I’m lucky enough to call Kristine a friend, mentor, and colleague. Only a few years my senior, Kristine has achieved so much in her career and is still very much on an upward trajectory. As a working mom, she somehow manages to be present in a high-stress, high-visibility career as well as in her three children’s busy lives. Read on for some seriously useful advice on managing parenting and a career.
Give us a little background on your career.
The Early Days
I am from the era where girls are told to get good grades, go to college, and get a good job so you can make money. So that was my goal from day one. I was extremely fortunate and landed a director job in real estate right out of college. I busted my butt and worked many evenings until 9pm and later. After two years, I moved to be closer to my boyfriend (now husband) and was able to make a lateral move in my career.
However, after my son was born, all I wanted to do was be with him. I had anxiety about leaving him with anyone… even my husband. So I quit my full-time corporate job and began consulting for the real estate industry. I was fortunate to have clients that paid well even during a down economy, so I was able to nurse and care for my children during the day, and I worked when they napped and were in bed at night. During the nine years that I consulted, I also bought a struggling business and sold it for a profit. That experience alone gave me marketable knowledge in the commercial real estate industry and has helped advance my career.
Once all my kids were in school, I decided it was time to go back to work full-time. I took a job to get my foot back in the door but quickly elevated to a senior level role. I always put my children first; however when I am at work, I work hard. The one thing consulting taught me was to work fast. Time is money. Those work habits have helped me throughout the years as a working mom.
The other thing I did early on in my career is I always said yes. Any project that came my way, I’d say yes. Then I would find a way to make it work. If you turn down opportunity, it might not knock again. I am currently at another fork in the road, and at this point, I am comfortable taking risks with my career because I am confident in my ability. I am working on a startup that could be life changing, and I am thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. I am taking this risk for my family. My children watch me work hard, they hear me talk with passion, and they are excited for me. It is hard to teach work ethic, but I believe I am good example for them.
How did your career change, if at all, after having kids?
It changed drastically. Any and all decisions I make revolve around my children. The most important factor is the distance my employment is away from their school which might sound ridiculous, but if you have ever felt guilt as a working mother this one’s a doozy. My daughter became really sick in first grade while I was working about an hour away. I got the call to come get her, she was throwing up, scared, embarrassed, and miserable. On the long drive home all I could think about was her sitting in the nurse’s office alone. I was mad at myself that it took me so long to get to her, and I vowed to never be that far away again without a backup plan.
Within one month I found another job 16 miles from home and took it without looking back. In order to be my most productive self, I need to make sure my home life is in order. In this instance, being close to home was a huge wake up call. Don’t get me wrong, I travel for work all the time, but I need to be close to home on an everyday basis in case of emergencies. Having children forced me to create boundaries for work. Raising children will teach you life lessons that can translate into a work environment. It is important to embrace them and capitalize on those teachings.
You’ve owned a business, consulted, and have worked at a senior level in a large corporation. Which version did you find most challenging as a working mom?
Honestly, consulting and working from home are more challenging than one might think. While working from home is the most beneficial for the family, it was the most exhausting for me as a person. I felt I was expected to do all the housework, drop offs/pick ups, cook every meal, buy all the groceries, volunteer in the classrooms, be the chaperone and host after school playdates… because, well, I worked from home.
I remember when my second child was about 3 months old, I was working on a large consulting project and really needed to focus. I hired a babysitter to watch my children while I worked from home. I literally had to crawl and hide under my desk when I was on a conference call. If my son saw me through the French doors, he would pound on them to get my attention. Escaping to an office everyday where you get to be an adult is not all that bad. Plus, the more senior you are at a corporation, you get paid to have an opinion. People listen to you. At home with almost-teen children? Don’t hold your breath.
Your kids are tween-ish and very active in sports. How do you manage shuttling them to, and attending, all those extracurriculars?
My advice to young mothers who need help driving children to activities is choose wisely who you let drive your children. I made the mistake of letting a 19-year-old drive my kids to sports practices. I thought I hit the jackpot when I found this responsible young lady. The fact was that she was new to driving in general. She had only really been driving about a year. While driving my daughter to softball practice, she rear ended a parked car going 45 mph. My daughter was rushed to the hospital, and I was unsure she would ever be able to use her arms again. Luckily, both my daughter and our babysitter fully recovered.
From that moment, however, I became very hesitant about who drives my children. That has made my working life difficult, requiring me to arrive late and leave early to accommodate driving my children. It means I have to work late at night after they go to sleep or wake up early to work before I take them to school. After the nightmares and guilt I experienced from the accident, no job is worth the safety of my children. I explained my situation to my employer and they were very understanding. I don’t go to work late and leave early every day–only the days my husband works and can’t get to them.
I wouldn’t change our hectic sports schedules for anything. I drive myself crazy because I sign them up and encourage them to play, but the benefits outweigh my hardships. My children are learning life lessons such as teamwork, commitment, determination, punctuality, and delayed gratification. They get up and go to a practice or a game when they are exhausted because they don’t want to let their teammates down. They learn to solve problems and work with others for the benefit of a winning cause. Shuttling them around every evening and weekend is exhausting though.
When they were younger, I watched every practice and went to every game. Over time, I learned that watching every practice is not necessary and can be a complete waste of your own productive time. I finally realized to take tennis shoes with me and get some exercise. Or take my computer and get some work done. I simply learned to manage my own time better. Added bonus: my kids know the coaches are in charge and can’t come running to mommy when the coach is “mean.”
When your husband works, he can be gone for days at a time. How do you handle everything on your own?
I don’t sleep a lot and drink lots of coffee. I have to be organized and review all our schedules in advance. It means I do a lot of prep on the weekends. I use Amazon Fresh for groceries during the week. I don’t watch scary movies and I never answer the door at night. Ever. And most of all, it has taught me one thing: I can’t do it all. I’ve had to teach my children to be somewhat self-sufficient and patient because mommy can’t do three things at once.
They had to learn to get themselves dressed at an early age. I put pictures on their drawers with each item on it so they could put their clothes away and know where they were to get dressed. The refrigerator was arranged so they could reach yogurt or milk for breakfast and serve themselves. I taught them to make waffles in the toaster, and yes, out of three kids, one burned his finger. I also do things for self-preservation, like not introduce syrup or ketchup so I don’t deal with those messes. Without teaching them these things, I am not sure I could rush three kids out the door to school with lunches and myself put together for my professional job. Hair and makeup take time in the morning.
What’s the best piece of advice a working mom has ever given you?
A Stranger’s Advice
The best advice I received as a mother was from a complete stranger while I was walking through Costco. She was grandmother and witnessed me struggling pushing the cart with two very small children in the front of the double wide shopping cart. They were fighting and I was frustrated. She said, “Honey, little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.”
Now that my little ones are approaching their teens I completely understand what she was talking about. Big kids date, drive cars, talk back, and hang out at friends’ houses. I used to think it was hard feeding, dressing, and cleaning little kids, but I had one thing: peace of mind. I knew where they were, that they were safe with me and being taken care of. As they get older, you lose that peace of mind. At night, I sleep with my window open and I can hear cars racing down Pacific Coast Highway. I know now that my children are sleeping in their rooms. I fear the day when they are out and about during those hours and I pray for their safety now.
My Mother’s Advice
The best advice I received from a working mother was my own mother. When my kids were first born, I took several years off from full-time work. I felt extreme guilt for not being part of the corporate workforce after I worked so hard to get my degree and land a good job. My mother was puzzled by this and told me, “Work will always be there. Your children need you right now, and this is the best work of your life.” At the time, I thought she was crazy.
It’s hard to hear that advice when you are in the thick of raising children. When every day is like Groundhog Day and you clean up food off the floor from every meal and change more diapers than you care to note. When you are puked on, pooped on, and you have little control over your own bodily fluids. But her advice was solid. Work will always be there. When I finally went back to work full-time, I buckled down hard for a few years. My career took off rapidly and I doubled my salary in three short years.
Any other wisdom you want to share?
Raising kids is hard and you constantly question if you are doing a good job. Your child will most likely become potty trained, your child will most likely not suck a pacifier his or her entire life. Instead of stressing over every little thing, I focused on just a couple of hard lines while raising my children that I never faltered on.
First, I made sure they could swim before they were three years old. It was time-consuming and hard work, but I wanted them comfortable and safe near water. Once they could swim, vacations were easier and living in a home with a pool was less scary.
Second, all three of my children were riding bikes at an early age. I taught them bike safety, to always wear a helmet, and as much as possible about cars and the streets.
Teaching both swimming and riding a bike are hard in the beginning, but my life was easier in the long run because they could do those things. Vacations at the beach were more enjoyable because they respected the water. Family outings were easier because my husband and I didn’t have to carry a child on our backs or bikes.
In hindsight, I wish my hard line had been clean rooms… but hindsight is 20/20.