Staying at the Table: Working Mom Struggles and Goals

Working mom holding her toddler and baby.
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At least once a week, I want to quit my full-time job as a corporate lawyer that I love. Okay, make that once a day. I want to leave my desk job and too-tight suit pants and play on the floor with my kids in comfortable yoga leggings. But more than that, I want to be present 24/7 for my rapidly growing children. I worry about missing out on important moments in their lives. Despite all this, I’ve made the choice to continue to go to work not only because I need the paycheck, but also because I love what I do and worked so hard to get to where I am.

When I was 16, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer and I’ve worked diligently ever since then to achieve that goal. More recently, my goals have all revolved around motherhood and raising my children. Both the personal and professional parts of my life are so important to me, and they both require a lot of time and energy. It sometimes left me wondering:  Can I even have ambitious career goals and be the kind of mother I want to be? After much internal debate, I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, I can do both.

I can be a mother with career goals.

Not only can I be both a fully engaged mother and a woman with career goals, being a mother can inform my career goals and work to my advantage in important ways. Here are my goals:

  • I want to continue in the corporate world and reach the highest levels I can while being a mentor to and a champion of women at all levels of the corporation.

  • Ultimately, I want to be a policy and decision maker, not just an employee. I want to be a part a corporate director sitting at a boardroom table next to other, distinguished female directors .

It is scary to write that down because it makes me accountable and, at times, seems impossible. But then, a few weeks ago, I had an experience that helped me realize that I’m already working towards these goals.  That afternoon, I attended a luncheon honoring successful women who had started as lawyers and transitioned through different positions, eventually becoming corporate directors. Their resumes were impressive; they were also all mothers. In the moment, I felt intimidated. I was never going to be like them, I thought.

But as these amazing women were accepting their awards and giving their speeches, I noticed a theme. They had all done one thing I do every day. They showed up. They stayed at the table and eventually it became the boardroom table. And suddenly I wasn’t intimidated anymore, I was inspired.

Showing up at work and at home.

Because you know what I do every day? I show up and I bet you do too. I go to work, even though I’m tired because the baby is teething and wants to nurse like a newborn all night. Even when I’m feeling sick with another toddler transmitted cold. I do my best on every assignment that hits my desk. I keep up with emails and meetings and the hundreds of other tasks that are a part of my job. I don’t miss deadlines.

But I also prioritize being a mother. I also show up for my kids. I work from home when they ’re sick so I can be with them. I cook baby food and toddler approved meals, sometimes prepping veggies before the sun is up. I am a class parent for my older daughter’s preschool class.

I ask for forgiveness, rather than permission when I need to leave the office suddenly.

I leave at 5 pm every day so that I can help my toddler eat her dinner and give my baby a bath and snuggle both kids at bedtime. I log back in later and get my work done.

But it is hard to show up in both places because I can’t be in two places at once. I’ve missed important work meetings and business trips because of a last-minute sick baby. I’ve had important meetings scheduled on my daughter’s birthday and Halloween that kept me away from home.

I try to get as much time as I can with my children, but for me, it is more important that the time we have together is quality time. I think they’ll remember the walks to school and the breakfasts and dinners together and baths and sick day cuddles.Showing up at work also has benefits for me that go beyond my career. It’s my “me” time. With an amazing nanny caring for my children while I am at work, I can meet my sister for a quick lunch or run errands. I can brush my hair, put on makeup and look more like my pre-mom self. I can enjoy a cup of hot tea or coffee while reading personal emails or an interesting article. I can go to the bathroom-- alone! I can sit at my desk and focus on other things for a little while.  Even these small things allow me to recharge, and so I’m able to walk in the door of my home at night ready and able to grab a baby, wipe a nose, or feed a child.

Envisioning a better future for working moms and other women.

I know that I am fortunate to have achieved the career goal I set for myself at 16, and I enjoy my in-house corporate legal job. But now I need to use this platform to help other women stay at the table, too. With that in mind, I recently started a Lean In Circle at my office. The circle is a professional development and peer-to-peer mentorship group for women,  which will meet regularly. I hope that over time, we’ll continue to add new members, facilitate informal mentoring relationships and help each other through the challenges of maintaining work/life balance.

The support and guidance that I’ve received from women more senior than me has been invaluable. My mentors are former bosses that are 15-20 years ahead of me in motherhood and legal careers. I have had so many helpful conversations with these women about their career paths and their advice for juggling the competing demands of work and family life. They have shared both their triumphs and their struggles; which has not only helped me on my path but inspired me to work to make things better for other women.

To that end, I strive to be a mentor to other working women and friends. I make sure to check in with other mothers to offer encouragement and sometimes commiseration.  I advise co-workers having their first baby on when and where to pump and how to find childcare.

Being a mother and being successful in your career are not mutually exclusive, though finding the balance is certainly not without challenge. When I feel angry about the lack of parental leave or flextime or breastfeeding support or childcare companies offer, I resolve to work towards the better corporate world that I know is possible. I think about the next Lean In Circle meeting at work or I text a mother who I know is struggling.

One day, I plan to be in a company boardroom because I want it to include the opinions and influence of other woman and mothers. Because only then will the corporate world really change. And then, one day, it will be easier for my daughters to sit at the table, too.

About the author:

Chantal Tortoroli Roberts is an attorney, wife and mother to two daughters. She loves writing, cooking and instagramming. She misses sleep. Follow her and her adventures in motherhood and work/life balance struggles @ctortroberts on Instagram.