Stress in business is simply part of the terrain, like desks and file cabinets. It may vary by industry and profession, but everyone has it. Then there are those who have high-pressure jobs as well as high-pressure home lives. As a group they're called working mothers, and they're my new heroes.
Admittedly, I knew little of their plight until three years ago. As an executive I had always been supportive regarding a working mother's time needs, yet I wasn't intimate with the details. But in 2003 my daughter, Deborah, gave birth and became a working mom. I soon became sensitized to the plight of working mothers, and I remain amazed at how they do it.
Leaving her suburban New Jersey home at 6:30 each weekday morning for a 75-minute commute into Manhattan (involving two trains and a subway), Deborah's workday begins intensely. She gets to her office at 7:45, where she manages one of the largest branches of one of the nation's top banks. Her responsibilities include all aspects of running a profit center with $120 million in assets: attaining revenue budgets, not exceeding cost budgets, satisfying customers and managing a staff of 26 people.
She and her husband made a decision to send our grandson and our now 11-month old granddaughter to an excellent daycare center instead of hiring a nanny. The child has to be brought each morning to the daycare center and then picked up at the end of the day. If a child is ill he or she cannot be at the center, so other arrangements have to be made, sometimes resulting in one of the parents (my sense is it's more often the mother) staying home with the sick child.
This way of life, juggling the pressures of a demanding career with colds and stomach viruses, is at minimum a character builder. It's about racing to doctors' offices filled with worry about a child's well-being while visions of loose ends left at the office invade the consciousness. It's having two full-time jobs, with all the dynamics of each constantly alive in the brain. It would seem that survival, achievement and sanity can only come with some form of compartmentalization, which I'm sure is not always possible.
Once you know what working mothers do, you can't help but be impressed. And while routines evolve as children grow from infancy through adolescence, the balancing act continues. School plays, ball games, dance recitals, illnesses and all things that need a mom's presence just keep coming.
We're living in an age of superwomen, women who manage stress with seeming aplomb, yet more likely with significant inner turmoil. Collectively, they effectively and simultaneously produce business results and raise children. Individually, they are to be admired, respected and appreciated.