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Walking the Balance Beam

Three American women—married, raising kids and working full-time—share their insights on how they are making it all work for them and finding equilibrium with work, family and life.


One’s mother ran a nonprofit child abuse prevention center. Another’s held prominent positions in the education world. And the third’s was a stay-at-home mom. But despite differences in how they were raised, all three of the successful women you are about to meet have something in common: they are married, raising children and are working full-time careers. In other words, they are making it all work for them.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprised 47 percent of the total U.S. labor force in 2010. In 1960, only 22 percent women were employed. A major factor in that rise has been a changing mind-set about the capabilities of female workers. With the increase of women’s equality and a shifting of traditional gender roles, women have been able to expand their presence in professional fields while their husbands are sharing more of the domestic and childcare duties.

Victoria Messler is an assistant director of a middle school in New York City with a two-and-a-half-year-old son and another baby on the way. Messler says, “I think working full time allows my marriage to be the kind of equal partnership that I always wanted, even in parenting. Since both of us work, we divide the load of household responsibilities as equally as we can.”

Jessie Randall, mother of three and award-winning designer of the fashion label Loeffler Randall, echoes Messler’s sentiments. Her husband, Brian Murphy, is the chief financial officer of their company, but Randall says he also finds time to help at home. “My husband does so much around the house. We are definitely 50/50 on all things home-related.”

Randall has been working full time since she graduated college in 1998 and says one of the biggest challenges of trying to balance a career and family is “the feeling of constantly letting someone down—at work you feel you are not giving enough and at home you feel you are not giving enough. There isn’t enough time to go around. That said, I do feel like I have a wonderful balance.” 

Erin Courtney can attest to the challenges of working and raising a family. An Obie Award-winning playwright, college professor and mother of two, Courtney says, “The biggest challenge is the multitasking and the low grade stress of feeling like I’m always forgetting something.” But, she counters, “I feel really grateful to have such a full life that includes creativity and community and intellectual challenges and family.”

Though there are obvious financial incentives for both partners to work, each of these women has more personal reasons for staying in the professional world after becoming a mother. Randall says, “I like feeling challenged in my career and learning new things every day. I am lucky to work in my dream career and to be able to be creative every day.”

Messler agrees: “I recognize for myself the fulfillment I get from my job, especially the outlet for creativity it provides and the day-to-day relationships with colleagues and students. Maintaining and 

nurturing this part of my personality and my brain is very important to me.”

One of the things that seem to help these driven women keep their personal and professional lives in order is a well-oiled daily schedule. All three women have a routine that they stick to—with their family, as well as their professions. Messler says, “I keep things like clockwork and very structured, because the routine keeps things under control and life more enjoyable for everyone.” All three try to be home for dinner. Courtney, whose mom worked full time at a nonprofit, says she was raised with her busy parents still making family a priority. “We ate dinner together every night,” she recalls. “Which was amazing actually, now that I think about it.”

Also important is quality time. Randall takes every Friday off to spend time with her sons. Courtney and her husband Scott make sure they go out on the town for special events at least twice a month. Messler says weekends are key. “Our weekends are spent together as a family doing things we will all enjoy: visiting new playgrounds around the city, checking out museums, having play dates with other families. We are almost always together. We really find great fun in watching our son explore the world.” 

And the overall result has been—besides a jam-packed schedule—a more fulfilled life. One that sets a positive, empowering example for their kids. According to Courtney, “It feels rewarding when I am going through a creative or professional challenge and my children get to watch the whole process of hard work, obstacles and fears…and then the outcomes.”

 

Anne Walls is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, California.


Nurturing Companies

 

Husbands are not the only ones pitching in to help raise happy, well-nurtured k rs are also picking up some of the responsibilities. Here are a few examples of U.S. companies who are helping employees balance work and family.

Ernst and Young, LLP 

This global accounting firm has ranked in the top 10 on Working Mother’s “100 Best Companies” list because of the many benefits the company provides for its employees’ families, like parenting and sibling classes. The company offers an average of 14 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave. It also offers paid paternity and adoption leave. 

Johnson & Johnson 

Parents who work at this New Jersey company have their choice of seven on-site facilities that treat kids under age 5 to puppet shows, storytelling, art, music and nature activities, and even offer kindergarten and summer camps in some areas. There is a nurse on site, as well.

Cisco

This California-based networking equipment manufacturer has two on-site childcare centers which offer holiday and vacation care, and an 11-week summer camp for employees’ kids between the ages of 6 and 12.

American Express 

The credit card company’s Healthy Babies program connects expectant moms with a maternity nurse and provides support for high-risk births and special needs, while also offering infertility consultations and up to $20,000 in coverage for related treatments.

Verizon Communications 

This technology company knows about using the most up-to-date ways to communicate. So much so, that they allow parents to conduct meetings via video conference, work from satellite offices near home, or pull night shifts to spend more days with their kids.                                                 —A.W.