When I speak to groups of women I am inevitably asked the same question each time – “how do you balance your family and career?” It is certainly not easy and I spent years struggling with a constant mental tug of war.  When at work, I felt as though I should be home and when at home, I felt guilty for not being at work.

Fast forward to 2015 — my husband and I are essentially empty-nesters, with all seven kids making their own ways. Our youngest son is now 21 and a senior in college.  Last fall, I was asked to speak at a women’s forum for a financial services company.  In preparation for the meeting I was asked to comment on work life balance, especially managing motherhood and career.

In preparation for the meeting, I asked my adult children what they thought of my availability as a mother and my career choices. I also recalled a conversation I had with my children at the dinner table several years ago. I told the following story:

While the kids were at home, my husband (a busy pediatrician) and I would look at the week ahead every Sunday night and divide and conquer – you go to this game, I pick up from this rehearsal etc. Planning and communication were key to managing the week and we would do our very best to attend something for each child.

When my children were younger, they used to ask, “Why can’t you chaperone the class trip, or be the homeroom mother, or help the teacher in the classroom?” It was difficult for them to understand the demands of my career and I did what I could. If I knew far enough in advance, I would sign up to chaperone the class trip, work in the little league snack bar in the evenings, or sign up for weekend events. I was intentional about being present in their lives but it never seemed to satisfy their desires to have me involved and visible.

More recently, my kids said to me: “Aw Mom, you shouldn’t have listened to us then, we didn’t really know what we were talking about. We’re so proud of you and we have always felt that we were the most important people in your life.  We’re glad that you weren’t one of those helicopter moms hanging out at school all day or in our personal business. We learn so much from seeing you in your career. You’ve been a good role model for us.”

Cleary_boys_summerIf I had only known then what I know now, I could have saved myself of a lot of stress and anxiety. The only gift that I can give to women is to share my survival tips and to tell them that they will be all right and their children will be all right. You can have a career while ensuring your children, through actions and words, know that they are your priority and they are loved.