Ask Amy: As a wife and mother working in my family’s business… how can I make it all work?

Dear Amy,

I’m a wife and mother, and now I’ve started to work in my family’s business. Time management is an absolute priority for me, along with work/life balance. How can I make it ALL work?

– NG

Amy KatzDear NG,

I’m sure you’ve heard about how much attention this issue has gotten and continues to get in the media. Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo who has a young child, overslept for a meeting a few weeks ago and it was all over the Internet! And just a few days ago Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, if she thought she could be a good mother and a CEO. Is that an unreasonable question? You might think so.

But Indra K. Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsico, would probably answer that it has taken sacrifices, daily decisions, and multiple coping strategies to “make it all work.” Speaking recently with David Bradley, who owns The Atlantic magazine, Ms. Nooyi described giving her receptionist a list of questions to ask when her young daughter called “to speak to my Mom” for permission to play a computer game. After going through the list of questions, Ms. Nooyi’s receptionist would report back to Ms. Nooyi on the conversation.

So you’ve asked a difficult and important question. It’s difficult, because finding a way to make it all work is something that only you can figure out. You know your family, you know your spouse and your kids, and your situation is unique and only yours. The fact that you’re working in your family’s business may mean that you have greater flexibility, but it could also mean that you feel pressured to keep to a strict, full-time schedule like everyone else in the family. Either way, it’s definitely a good idea to spend some time thinking about your values, and what compromises you’re willing to make. Your personal choices will be come from this kind of self-assessment.

But even if I can’t give you specific advice, I CAN suggest some resources and tips based on what I’ve heard from others-and also what I figured out was best for me:

1. Email: You can create an automatic response that tells people how often and when you check your email. Decide how many times a day you will check it, promise a quick response, and don’t break your own rule!

2. Strive for consistency: I worked four days a week when my daughter was young, and I took Wednesdays off-in other words, the same day each week. It made it easy for my colleagues to know clearly when I was there and when I wasn’t. If possible, don’t change your schedule weekly if you decide on some kind of part-time arrangement.

3. Decide whether you are willing to be called at home. This is a very important decision, so think about it carefully. It’s fine to be accommodating, but don’t go overboard or you will start to resent the intrusions. Of course, since you are in a family business, family members may not view their calls as intrusions at all! Your mother or father may want to check on their grandchildren! It will be important for you to be clear with yourself and with them about when and if they can call.

4. Find routines that work for you. This is important for your family, and it’s important for you. Your routines don’t have to be “tasks.” Create some routines that are simply fun or relaxing.

5. Ask everyone you know how they “make it all work.” I assure you, there is no one answer-but every mother you know will be happy to give you advice…and to tell you some variation of the story about the time they overslept for a meeting.


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