17 things this business founder has learnt about balancing kids and her career

Emma Lo Russo’s a woman who did it “all at once”, as we discovered profiling her back in 2015. Now the founding director and chief executive of Digivizer, she studied an MBA and worked a number of senior management positions in tech while raising her three young children. Below she shares what she’s learnt over the years about making it all work—and staying happy in the process.

Two weeks ago I was asked if I could provide some guidance on whether it was possible to balance a senior executive career and find balance to have a rich family life. It was asked by someone who wondered how to make it work, and specifically how had I made it work. She encouraged me to share these tips further and given it is back to school this week in Australia, I thought it timely to share my answer more broadly.

To set some context, I have always worked in general manager/C-level/chief executive roles while raising my three children. I worked full-time with each child from when they were around four months old. Here are my balancing tips:

1. There is no right way

The most important factor of all, is that you need to want to work and have kids—everything else works around that if you want to enough!

2. Be flexible

What works with one child won’t work for two or three children, or even at different ages. Young kids can be easier than school aged kids (especially when they first start school or as they move into more emotionally-needy teenage years).

I have had so many ways of doing childcare over the years (nanny, my mum, hubby, friend/home care, childcare, after-school care etc). The key factors for me were ensuring my children were happy, and there was enough balance between external activities and nurture time, with close family and outside help. My easiest years were with my first child and my mum, the years the kids were in daycare (you got to drop them off in any clothes and they did the cooking and messy play), and a darling nanny when my third child was born that also took the older kids to all their after school activities.

3. Operate as one team

I love what I do and because it worked best for us, my husband was happy to cut his working days down to four days rather than five days, and he does the shopping and cooking. We make sure we agree on the life we want for our kids (including education, external activities, independence, career) and then find a way to both make that happen.

4. Be present for your kids in their waking hours

Even though I have always worked, I would ensure I had dedicated time for the kids. When the kids were little I used to leave early every Wednesday to be able to pick them up from pre-school/school, which would allow me to get them to doctors or haircuts, or have play dates (and pick up food, etc, as mid week I would find that things would start to run out). It was a good de-stresser

5. Make your family time not negotiable

Mine has always been 7-9am in morning (so we eat breakfast and get ready for school/work together and do drop offs) and 7-9pm in the evenings. We aim for a family sit down dinner every night.

6. Reward family time post work travel

One of my roles I had to travel extensively, and have travelled frequently always in other roles. If I am away for long periods, my husband and our kids would come and meet me towards the end of the working stint and we would holiday as a family, tacking it on. It would be intensive away/intensive with family. It gave the kids something to look forward to. It gave everyone something to look forward to and helped minimise guilt while away.

7. Be there for your kids when it matters

No matter how difficult, be there when they are sick or when they win an award. Personally I have never done canteen or sports carnivals as that is not “my thing”. I scheduled one term for one kid per year to help in class when they were little (for example, reading or maths time). What I did for one child, I did for the others. I prioritised and made this work.

8. Show your kids how happy you are because you work

My kids know I am happiest when I work and I have time with them. I tried after my third child to stay at home for a few months and was terribly unhappy (and filled my time with non-critical and non-satisfying activities). So I know deeply, and they know deeply, that for us to be a happy family, I work and I pursue my passions, my career and do what I love. My kids are older now and very proud of all I have achieved, including that I always found a way to be there for them when it mattered.

9. Always keep a weekly (or fortnightly at the latest) date night with your partner

Work hard on loving and keeping romance alive. It makes everyone happier and provides a great model for your own kids to see that you are multi-dimensional.

10. Make “special” time that is just for your child

All they want is something they can rely on and look forward to. Make it special. I had special one-on-one “date” days with the kids. They could pick something that was entirely for them—all day just with me. I also held a very set time each day to read to them (or later to talk to them) or as they got older, I found other ways (for example, doing yoga or something they wanted to do one-on-one)—even if it is to have breakfast or lunch together.

11. Outsource as much as you can

Outsource all the stuff that you hate—for example, cleaning, mowing lawns, pool cleaning, cooking, or shopping. Spend your weekends and evenings doing what you love with your family! Don’t forget to spoil yourself too—whether that be the occasional massage, pedicure, blow dry.

12. Take up offers of help

When the kids were babies and my in-laws/parents offered to help, I took them up. Paul’s parents made the baby food, my mum took one year off work and later offered one full day and two days afternoon care for me and could get the kids to after school activities that I couldn’t get to.

13. Be present on weekend sport

While I could not be very present Monday to Friday, I was always at every weekend sport for the kids. I helped manage the teams and did all I could to “give back”. It always surprised me how the busiest people are those who volunteer the most.

14. Give and take with other parents

Again, while I can’t do school hours, I do all the night time pick ups (the ones no other parent wants). Find a way to balance it out so you can feel happy to take other parents up on their offer to get your kids to and from the things you can’t.

15. Encourage your kids to be independent

Each of my kids can make their lunch, cook dinner, do washing, ironing, feed the animals, catch buses, make appointments, get themselves to and from school activities, check their homework and generally keep themselves occupied. This keeps them busy, in control of their lives, responsible, and as I discovered, also confident and good leaders. This helped me as much as it helped them.

16. Separate mum time from work time

This differs for people, but I personally found trying to juggle too much work at home, or kids at work, meant that I was comprising and performing poorly on both. So I just focus in the moment wherever I am and keep these two parts quite separate. I want to be good at both and that helps me be good at both.

17. You set the rules

There is no rule book, no-one responsible for “giving” or “allowing” you balance. Create the environment that will work for you and your family. Focus on work and family outcomes and find your way. You will be respected by all if you let people know what you want, that you can be relied upon, and that flexibility works both ways.

This is not a female thing. This is a parenting thing. This is a commitment you make to yourself, to your child, to your partner and as a leader to your workplace. As my kids are older, I find I have even greater empathy and can influence my own company values in a way that supports and empowers other working parents.

Good luck to all the parents who are finding their way, their groove, their balance, their pursuit of happiness this week. I am interested in how you each find a way to make it work, what are your tips?

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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