Women let guilt get to them. I don’t have any lofty, university-backed study to support this but in my experience, more women than men feel guilty when they leave their small children at daycare or at home with a nanny when they go to work. My unscientific, qualitative study of female leaders shows that those who make it to the top don’t let these feelings consume them. In my book, If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Secrets to Career Success From Top Women Leaders, the women I interviewed who have children offer this simple piece of advice: “Don’t feel guilty.”
They contend that If you choose to be guilty, your kids will pick up on it. Whatever you choose as your family situation, your children will see as the norm. If you say, “This is how our family runs, this is how we choose to do things,” then your kids will understand. There is no such thing as a typical model.
I have always thought that what matters most is fairly simple: if you’re happy, your spouse is happy, and your family life is solid, your children will be happy. Kids can handle virtually anything.
The leaders I spoke with shared with me their wisdom on how they made it work. Some found that coming home at night and not showing how stressed out they were from work was important. The last thing working parents want to do is have their children get a bad feeling about work. Even if you enjoy your job, sometimes you come home dead tired and stressed out and want to grouse. But be careful not to talk negatively about your work in front of your children.
One tactic I adopted was to involve my children in my work. On weekends I sometimes brought them into my office with a DVD or something else to keep them occupied. Work environments became a positive for them.
Business travel became a great way for me to do something fun my children. I took them on business trips when they were old enough to enjoy the travel and the children thought it was great. When my daughter was 10 years old, she accompanied me on a business trip to Paris. We went a few days early so we could visit the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and take a cruise down the Seine. Another time, both children came with me to Phoenix for a conference at The Phoenician—they felt special for being able to experience a posh resort.
Your job may even give your children “bragging rights.” You may be somewhat different from the other mothers in your children’s classrooms—and that’s okay. That’s their “norm.”
So here’s my personal advice: when your children are at an impressionable age, make sure you focus on them when you are home. Forget the cell phone and the tablet until they go to bed. Find your family’s norm and be happy with the life you’ve chosen. Above all else, don’t feel guilty.