A Working Mother’s Carry-On Luggage


It was a Sunday afternoon and I was rushing around gathering the final items for my business trip. This  was going to be a long one. My girls were already dreading me being gone, scheming up ways to change my plans, crying tears of anticipatory sadness of those nights I wouldn’t be there to read with them and tuck them in to sleep, clinging to me for one more hug.

Although I’ve traveled my kids’ entire lives, and they are used to the routine, it hasn’t gotten a heck of a lot easier for them because any way you cut it, Mom’s gone. Skype, Facetime and cell phones help, but you can’t hug over a phone or computer. Despite my best routines and planning, it’s not always easy for me either. Mom-guilt is real and it can sneak up on you at your weakest moments. But like many Moms, I march on, try to stay positive, and work to make the best of our circumstances.

I lost track of the kids as I gathered my final items together and went out to the car. I looked around to find them to say good bye and they were nowhere in sight. I open the car door and suddenly there they were, tucked away on the floor, ready to come along. We laughed at the silliness of it all, and I did a quick good bye, which is always better for everyone, because I knew it would be a tough week.

This is the real story of career mothers like myself, who travel or work long hours, leaving behind the raw emotions of our kids, while wondering if we are doing the right thing. When we walk through the door at the office or join that meeting, we put our game face on, we redirect our energy and emotions and become great contributors and problem solvers at our companies.

Statistics show that companies need more women like us. Our instincts, attention to detail and empathy, combined with solid business skills, can help businesses thrive in the most difficult of times. We love what we do; and we love being parents.

I wish there was a pill we could take for Mom-guilt or a vitamin we could give our kids to make it better when we’re gone. The reality is, there is no magic solution. Over time, I have learned ways to manage through separation. I’ve become creative in talking about the adventure of the things I will see and the problems I will solve when I am gone. I focus on quality time before I leave or take on a big project; and I try to enjoy special times with them when things ease up. Most importantly, I try not to shut down my kids’ emotions when they are frustrated or sad, because this is real life for them.

Every time I pack for a trip, I realize it’s more than just my clothes that I bring along in my luggage. I also carry with me the plan to manage it all when I am gone. Sometimes the load is heavier and sometimes it’s lighter, but part of being a working mom is figuring it out. The best ideas that help me balance it all come from other working women like me who open up, share their vulnerabilities and realize that we’re all in this together. I’m glad I’m not traveling alone.

Balancing When There Is No Balance

It’s been weeks since I have written a blog entry.  Aside from the holidays, life quickly got out of balance with work demands that blew up any chance of free time, much less an opportunity to sit in front of my computer with a clear and creative mind to write.

It’s happened before. We all get times where balance feels impossible, because there is nothing to balance when you are working all the time and spending whatever time is left caring for your family. If you are anything like me, you find yourself fighting it, feeling defeated that there is no time for me or the things I cherish the most.  That’s where we get stuck and I got stuck in December, until I realized one thing.  Maybe when there is no balance, I need to look for balance more than ever.

I need to recalibrate what balance looks like in the crazy times and accept that for a temporary period of time, less will have to be more and I will have to appreciate the small amounts of time that I can make for myself.  I need to reach out to get help and support because I can’t do it alone.  I need to decide what I can do and have during this temporary time until things settle down.

So, I did just that.  I moved into acceptance and put together a plan. I mapped out the coming weeks on a calendar so my husband and mother in law (who cares for our kids) knew realistically what my schedule was going to look like.  I settled on one small plan a day with my kids over the holiday break, as that was all that I could swing, and I tried to make it good and be present. Despite my guilt, I needed workout time more than ever to manage my stress and detune, so I went to the gym.  I took my dear friend’s advice and scheduled a hair appointment instead of canceling any time for me.  I put some commitments and hobbies on hold until I could get back on my feet.  It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

As my friend Cathy Adams, parenting coach, author and therapist says, this is self care. It’s what we tend to give up first when things get busy, but it’s what we need the most to get through the busiest of times. We deserve to be cared for and we have to care for ourselves.  For working women, self care is a key part of “working the work life balance”.

I know that I am not alone in this journey.  Sometimes, managing balance in the busiest of times is part of the work gig for all of us, but there is a solution and a plan out there that only we can put together for ourselves to get us through.   Instead of blowing up balance, balance more and don’t forget about you.  After all, you are worth it.

Working Motherhood Interview is Live!

This past Saturday Dr. Portia Jackson of Working Motherhood interviewed me for her Stitcher radio show which aired today and can be listened to via podcast by using the links below. Thanks to those who encouraged, inspired and shared their advice with me! It was a great experience and opportunity to share with other working mothers what I have learned along the way on my journey.

Tune in to listen and please share with others!

Interview Link:

iTunes Link:


Stitcher Link:


Working Motherhood

Next weekend I will be interviewed for the Stitcher radio show “Working Motherhood” to talk about my journey as a working mom and career woman. I love this show’s format as it’s a quick thirty minute conversation where Dr. Portia Jackson talks to her guests about their challenges, “aha” moments and best tips for other working mothers. I’m joining an impressive group of women who have shared their story, from authors to business owners to the Editor of Working Women Magazine. Everyone’s story is different, but they all share the same issues that we do, figuring out parenting, navigating career paths and making mistakes that we learn from along the way.

I was referred to the host by Mitch Shepard, an inspiring woman I know who founded WIRL (Women in Real Life) an online leadership conference for women that focuses on how women can be their best in so many ways. (More on WIRL in another post, but here is the website http://www.wirlsummit.com ).

When I was asked to do the show, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. Shortly after, I started to think about it and question myself, why me? What do I have to share that will impact her audience? I am a normal working mom just like everyone else.

I gave myself almost a month to ponder and answer that question. Over the last few weeks, I have been preparing for the show in the very early morning with only my coffee and me to answer this question and figure out how to best tell my story and what I think listeners can learn from me.

What I have realized is that as a Human Resources leader and working mom, I see things from a unique view. Through the lens of an employer I understand how difficult it is for businesses to provide balance to employees, but I also feel things through the heart of a working mother, so my message and experience is truly unique and should be shared. Climbing the corporate ladder with small children is difficult in itself, but the bigger challenge is figuring out how to manage balance, give my kids and family the best of me along the way and to feel good about myself in the process. This, I am passionate about.

Next week, I will share my story. I will post when the show goes live on Working Motherhood. Until then, here is the link to the website: http://www.workingmotherhood.com.

Wish me luck!

Back to School- Back to “Better” Balance

It’s back to school time again. Like every summer, as soon as you blink it’s over and here we are getting our kids in gear once again. Back to homework, making lunches, bedtime schedules and everything that goes along with structure that school requires. I can’t help but think about what I will do differently this fall. The truth is, I feel like I could do everything a little better. More time with homework, better planning my calendar, healthier meals and staying more engaged with the kids on everything that happened that day.

Over time, I have learned that striving for perfect is a losing battle and does nothing for my self esteem. So I subscribe to “better” and doing my best at “better” everyday. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but if I am working towards this goal, progress is made.

I have a little more time to do a reset and figure out what I can do “better” to balance working and parenting. Here are my top three that I’ll be focusing on:

Setting expectations for structure: My kids do better with structure, and so do I. It’s no fun to be a drill sergeant, spouting out orders in the morning and evenings to keep things on track in the household. Sending the message to my kids about the structure we need before it’s time to get down to business sets the expectation and they get into gear quicker when it’s time.

No Iphone Zone: I, like many, find it difficult to disconnect from my iphone, emails and texts, but taking a break at certain times of the day is good for my kids and I. It helps me to stay more engaged, to dedicate important time to them and to free my mind of the constant flurry of activity from work and friends. This takes discipline and finesse, but its well worth it and sets a good example for the kids.

The family calendar: I use Outlook all day with ease and success to keep my work life organized, but somehow this doesn’t always trickle down to my family calendar. Planning kids homework and activities using a calendar is the key to staying on top of it all. Simple answer right? Sure, but it’s the discipline using it when I am on the go with work constantly.

Working Mother Magazine featured the top 20 best new apps with a family organizer one topping the chart. Here is the link- it is #6 on their list: http://www.workingmother.com/digital-life/20-best-iphone-apps. In an effort to up my techie game this fall, I am giving it a whirl.

Like many Moms, I look forward to back to school time after the summer. I also love learning from other Moms who have already figured it out. Share your top ideas for better balance and I will feature them on my blog at http://chicagoworkingwomen.wordpress.com

Is it the Journey or the Destination?

On vacation this week, we went on a boat ride in the northern woods of Wisconsin. It was a beautiful night. The water was placid and the chain that we were passing through was without the normal traffic of speed boats and jet skis. About 30 minutes in, I took the place of my kids and asked my husband if we were almost there yet. He was clearly relaxing and gave me the look as if to say “What’s the rush? We’re on a boat ride?” I wasn’t cold or hungry and I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. I just like getting there.

Like many women, I tend to be very goal oriented. At home, I like to use lists of my “to dos” and cross my tasks off when they are done. At work, I have specific goals I want to accomplish each year and eventually in my career. With both, I focus with the end in mind. Finishing that project, reading that book, hitting that plan. For some reason, I think I’ll have this euphoric feeling when I get there or I’ll be able to finally relax when it’s all done.

Every once in awhile, I realize I need to slow down a bit. It’s not always necessary to operate with herculean speed, to get it done this week or even to accomplish that self-imposed goal. In fact, it’s the journey along the way that’s a lot more impactful and interesting. Figuring out how to tackle the challenge, taking a break along the way to stop and smell the roses and ditching the lists for a weekend or two isn’t such a bad thing. I’ll get to the destination eventually or maybe it will even be a different destination I didn’t expect that will be a lot more interesting.

On the way back from the boat ride, holding my sleeping daughter and looking at the beautiful scenery, for the first time, I was the one who spotted the eagle flying in the sky. A beautiful sight and a beautiful reminder. I vote for the journey.

Working the Work Life Balance

As posted on http://www.cathycassaniadams.com blog January 27, 2014

Work Life Balance.  I am not sure who came up with this term, but to most women, it’s something we dream about, but find it difficult to have.  As valuable as a winning lottery ticket, achieving work life balance means that we would actually have the time to meet the expectations of our career AND have enough quality time for ourselves, our families and our hobbies so that we feel “balanced”.

The demands of work in this electronic, 24-7 iphone world are intense. Many jobs are not just 8-5 anymore, but open for business whenever our phones are turned on.  Whether your career is managing a household or a role in Corporate America, achieving balance is more challenging than ever.  However, there are ways that we can work to have a more balanced life so that we feel satisfied.  Here are some tips to help:

  1.       Identify your Balance Activities

Identify the activities that you need to spend time doing to feel satisfied.  This could be quality time with your kids, working out, time for crafts or a visit to the book store.   Establish a targeted amount of time to spend on these activities that will make you feel good.  It could be 30 minutes of special reading time with the kids, two workouts a week or a one hour trip to the bookstore.  Be realistic with the amount of time that is feasible so that you can make it happen.

   2.       Plan a Schedule

Plan your week to include time for your balance activities.  We schedule meetings, kid’s activities, business trips and dinner reservations and don’t think twice because it is a necessity to ensure it gets done.  Scheduling time for balance activities will help to ensure that time is budgeted and available for you.  Be protective of this time just as you would with your work or parenting activities.

   3.       Choose Quality over Quantity

Start with small and realistic timeframes for your targeted balance activity and ensure that the time you have is well spent and focused.  You can feel immensely satisfied getting in one good workout or having special time with your kids where you are fully engaged.  Learn to value the quality of the time you have over the quantity.

   4.       Leave the guilt behind

It’s important to recognize that having activities that “balance” us is a necessity to our mental health. Feeling guilty for taking the time away from work or your family to do things you enjoy is normal.  Taking time out for your balance activities can greatly refresh you and ultimately make you better when you return to your work or family.  Learning to give yourself permission for balance activities will help to replace guilt and frustration with satisfaction.

   5.   Own It! 

I am a big believer that we play a large role in our own happiness, balance and success.  Once you have a plan, you have to own it to make it successful.  It takes discipline, conscious decision making and assertiveness to manage your plan.  Work to develop this highly valuable skill –you can do it!

Ultimately, it takes a lot of “work” to manage your balance, but every step you take will make for a happier you.