Tonight, I have a date with my 18-year-old son Kyle. We’ve gotten together every Thursday night since he started high school, unless I was out of town. Thursday is our time to talk, plan, vent and laugh. Conversations have evolved from teachers to test results, college applications, golf tournaments and the future. Tonight’s date night is different, though . . . It’s our last one before he leaves for college in New York.
To be honest, this milestone sneaked up on me. I am very proud of all that he’s accomplished and I know he has a bright future, yet I’m having a hard time believing he’s leaving the house -- and the state, for that matter! His imminent departure has given me cause to reflect on these past 18 years. Here are five lessons I learned along the way as a working mom.
1. Schedule time to be involved.
We schedule time for various reasons every day at work. And that may sound simple, but it can be hard to schedule time for your personal life. You’ve got to find a manageable amount of time to stay involved and prioritize it.
For me, it was important to volunteer in the classroom once a month and be part of occasional field trips during the elementary school years. I also used to drive Kyle to school nearly every morning, until he got his driver’s license. Those conversations in the car every morning were precious to me.
2. Commit to one thing, not everything.
Many parents I know, especially moms, are stressed about the things they believe they “should” be doing for their kids. That might mean greeting your kids with home-baked cookies after school every day or keeping an up-to-date scrapbook, or hand-sewing Halloween costumes.
But many of our lives are very different than our parents’ were, so trying to live up to every high standard we have is doomed to fail. In my case, I committed to making a photo book every year with our family highlights, which my son treasures (though I don’t believe those books are making the trip to college). And as for what he ate after school, he typically did just fine with Oreos or whatever else was left in the kitchen after a busy week.
3. Keep the lines of communication open.
That’s what our Thursday night dates were about. As Kyle got older and gained independence, I found it harder to stay connected, other than through text messages, so our date nights filled that gap.
I also realized early on that the way you engage with your kids is just as important as having the time and space to talk. I had to resist the urge to pepper him with questions the whole night; no high school kid wants that! So, I simply shared what was going on in my own world, tried to be supportive and celebrated our family’s successes and hard work.
4. Embrace work-life integration.
Of course you know the popular term “work-life balance,” which implies an equal weight between work and life at all times. Yet, that's not realistic. Considering today’s environment, I prefer the term work-life integration. Yes, you may need to leave early to make the big game, but you also may need to jump on a call at 9 p.m. with colleagues in India. There are ways to be successful with work and family commitments if you’re flexible.
5. You need to keep growing, too.
When you're in the middle of the madness of managing work and family, it’s easy to put your needs on the back burner. Your kids aren’t the only ones who should be growing. So, don’t go stagnant. To keep my career, health and personal goals top of mind, I always write them down at the start of the year, put them in my phone and carry a printed version with me.
Those steps help remind me of where I need to focus. About this time of year, I pull it out and see how I am doing toward all my goals. Top of the list this year included our focus on getting Kyle ready for college (check), building regular exercise into my schedule (tracking) and driving my focus on diversity and leadership development across Adobe (tracking). I will definitely be re-visiting the goals, given that my Thursday nights are now free . . .
I have never had any regrets, but looking back on things now, I can truly affirm that being a working parent made me stronger in all respects of my life. Hard work, multi-tasking and prioritization pay off, and working parents demonstrate these values to their children every day.
As Kyle embarks on his college career, I believe he'll take the example I've set with him. Maybe we can talk about that tonight.