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Real Talk: Balancing work and family

When asked how she strikes a balance between her roles as a mom and a career woman, Liza Meak laughs. “There is no balance,” confides the mom of three, a former TV news producer, a documentary filmmaker and currently a senior communications manager at Nutanix. “Some days you’re going to be an awesome employee, awesome at your job or career, and an awesome boss — and you’re going to be a horrendous parent. And that means that you come home and you’re giving them Cheerios for dinner as opposed to a well balanced meal that has a vegetable, starch and a protein. And they may not get showered and they may go to preschool or school the next day in dirty clothes just because you can’t do it all.” 

Such is the sort of wisdom that Team Liftery has gleaned though our video interviews with working parents. So if you’re struggling to juggle it all, know that we see you — and that you’re in good company. But perhaps the trick is to accept that striking a balance on a daily basis may not actually be the right goal.

Liza explains that when she worked in broadcast journalism, she used to produce the station’s Olympics coverage. As the games approached and her travel increased, she knew that work would be a priority for a set amount of time. “But when there are things going on in your kids’ lives, like say, for example, health issues, then at that point, your kids will come to the forefront for a period of time.”

This concept of shifting priorities to meet changing needs is echoed by other moms we interviewed. Erin Brenner, Chief Product Development Officer at Pear Therapeutics thinks of work-life balance as something to strive for over weeks or even months. “My philosophy is that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything all at the same time,” says the mother of two. “You want to be thinking about how to integrate these things together, but knowing that there are times when you need to flex a little more toward work and other times that you need to flex a little bit more towards home, and hopefully it all balances itself out over time.” 

She acknowledges that there will be occasions when things feel out of whack. “Be kind to yourself because there are some days when the balance just doesn’t feel right one way or the other, and you’ve got to just work through those and hope that over time those balance out — or if they don’t then hopefully that can be a signal that maybe you need to take a look at why it’s feeling that way.”

Mauria Finley, mom of two and Vice President of Google Store at Google, describes the same concept in mathematical terms. “Life is a pie chart. You have work, you have family, you have your hobbies, exercise, whatever it is for you,” she says. “Be intentional about the time you give and how you allocate it. It’s not going to be perfect day-to-day, but when you think about it in terms of weeks or months, you do need to make sure it’s balanced and course correct it when it isn’t.”

To lessen the tugs that working moms feel on a regular basis, Mauria practices what she calls “intentional dropping of perfection.” Instead of trying to be and know everything, as was her tendency before children, she chooses what’s really important to her and lets the other things slide. “My husband and I sat down when the kids were quite little and we made a list of what matters to us. And we both love working so our jobs mattered a great deal to us and our family mattered.” What didn’t matter? “Our house is far from perfect, I was never the mom with the cute treats at the birthday party, my husband’s car just stopped working in San Francisco one night because he hadn’t maintained it in 18 months… but it didn’t matter. The big picture was right.”

Mauria takes it a step further, asserting that intentionally dropping perfection not only makes your load a little lighter — it also makes you a better parent and manager. “It helps you be more balanced and have room for your family, and frankly also makes you a better executive because you leave room for other people.”

Achieving a consistent balance between work and family is never easy and may be downright impossible. Setting your sights on the big picture, embracing imperfection and adjusting as you go not only allows you to be kinder to yourself — it may actually make you more effective. Now doesn’t that sound perfect?


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Preterm to Part Time

I left my laptop open on my desk at work and called the elevator to take me downstairs to my car. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, I’d had plenty of experience with routine OB appointments and knew I’d be back at the office shortly to finish up before heading home for the night. 

“So how long have you been having these contractions?” The doctor asked me. 

“Contractions? You mean the Braxton Hicks? They come and go, I guess. I don’t really pay much attention.”

“No. Those aren’t Braxton Hicks,” she said sternly. “You’re well over 2 cm dilated.”

I didn’t make it back to the office that day. Instead, I was strapped onto a bed, rolled into an ambulance and driven straight to a hospital 20 miles away that was well known for its preterm labor care and level 3 NICU. The experience was surreal. And frightening when I realized that at thirty-one weeks, the baby’s lungs were not fully developed. In my new hospital room, the nurse put bands around my belly, hooked me up to all kinds of monitors and gave me intravenous magnesium and terbutaline to calm the contractions. And there I stayed for 4 weeks — often working on the laptop that my husband had managed to retrieve for me — while the baby grew.

At 35 weeks to the day, our first child — a daughter — was born amidst a team of personnel on full alert, scurrying frantically under the high risk birthing room’s siren and flashing lights. Five weeks early and weighing in under 4 lbs, she was immediately whisked away for testing and then to the NICU, where she stayed for 11 days until she was back to her original weight and stable enough to come home. My extended hospital incubation and birthing experience were undoubtedly traumatic for both me and the baby. But as far as preterm labor goes, mine was a success story.

Strict bedrest plus the birth had left my muscles feeling like jello, and our tiny, colicky newborn rarely slept, instead wanting to nurse constantly. When my maternity leave ended just 10 weeks later, I was absolutely exhausted. I first asked for additional time off, which was flat out refused. But my subsequent request for a part time arrangement was miraculously approved.  

It seems I wasn’t alone in my desire for extra time off and part time work within the first year of motherhood. In fact, Liftery’s survey of moms revealed that 84% would have wanted at least 3 extra months of leave, even if unpaid. And 69% desired flexible part time work during their break from full-time employment. It’s important to note, however, that these numbers indicate what these women wanted and not what they ultimately chose.

LinkedIn and Censuswide poll of 3000 working parents found that almost half of working moms took an extended break after the birth of their children. That’s substantially fewer than the 84% who wanted to do so. And per the US Department of Labor, about 23% of working moms with children under 3 work part time — a far cry from the 69% of women who want part time opportunities. 

These discrepancies could be due to any number of factors. A woman may need the extra income or healthcare benefits that often accompany a full time role. And when childcare can cost as much as a part time salary, working reduced hours may not seem to be worth the effort. Women pondering part time work or an extended break may also fear career repercussions — and with reason. Besides the sad truth that benefit-carrying part time positions in line with a mom’s previous career path are extremely difficult to find, women who take as little as one year off see their annual earnings diminish by 39%

These are things that Liftery is working to change.

As for me, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work at that company for another year. Being in the office only three days a week gave me more balance, a little less stress, less time pumping milk in the women’s restroom, more time with my daughter, and — since my responsibilities changed along with my employment status — a slightly different skill set. For this new mom whose baby still wore preemie clothes at 4 months old, a part time job was just what the doctor ordered.


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