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Balancing Act

by Jay Jacob Hornick; Photo by Tim Hawk
For successful businesswomen who are also fulltime moms, managing work and kids demands organization, focus and plenty of good help.

Civil engineer Rosie Wolk (pictured) keeps a sign on her office door posting her working hours, which fluctuate depending on the day and her children’s seasonal sports and activities.

Such flexibility—a perk offered by her employer, Consulting Engineer Services in Sewell—is one key string in the complex web of childcare coverage that allows Wolk to successfully do her job, (in a still male-dominated field), and also make it to ball games, preschool pick-ups and family dinners.

The Mantua mother of Anthony, 5, Francis, 3, and a new born who was due in late May, feels she can be both the professional she always expected to be and the involved mother she wants to be. But that’s not to say life always feels balanced. “When I walk out the door, it doesn’t mean I walk out and don’t think about work again that day,” says Wolk. “I’m on the BlackBerry constantly responding to emails, sometimes hiding in closets trying to talk to clients. I do definitely have to catch up on things.”

How the times have changed. A generation ago, circa 1975, as few as two out of every five mothers with a child younger than age 6 held a paid job. Daycare and childcare centers were fewer in number, and their hours were less expansive. And staying in the loop via a smartphone was, of course, out of the question.

Fast-forward to the telecommuting age. As of 2010, 70.8 percent of mothers of children under 18 were working or looking for work—as were 63.9 percent of mothers with children under 6, and 56.5 percent of mothers of infants under a year old, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And the numbers of working moms could increase even further as women graduate from universities in greater numbers than men. (They now earn the majority of all advanced degrees, as well.)

Not surprisingly, views about women working while raising a family have changed over the years, says Tejinder K. Billing, a professor at the Rohrer College of Business at Rowan University. For one thing, for the first time since employees have been surveyed about their attitudes toward work, younger women are now just as likely as men to seek greater responsibilities at work, regardless of whether they have children or not.

“In 2011, work is more than about just bringing home a paycheck,” says Billing, citing a 2008 study by the Families and Work Institute. “When questioned in the 1970s and ’80s, women didn’t seek as much responsibility at work: too much was going on at home. Moms in 2010, 2011, are willing to do more at work and take on more challenging jobs.”

Among reasons women are able to rise to greater heights at work is that men are taking more responsibility for both childcare and household chores, according to the report. The percentage of men who say they do most or an equal share of cooking has increased from 34 percent in 1992 to 56 percent in 2008. No longer required to be “super women” responsible for both bringing home the proverbial bacon and taking care of the kids and household, women today are spending more time with their kids while taking on increasing challenges at the office, Billing says.

In South Jersey, the arrangements working moms make to balance work and family life are widely varied. Some report sharing responsibilities equally with their partners, while others, including single moms, rely more heavily on childcare providers. Still, work-life balance is always precarious: a stressful business deadline or a sick child can throw off the equilibrium entirely.

For example, Sharon Hammel, a banker with Beneficial Bank and divorced mother of 9-year-old Lindsay, knew from the get-go that a traditional daycare center would never suffice with her job, which often keeps her working late into the night. Since returning to work eight weeks after giving birth, Hammel has employed just one childcare provider: a warm woman who operates out of her Cherry Hill home and is affectionately known to Lindsay as “Mom Mom.”

Because her job overseeing Beneficial’s 28 branches in Burlington and Camden counties often requires her to attend evening meetings and functions, Hammel tries to schedule such activities on nights when her ex-husband has parental responsibilities. When that isn’t possible, however, Mom Mom picks up Lindsay from school and takes her to activities like dance or piano lessons. And Hammel’s offduty time is devoted largely to her daughter. “We have a very good commitment to doing things together,” says Hammel, 44, a Mount Laurel resident. “In the evening, I put the BlackBerry down until she goes to bed.”

For Meghan Goins, 30, sanity is preserved with the help of her husband, Michael, an equal partner when it comes to the housework and childrearing. Goins says knowing that 20-month-old Sebastian and 6- month-old Harper are safe at their Mount Laurel daycare center allows her to focus on her job as sales manager at The Enterprise Center at Burlington County College, managed by FLIK Conference Centers. Since starting there in late November, Goins has brought $65,000 in new accounts to the center.

By the time Goins comes home from work, her husband Michael, executive director of an assisted living center, has already started dinner, let the dog out and laid out the kids’ pajamas. After family dinner, playtime and the bedtime routine, she and Michael still have a little time for themselves after around 8 p.m. “We really enjoy working together and being partners,” says Goins. “We rely heavily on having the kids on a schedule and sticking with a routine.”

While they can’t entirely prevent work issues from creeping into family time, they both try hard to stay present with the children and each other. “You could always be up until midnight looking at new leads,” says Goins, who is also vice chairman of the Young Professionals Network of the Burlington County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s not to say I don’t get great ideas at home, but you have to try for a healthy balance.”

As Renee Vidal, a shareholder with Flaster/Greenberg P.C., sees it, raising kids and working fulltime in a demanding field requires a flexible mindset.

“You’re constantly juggling your career with the needs of your family—and life is always throwing you a curve ball,” says Vidal, a specialist in corporate and tax law and estate planning and the mother of two children: Alec, 12, and Becca, 10. “It’s all about how you roll with it,” she says. “As long as I’m moving forward, it’s good.”

Though Vidal’s career is demanding, making time for her kids is also a high priority. Vidal cooks meals over the weekend to prepare for the week, and employs a nanny to watch the kids after school, make sure they do their homework and bring them to activities. Although divorce was a recent curveball, Vidal says having a good working relationship with her ex-husband has helped smooth the transition. When she is with her children, Vidal makes a point to make it quality time.

“I go to their games whether they’re with me that weekend or not,” says Vidal. “I always make sure there is snuggle time in my house. Even it’s just putting in a movie and having a kid in each arm. They know I’m there to talk to. I make the most of those moments.”

As for Rosie Wolk, her maternity leave will bring her back to work in the fall. While in the past she only took off eight weeks after giving birth, she wanted to be home for her oldest son Anthony’s transition to kindergarten. Taking four months off will likely make it harder to catch up in September, but she’ll savor every minute of the time spent with her kids.

“It’s weird. I’m able to put on a different head when I walk in the door here,” says Wolk. “It’s not that I forget about everything else, but I’m able to put it on hold…. I’m thankful that I’m able to be both a professional and a mother.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 8 (August, 2011).
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