Balancing Work and Kids: A Discussion
A conversation with leading women in their fields about working (or not) with a child.
Sitting in the car just outside my son’s school, I’m arranging my interviews for this article. Before the bell rings I manage to set up an interview time with both my sources and jot down some discussion points – a multi-tasking success! But not every day as a full-time mom and writer goes so smoothly. Actually on most days, like so many moms, I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing at all while being busier than I ever thought possible.
When I got pregnant, I was an editor at a fast-paced media startup. I secured contracts with leading fashion publications and was a regular on daytime TV, discussing the hottest trends. Fast forward five years and on any given day, my biggest accomplishment is getting a picky toddler to eat one piece of fruit (half a banana counts!).
It might sound like I’ve taken twenty steps back in my career, but the truth is I wouldn’t have it any other way. I chose to be home with my son, in all its messy and tantrum-fueled glory, because that’s what worked best for us. The time I’ve spent with my baby, now 4 year-old, has gone by in a flash of precious memories mixed with everyday dramas – and I’ve loved it.
What I didn’t expect was that being away from the daily grind would actually fuel my creativity, making me a better writer. That’s not to say the decision to stay at home or go back to work is easy. Even women who are trailblazers in their fields have grappled with the issue, like L.A. based actress Polly Shannon and SavvyMom Media founder Minnow Hamilton. I sat down with each of these women to get their perspective on what it’s like to work (or not) with baby:
Urbanette Magazine: Can you tell us about where you were in your career before becoming a mom?
Polly Shannon: Honestly, my age category as an actress is brutal, but I still managed to work. I had taken to writing as well, which I enjoyed.
Minnow Hamilton: I was working at a marketing agency, and we worked with lots of mom focused brands, ironically. Our hours were late and the job was demanding, as we were always serving the client first!
Urbanette: So would you say you were ready for something new? Perhaps motherhood…
Polly: I was definitely ready for motherhood. I had waited until I was older to start, knowing that my work would likely start slowing down.
Minnow: I was ready for motherhood for personal reasons, not because of my career. I always intended to continue working, which I did for a short while. But, I actually ended up staying home with the kids for a few years after my second son was born.
Urbanette: And motherhood is full of surprises, I would say. What has been the most surprising aspect of balancing a career and motherhood?
Polly: There are a few tricky bits. One is the amount of time you are away from your child when you are shooting. I shot a lovely film this year and I saw Pasha [her daughter] for about twenty minutes a day. I was gone before she would wake up and home after she was asleep.
Minnow: I think the constant surprise of motherhood – and the balancing act you are attempting while being a parent – is the never ending element of surprise. Meaning that, as soon as you think you have it figured out, the tide shifts – usually it’s your kids because they are growing into the next age/stage and have different needs. If it’s not your kids, it’s the industry you are working in. You can get caught on both sides and there is rarely a phase when you can rest.
Urbanette: As a mom, I can totally understand the struggle, but I think the creative fields like acting, writing (as in my case), and even entrepreneurship offer more flexibility, is that the sense you get as well?
Polly: Not for acting. The only say you have is whether you’d take the job or not. You are on their time and schedule. Nothing changes for you and days are often 16 hours long. I chose to not even audition for pilots over the last two years, since I knew if I did a series I would miss my time being a mom to her as a baby and a toddler. That will change when she gets older.
Minnow: Flexibility is different than time. You’re not necessarily working less hours, but you have a little bit more control of when you work. It sounds glamorous and free, but it really means you are working until 3 am some nights because that’s when the baby is asleep!
Urbanette: I think a key factor for success for all moms is having a support system in place, whether family or paid.
Polly: We don’t have family here but have flown them in to help in the past. My mom came to look after Pasha for my last shoot and that was amazing. In L.A. we have a great nanny who comes only when I need her.
Minnow: Support systems are critical. I am a firm believer in the old adage – it takes a village to raise a child. Mothers need to know how and when to reach out for help, whether it’s your husband, family member or the teenager down the road. Nobody benefits from an overworked, tired mom.
Urbanette: For so many moms there is always a sense of “the grass is greener on the other side” where you think you are missing out on being a mom if you’re at work and missing out on a career if you’re at home. Do you think there’s a happy middle-ground somewhere?
Polly: I think that depends so much on the person. For me, I love my job and it’s fun to work and focus on that once in awhile but not for so long that it takes away from my mom work. I was at a place in my life where I had really accomplished enough to feel satisfied doing this now. I know other women who still have so much they want to do and that is very tough on them, to balance it all.
Minnow: I’m not sure there is a middle ground per se, but I think there is a solution for most moms. The best news is that we have choices now and I think moms need to embrace that and realize how lucky we are. I also don’t think that every career or mom decision they make is forever. There will be times when we know we need to get back to work, and times when we need to be there for our kids.
Urbanette: That’s a great way to think of it, that you can have both, but not at the exact same time. In my case, I found that taking the time to be home with my son inspired my creativity. Finally, what advice do you have for women who are still torn between the age-old decision to stay at home or go back to work?
Polly: I overheard the best advice from [parenting guru] Jennifer Waldburger, which went something like – know you are always the mom whether you are home all day or not. Your child doesn’t forget that. If you are working, put your head 100 percent into that and 100 percent to your child when you’re home. Seemed to work for me when I was shooting because the guilt of being away doesn’t help anyone, it just makes you miserable.
Minnow: Sometimes we try so hard to find the perfect ‘balance’ that it in itself becomes another thing on our list that adds stress to our lives. Maybe there is no such thing as real balance. Maybe if we have a full plate – healthy kids, a decent job and engaging lives – we should just embrace it, instead of always trying to change things.
Urbanette: That’s very good advice – I think I will follow it myself!