Think women can’t have it all, or that focusing on their career will negatively affect their children? Think again. Seventy percent of mothers with children under the age of eighteen are working — about 31 million women as of 2013. After I created and conducted a survey that focused on grown children of working mothers, I discovered that those children are thriving as adults. Contrary to long-held myths on what it takes to raise a successful child, kids are often better off when their mothers work. They gain invaluable life skills and habits, such as resilience and a can-do attitude, which set them up for success in adulthood.
It’s hard enough to juggle the pressure of a career and a family without worrying that you’re not doing enough. But as the thousand-respondent study found, children — especially daughters —are proud of their working mothers, and model their own lives accordingly. Moreover, the necessity of structuring children’s days with positive activities can enhance their own sense of well-being, and broaden their horizons. From childcare to parenting shifts, from sports to holidays to mentors, integrating family and career works. In fact, it may well be far healthier for everyone.
Here are 6 tips for raising great kids while pursuing your career:
1. Don’t feel guilty. It’s natural to be concerned that career can detract from family, but it’s not true. Of the survey’s one thousand respondents, most consider a mother’s need to work as a normal part of life. Fifty-three percent of daughters also reported feeling incredibly proud of their mothers.
2. Stay connected with technology. Maintaining a presence in children’s lives doesn’t have to mean trying to be in two or three places at once. There are countless tools, such as new mobile apps, for staying connected to children and involved in their school lives and work. Teachers and coaches can be emailed, class supply lists, reading lists, and newsletters and bulletins are often online.
3. Don’t be a crutch, be a coach. School and social pressures can be tough on children whether the mother works or not. But working mothers may feel the need to dive in and actively support — or even control — a child’s difficulties to insure a better outcome. It’s important to make sure the child is empowered to learn and grow. Sometimes it’s good to allow children the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
4. Quality, not quantity. According to the survey, it’s the nature of time spent together that children remember, not how much. Working mothers tend to structure in as much time as they can for their children — but it’s also what activities take place that make a difference. Children’s top three favorite activities for family time, as the survey found, were: sitting down to a family meal, then watching a favorite program on TV, and then doing some form of outdoor activities — and that goes for sons as well as daughters.
5. Go ahead, talk about work. Don’t worry that discussing “work problems” may alienate children. Often, the opposite is true: children exposed to the day-to-day issues and challenges of professional life developed an innate respect and interest in careers. Moreover, children recalled that having the input of a working mother in a career or job discussion was immensely helpful — far more helpful than reported by the children of stay-at-home moms.
6. Seek many mentors. A career trajectory often has mentors to thank along the way, and working mothers often know that already. Mentors can also be vital assets to children, providing guidance, emotional support, discipline and inspiration. Teachers are often cited as the most influential adults, besides parents, in children’s lives. Grandparents (particularly grandmothers) can offer warmth and loving guidance. So consider your friends and other family members not as competition, but as offering welcome perspectives.
By Pamela F. Lenehan, one of the first female partners on Wall Street, a former C-suite executive of an NYSE company and a high tech start-up. An avid believer in the power of women to lead as well as parent, she serves on the boards of three publicly traded firms, and is the author of “My Mother, My Mentor.” • www.mymothermymentor.com