These days, there’s no shortage of advice on the internet geared toward helping working moms “have it all” — the fast-paced career, the kids aged 18 months apart, a fulfilling social life, and even some “me time” on the side.
Of course, having it all is pure hyperbole; working motherhood — and, indeed, parenthood in general — comes with no shortage of tough choices to make and trade-offs to choose between. And who better to help provide insight into those choices than moms who’ve had to make them?
To that end, we spoke to working moms at PepsiCo about the tips and tricks they’ve acquired that help them balance their work and family lives. Outside of choosing to work at a top-rated company for women, they said they’ve found the secret isn’t in having it all, but in making it all count. Here’s how:
Amy Robinson, Director of Sales for Costco, recalls returning to work from maternity leave and seeking advice from a favored mentor. Only, the advice she got wasn’t quite what she had in mind:
“Her advice was, ‘I can share with you how I do it, but you have to figure it out on your own,’” Robinson, who recently celebrated her 18th anniversary at PepsiCo, said. “Everyone’s situation is different, in that what’s important to you is different.”
She added that, in recent years, the company has worked to recognize caregivers’ need for individualized guidance by implementing a coaching program for employees transitioning into and out of maternity leave.
Emily Tan, PepsiCo’s Director of Category Management for North American Nutrition, said that when she returned to work after taking maternity leave, she was struggling to keep her working-mom guilt at bay — until her manager helped put things in perspective.
“Coming back from maternity leave, I was constantly apologizing to work, to my baby, to my young kids,” Tan, who’s been at the company 11 years, recalled. “I was telling my manager when I had to leave early and being apologetic about it, and he basically said, ‘Stop. You don’t need to tell me. You don’t need to be apologetic. You need to do what you need to do and just go.’”
Hearing these words from her boss, she said, was a game changer.
“When a manager creates that understanding that you don’t need to worry about it, it’s a very heavy weight being lifted off your shoulders,” she said. “And that doesn’t just apply to maternity leave, but also the mentality of being a working mom.”
For Meredith Nelson, a Senior Manager in Talent Acquisition Operations and Global Programs and 12-year vet of PepsiCo, striving for work-life balance is a losing battle. Instead, the focus should be on something she calls “work-life integration.”
“Some days work gets more of me, and other days my family wins,” Nelson explained. “It’s more about the quality than the quantity of time, and knowing what’s important and then prioritizing and re-prioritizing around that.”
Flexibility is a crucial ingredient in making work-life integration happen. For women working under managers who aren’t naturally open to flexibility, though, Nelson said the key is in helping them understand the “why.”
“It’s a lot easier for a manager to say ‘yes’ when you’ve helped them understand the ‘why,’” she said. “In many cases, putting together a small business case to articulate what’s in it for you, for them, and the business may be exactly what’s needed.”
For some, like Robinson, that may mean making certain sacrifices when it comes to zip code.
“We moved from northern California to Chicago so that we would have a support system; we loved California and wish we still lived there, but our family wasn’t there,” she explained. “After our children were born, we made that huge decision to move so we could have that support and so that our children would know their family.”
Since relocating to Chicagoland (something PepsiCo fortunately helped make possible), Robinson’s parents have been able to take on some childcare duties, including school pickup three days a week. From a career standpoint, that’s truly been instrumental.
“I can arrange to stay longer two days a week at work, or sometimes my husband and I have done date nights,” she said. “That’s helped me to balance, to be able to say, ‘Hey, I can’t schedule something at 5 p.m. on Monday, but I can always schedule something Tuesdays and Thursdays.’”
Relocating to be near retired family isn’t a possibility for everyone, of course. When Tan was returning to work from maternity leave, she and her husband decided they needed some extra support. So, they took on a live-in nanny for the first four transitional months, when they knew things would be trickiest.
“You think, ‘Can I afford it?’ Absolutely not — but it’s something you need at that moment in time,” she said. “We knew that coming back to work, those four months were going to be tough. So we allowed ourselves that extra support system.”
Today, Tan and her husband manage their family of five without a nanny, but they’re still judicious when it comes to weighing money vs. time costs.
“These days, it’s easier being able to order everything online,” she said. “We know that when we’re paying more for convenience, that it’s a moment-in-time thing. It’s what we need now, so we don’t feel so badly about it.”
Robinson’s secret weapon to working-mom mastery? Sharing an online calendar with her husband.
“I live and die by my calendar,” she said. “My husband and I both have Outlook, so that’s our one calendar — work life, personal life, it’s all integrated into one calendar.”
They both use it religiously, and Robinson jokes her husband wouldn’t remember to go pick up the kids without it.
“We schedule things all the time, like saying, ‘Hey, I need to go into work early this day’ or ‘I need to stay late this day,’” she said. “It’s all on the calendar. So we know.”
For Nelson, one scheduling hack she’s found to be helpful is making the most use of clients’ global time zones.
“In order to manage it all, it’s not uncommon to have early morning meetings,” she said. “For the early morning meetings with other, global time zones, I usually try to schedule those before my children wake up to minimize impact on the morning routine.”
While plugging away upcoming dates into her aforementioned calendar, Robinson makes her kids a part of the prioritizing process.
“I talk to the kids about what things they want me at,” she explained. “Some of the things, they don’t care about. I try not to miss orchestra concerts, but I have missed parent-teacher conferences — some people will judge you, but you’re not going to make it to everything.”
Accepting that you can’t be present at all events but that you can be there for the ones that matter is crucial, Robinson said.
“That’s how our family has always operated — we’ve never missed anything (the kids) find important,” she added.
Similar to Robinson, Nelson has found that clear communication is the grease that keeps the wheels turning in both her work and home life.
“Communication is key with the school, and with the other parents,” Nelson said. “I use a template to communicate daily with my son’s teacher so she knows if he’s going to after-school care, getting picked up by another parent, or if my husband or I will be there at regular time.”
As far as work goes, she emphasizes the need for similarly direct communication with bosses.
“It’s important to identify your boundaries and communicate them so that you can align on expectations — if you have to leave to catch a train at X time, communicate it,” she said. “Know what’s important to you, identify it, and communicate appropriately so that you set expectations and boundaries for what’s most important to you.”
At the end of the work day, when you need to head out, do exactly that. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that, Robinson asserted.
“I’ve always just done me,” she said. “I get up and leave work at 4 p.m. to go get my kids, and I pretty much always have unless there’s something going on. Then, I’ll get back online at night. Everyone’s always asked me, ‘How to do you do that?’ And it’s simple. I get up, and I walk out.”
Your relationship with your employer should be a partnership, she continued, and one that’s built on trust. As long as you get your work done, it shouldn’t matter what hour you walk out. Earlier in her career, though, Robinson admitted that she did have to navigate what the need for flexibility looks like when your boss is all about face time.
“I had to get with myself and figure out which was more important — that my manager felt I was doing what I needed, or that I was doing what I needed. At the end of the day, my family is more important,” she said. “So, I was vocal about how I was going to manage it. I didn’t ask for permission; I informed… it gets easier over time. Then people don’t question you anymore.”
If after following all of the above steps, you still can’t totally shake the specter of working-mom guilt, remember — you’re only human.
“It’s a heavy pressure we place on ourselves, and I think we just need to remember that we do that best that we can,” Tan said. “Because there’s so much to do these days, you’re certainly not going to be able to everything, all the time. You’re human. So give yourself a little more credit.”
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