10 years ago, I became a parent. An event that forever altered the course of my life. Not just my personal life–my professional life, too. Because let’s face it, your professional life AFTER kids is so much different than your professional life BEFORE kids (what in God’s green earth did I do with all the free time I used to have, anyway?).
Being a parent and a full-time professional in any industry or sector is tough. But, in PR, I would argue it’s extra tough. Longer hours. Stress. Deadlines. It all adds up. And it all starts to weigh on you quickly.
Because the work stress is no longer the only stress in your life. Now you have stress at work AND at home. You had a stressful day at work managing competing deadlines? Lucky for you, you now have a screaming 2-year-old and a high-maintenance five-year-old to come home to (not speaking from experience or anything :).
That grates on people. So much so, that you sometimes see people take a break. Some people quit the industry altogether for a spell, so they can be around more during their kids younger years.
Heck, this impacted me in a very personal way about 8 years ago. I was working at Beehive PR at the time. We were due to have our second child. But, things didn’t go so well during the birth. I’m not going to get into all the details, but it was pretty damn scary. I wasn’t fully prepared for two kids at home either. It hit me smack in the face. I struggled at home. I struggled at work. Result: I couldn’t hack it. I found and accepted a job where the hours and stress weren’t as rigorous.
Many parents I know have similar stories. We all manage stress differently. So, I thought I’d ask some of my friends, who are parents, how they manage it all. How do they manage a full-time career as a PR pro AND manage life as a parent. Let’s see what they had to say:
Natalie Bushaw, director-public relations, Life Time Fitness
Four words: Accept. Adapt. Move on. I actually learned these words at a Franklin Covey Time Management seminar for my first job out of college (selling radio advertising). Anyone under 35 has likely never heard of either Franklin Planning or Stephen Covey but those four words, which were intended to help plan your day, were game changers when I became a parent and still today are words I apply to every aspect of my life–and now my boys use them too. It’s not easy juggling it all. It can be stressful trying to get out the door when the kid/s screams uncontrollably or poops over and over again or you realize your blouse has puke stains on it. Then, chances are traffic will suck after you finally get them where they need to be. The reality though is you can’t change those things so…yep: accept what happened, adapt to the situation and move on. Each of those words is critical but to me the move on is what keeps you moving forward. Trust me, before you know it, you’ll have made it through those sleepless nights and stress-filled mornings and evenings when you’re rushing to or from work for the kids and when you have a minute to breathe you’ll realize it was worth it. Or you won’t, in which case you’ll have quit your job, gone down to part-time or switched careers completely to find balance and probably realize you’re still trying to figure it out. I think, it’s just a part of the circle of life.
Sarah Reckard, public relations manager, Sleep Number
My advice for any new parent is to plan – but don’t over plan. In order to optimize my precious time with my family on nights and weekends, I have to schedule time for everything (e.g. grocery shopping, yard work, date nights, play dates, work trips, vacations, etc.). But being agile and spontaneous also is important. Paying attention to the pace of your family’s routine is imperative. Just like having the emotional intelligence of ‘reading a room’ at work, knowing how to adjust your family’s day on-the-fly will make everyone happy.
If you’re having issues managing your time (or what I refer to as work/life integration), I’d recommend reading or watching Stew Friedman’s “Total Leadership.” The Wharton professor describes how to perform well in all domains of your life – work, home, community and self. It was my favorite book in grad school because it says you don’t have to trade one domain for another. Rather, by finding mutual value among all four domains you can produce stronger business results, find clearer purpose, feel more connected to loved ones and generate sustainable change. This concept was particularly important as I transitioned out of maternity leave and back to my full-time career. And while smart phones help us integrate our four domains, I recommend ditching the device when spending time with family/friends in order to be more present in the moment.
Susan Beatty, external communications manager, U.S. Bank
1) Don’t be afraid to ask for help (deadlines run into child pick-up times; kids are sick, etc.) 2)You won’t be able to do it all. Embrace your new reality and work more efficiently. 3)Seek out support and guidance from other working parents and ask them what has worked in your respective company/work environment. 4) It is ok to take side steps in your career when balancing family obligations. You have to balance your priorities and you will need to make choices, sometimes very difficult and challenging ones.
Amy Bryant, HealthPartners
Easy. Work for an employer and boss who gets it. There will always be trade offs, but they’re way easier when YOU get to decide them and don’t have them thrust upon you.
Kendra Klemme, associate director of communications, United Health Group
Balance is a misnomer. Decide what your priorities are – for example, being home for dinner and the night time routine or spending a few extra minutes in the morning with your kids – and work around those. Some of your expectations of yourself and a clean house and home cooked meal every night will simply have to slide and that’s ok!
Kelly Groehler, president, Grayler
If you never apologize for your career, your partner and child will view it for what it is: a part of who you are, and something that matters to you. Start there from day one, and the realities of the job will be easier to navigate as a family. If your partner and child support you, and they know you support them, too, then you’ll all be just fine.
Melanie Boulay Becker, owner, Boulay Becker Communications
Regularly avoiding time “clutter” in my life enables me to focus on what matters most. In his book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” Greg McKeown writes about saying yes to things we feel total and utter conviction to and no to everything else. In the same way that many of the clothes in our closets are “clutter” that we don’t actually wear, many of the tasks consuming our time are “clutter”—or not essential. While I’ve unconsciously used this approach for years, this book helped me solidify my approach. When an opportunity comes up, I now ask myself, “is this essential?”
For example, I’m in the process of earning enough professional development credits to renew my Public Relations Society of America accreditation. With a 21-month-old daughter, I’m focusing current professional development on online webinars that can be done from home while preserving time with my family. Long-term, I’ll return to the excellent local PRSA offerings that require in-person attendance. For now, this has made scheduling simpler, and allows me to focus on my kids during the times that local PRSA events are held – early morning (when I’m getting two kids out the door) or late in the day (when I’m making sure homework gets done).
This approach also means that volunteering at my son’s school takes place when there’s an opportunity for me to meet two goals: spending time with him and getting to know his classmates. Field trips offer a great opportunity, but I pass on volunteering at school events that don’t allow direct contact with my son and his classmates.
Right now, my career and my family are both important to me. I’m taking on some new opportunities at work and have made time to focus on them, even when it has cut into family time, because I know they are essential in the long term.
In general, my evenings focus mostly on my family rather than book clubs, professional events or time with friends. We strolled around the neighborhood as a family last night – unhurried and relaxed. Saying “no” elsewhere is hard, but it gives me time and energy to say a wholehearted “yes” to quality use of my time. With young kids, this time is both priceless … and fleeting.
Bridget Nelson Monroe, account director, Bellmont Partners
Write it down, or it didn’t happen. The effects of sleep deprivation on memory are nuts; things that were never an issue to remember pre-kids will allude you now. So at work, I take copious notes in meetings, set calendar reminders for every little thing and so on, even if it seems like overkill at the time. The same is true at home. And one of the best things I did as a new parent was start a Google Doc that I call “Baby Diary.” I’m terrible at maintaining the traditional keepsake baby book, but I’m pretty good about jotting down little notes in the Google Doc, from milestones to funny things that happened to phases my son went through — all things I seriously would have forgotten about because: sleep deprivation.
Mike Schaffer, vice president, Edelman Digital
Balancing a career with the full-time job of being a parent is a massive challenge. Both my wife and I work demanding hours and travel frequently.
Jenny Schmitt, founder, Cloudspark
Learn two key phrases: 1) “I’m at capacity” (no one has to know what that capacity is, but it allows you to set limits for yourself and not feel like you should take every business opportunity). 2) “Let me think about that…” (this prevents you from going to an automatic commitment through a hastily made “yes.”). As a new parent, realize why you’re doing what you’re doing, hopefully to spend more time with the ones that matter most.
Crystal Schweim, vice president-public relations, OLSON
1) It’s easy and okay to feel guilty, but don’t let it consume you. There is no right or wrong way and you need to find the things that work best for you and your situation.
2) When things feel out of control it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Figure out the things that make you feel like you’re getting back into control—even if it’s following one load of laundry or answering a handful of emails. Don’t underestimate the power of accomplishing tasks big or small!