Written by Susan Gallagher Tuesday, August 14 2012
Four third-graders - Johnny, Pat, Amanda and Ted - were walking home from school. Two blocks from home, some older boys started picking on Pat. They were only playing, but things got a little too rough. Patrick fell to the ground, hit his face on the curb and started to bleed, a lot. Being frightened by the blood and what the soon-to-arrive adults would say, the children all took off running – all except one. Amanda stayed to comfort her friend and to make sure he was okay until his mom got there.
“I will never forget the confidence, kindness and sense of purpose that little girl demonstrated in staying with my son. She is remarkable,” Pat’s mother commented. That little girl was my daughter, my 8-year-old Amanda.
I heard stories like these all the time while my four kids – Meg, Amanda, Mary and Ryan - were growing up.
People would remark, “They are so self-sufficient. They are such leaders. They are so confident.”
I am not saying this to brag – who doesn’t like to brag on their children? – but to share my perspective as a full-time working mother of four. My four kids are very different from each other, but they share common attributes like those exhibited in the story above, and I believe a significant factor is that my husband and I have worked outside the home throughout their lives. So often you read about the difficulties of working moms, but I want to offer a different perspective and share some of the many advantages kids of working moms can gain.
Of course there were days when I forgot some necessary item they needed for school or after-school activities, and I’d be upset with myself thinking that I had blown it. But time after time my kids would say, “No worries, Mom” or “I’ll borrow one from Sam” or “No big deal; I will improvise.” And even when they didn’t initially have this confidence, they gained it. One of the things kids can learn when they have two working parents is what is a big deal and what isn’t. They learn to think on their feet. They learn independence and confidence in themselves.
Hard Work = Big Reward
My kids have also learned the importance of hard work. As a result, my 15-year-old son Ryan is eager to be self-sufficient – to step up and earn money. His whole life he has seen the advantages (trips, a nice home, exploring interesting ideas) we have had because my husband and I have worked, and he understands – he has made the connection – that having the opportunity to do fun things is the reward for working hard. He also appreciates all he’s been given because he’s seen just how hard we’ve worked. He gets that if he works hard when he is young, he will have more choice in what he does to earn a living when he is older.
Just a little more about Ryan: He chose to go to high school in downtown Chicago instead of our neighborhood school to continue his interest in exploring new places, ideas and people. On his first day of high school in the big city, we dropped him off, told him I would pick him up after school and headed off to work. I happened to have a lunch meeting that day. After lunch I checked by blackberry – to have five text messages was odd. I hit open. First message: “Hey Mom, school was only a half day today. Can you pick me up?”
Panic hit me. It was now 1 p.m. My 15-year-old was in a big city that he didn’t know, alone. Next text read, “Well, I didn’t hear back and couldn’t reach Dad, so I am going to lunch with some kids.” Next text: “Lunch is done – I still can’t reach anyone. I think I am near your old office, so I will just try and find the train and head home.” I called him frantic. His response, “Yeah, I am almost home. No biggie. It was a good day.” I began to breathe again. Experiences like these have opened his eyes to the bigger world within his reach.
Our Saturday Logistics Paved the Way
When the kids were young we usually had a slew of errands to run on Saturdays in between basketball and hockey games and the endless birthday parties. I would start my Saturdays with a logistics exercise to see how to fit two days worth of errands into five hours. I would say, “Okay, guys. We have a lot to do today, but we can do it. Get your tennis shoes on, and here we go.”
One day, my oldest daughter Meg, who was in the sixth grade, said, “Mom, don’t you think if we do it this way - re-arranging my plan - we could also fit three more things in, too?” I nearly fainted; she was right! By living in a frantic, crazy, millions-of-things-to-do-all-the-time world, kids learn logistics and prioritization.
And by the way, when Meg chose engineering as her career choice and college major I asked, “Are you sure? The field is dominated by men. There are only 15 percent women engineers in our colleges and in our businesses in the United States. It’ll be tough.” She looked at me and said, “That’s okay. You told me to do something I would love. I really think I will love this work.” And she has, and I think that our Saturday morning logistical exercises were great preparation for a future industrial engineer!
Games & Rules
My third daughter, Mary, has always been the most curious about my office and what goes on there. She is always the first to get to know my executive assistants. Over the years when I was assigned a new assistant she would ask, “Who is this? Where is the last person? Why was there a change?” She would call the new assistant to introduce herself, but Mary would also make sure she knew the ground rules on when to call and when not to call. At a young age, she was learning that there were rules to be followed in the business arena.
Being the third child, she also learned that tenacity helps you get what you want. She is persistent in getting the attention she needs and has a mature sense of how to work through people or the system to get there. She brought the same understanding to her work as a babysitter, schoolwork and even how to get a parking space at school a year early. She considers herself CEO of her own world, and she approaches life with responsibility, maturity and an understanding of what is expected of her.
The Exposure of Executive Life
My second daughter, Amanda, who plays ice hockey for College of the Holy Cross, has been attending sporting events all her life – thanks to my professional need to entertain potential clients. Because I didn’t want to take time away from my family, and I assumed my clients didn’t either, we would host family outings.
Thanks to these outings, my kids had the chance to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to see the White Sox win the World Series and to volunteer at Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. Amanda came to appreciate it so much that when she was young she would frequently say, “Don’t we have to take some clients and their families out to get to know them a little better?” It was always “we.” I am not sure if she was learning the lessons of client service, which is so much a part of my business, or she just enjoyed meeting new people. Or maybe she just thought it would get her a ticket to a good play or sporting event.
Today, Amanda is studying accounting and economics and anticipating a career in professional services, where I know she will draw on the client service lessons during our many outings.
Watch and Learn
By the age of 8, my kids knew how to pack a lunch and do a load of laundry. (I have to admit_ making beds was never a high priority on my list. That is one of the many things that had to be dismissed in our house as maybe-in-the-next-millennium, with two working parents.) With each task they completed independently, they gained an understanding of what they were capable of. They have set goals – simple and complex – and charted the path to achieve those goals.
I wonder what else my children learned from listening to my husband and me talk about our work – perhaps perseverance, compromise and, hopefully, passion. I know they listened and would often offer their own suggestions.
I could go on about the advantages working moms can offer their children, in the hopes of offsetting all that has been written on the difficulties for working moms. Being a working mom is not all daisies and roses. There were times that I had to miss basketball or hockey games for work (or abandoned a child in downtown Chicago on his first day of school), and I have my guilt in spite of my kids telling me that this was no big deal.
What was a big deal? Making sure I spent ordinary time talking with my kids, taking walks and going on vacations - simply experiencing life together. Those were and still are the moments my kids cherish the most. Like all moms, I worry if I am doing all that I can for my kids and if I am making the right choices in raising my kids. But for us, the advantages of working outside the home have clearly outweighed the difficulties.
More stories on juggling careers and children:
Waiting to have a family while you nurture your career? The simple (but little-known) AMH test can tell you just how long you have to get pregnant, so you can make an informed decision about family planning.
The choice to have or not have children is arguably one the most life-altering decisions we make. Read about how these women planned their reproductive futures and how their choices affect them.
Attorney Sarah Goldsmith Schwartz was 30, five months pregnant and working a whopping 2500 hours a year when she founded her own law firm.
Susan G. Gallagher is chief operating officer of True Partners Consulting LLC in Chicago. Her career has included serving as managing director and a founder of Huron Consulting Group, where she was responsible for driving growth nationally in the legal businesses at Huron. From the company’s inception to September 2006 Gallagher served as the head of strategic development and served on the company’s executive management team.
Her commitment to the Chicago community is exemplified by her role as chair of the board of directors of Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago. She is also a board member of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, vice chair and a board member of Mercy Hospital and Health Systems and sits on the Advisory committee of The Valorem Law Group and Gallagher Safety and Environmental Services consulting firm. She is the founder and president of The Senior Businesswoman’s Forum, as well as a member of The Chicago Network and The Economic Club of Chicago.