“Let’s take a vote. Who thinks mom should be a stay-at-home mom?”
When I asked my children, who were between the ages of 5 and 8 at the time, this question I was met with a resounding, “No, mom, we like you working.” I posed the question because I was grappling with balancing my career and family life while raising my children and, simultaneously, running my own business.
Their assertive answer and genuine support was a confirmation of my choice to continue to pursue my career. It was also eye-opening to realize that they may actually prefer it that way.
I am a practicing general dentist and a private practice owner for more than 30 years. I am very involved and hold leadership positions within organized dentistry, including my role as the president of the Chicago Dental Society. I am also a mother to three children and a wife to my husband of 29 years. With the many different hats I wear, I am often asked how I maintain a balance between family life and professional life.
Working mothers, and working parents in general, are constantly making choices about how, and in what way, we invest our time. For me, thriving as a working mother required a strong equilibrium between sense of self and fierce commitment to those I love̶both at home and in my professional life.
I believe a career and motherhood can coexist in a positive, invigorating manner, and that we owe it to ourselves and our children to be multidimensional human beings. In the long term, this serves everyone well. It not only establishes an understanding that humans by nature are multi-faceted and driven to pursue and succeed in many different aspects of life, but it also encourages children to become more self-sufficient and independent, skills that will only serve them well in the long run.
Through my experience raising a family and running a business, I’ve found a core set of guiding principles that help enable an effective and reasonable work-life integration:
First and foremost, it is essential to establish a strong support system both at home and at work. Building a strong network and support system on both ends allowed me to solely focus on whatever environment I was in and know that things are being taken care of on the other end, as well.DR. CHERYL WATSON-LOWRY»
As a dental practice owner, it was really important for me to hire an associate I could trust to take care of my patients and help maintain the standards of service for them when my children were younger and required more of my time and attention.
Conversely, having really good childcare at home, and a couple of backup options, gave me peace of mind. Instead of worrying about the person taking care of my children, I was allowed to really focus on work when I was in the office and then be more present when I was at h ome with my kids.
Making the kids a part of the decision, asking them how they feel, and letting them be your compass also helps lessen the guilt or burden of being away from home. One way to test your decisions: if your family is doing well and if your kids are happy and well-adjusted, don’t get caught up in what you think you’re supposed to be doing. Be confident that your arrangement works for you and is the right thing for your family.
Beyond a passion and commitment to my profession and practice, part of my motivation to be successful was to show my children the importance and benefit of hard work̶leading by example. Over the years, my kids spent a lot of time at my office, and it was important that they had that exposure, as well as the opportunity to see me in my professional space.
Having two working parents helped to quickly build that self-sufficiency in our children. Setting a clear expectation also helped them understand their place and role not only in our family but also social in their own circles. I have found that if you let them know ahead of time what is going to be expected of them, they will handle it. And when each of my children went away to college, they appreciated that because they knew how to take care of themselves.
Lastly, and probably most important to me, was learning to be okay with not doing it all. Because the reality is that it is impossible to do it all. Did I always get it all perfect or right? Definitely not. But what I can say is that my kids not only survived, they thrived, and have gone on to succeed academically and professionally, leading happy and healthy lives. And so have I.
Making the kids a part of the decision, asking them how they feel, and letting them be your compass also helps lessen the guilt or burden of being away from home.