point is that if you want to make your career and family a priority, you have to be really honest with yourself about your needs, then make an action plan, and clearly communicate that to your support circle — because we all need support. And then you do it.