Motherhood & Executive Marketing Positions. Can They Work Together?

I heard the words fall from my mouth two days ago in a conversation with a peer. She was asking me about my decision to maintain a career rather than become a stay at home mom.

Her: “Did you consider not going back?”

Me: “Sure. I had to ask myself, is it possible to maintain a career in advertising and raise a family at the same time? Who suffers? Is it worth it? In the end, I decided I’m just not ready to give it up. I love the industry and I’ve spent 11 years pouring my heart and soul into building a career. I’ve made it farther than I ever thought possible, in the most unlikely place and I just can’t let it go. So I had to work hard to find a new balance and charge ahead. Plus, I want my daughter to be proud of me and know that no matter what she chooses to do in her life, she can do it. If she works hard, she can do it.”

The feeling probably wasn’t the same for her as it was for me. For me, the words hung in the air. Practically began to write themselves on the wall. Screaming at me. Staring me in the face. Time stood still and all I could hear was my next breath.

I had to force the internal argument that rumbled loudly in my head to stop immediately in order to continue our conversation.

But it wouldn’t go away.

Had I tricked myself into believing that it was possible? I sell theory and service for a living. Had I sold myself on an unattainable idea? Was I really giving anyone or anything 100%? Are we all suffering? My family, my work, my clients, me? Was anyone winning the fight?

But more important, was I really fighting at all, or was I just going through the motions?

And there it was. The image of me on a hamster wheel. Running frantically just to stay on but getting nowhere. And then one day, I stopped running and didn’t fall off. And so my pace slowed. My engagement died. The gumption that got me to the place I was so proud to be was buried in the blur of maintenance mode.

I knew right then and there, it had to change. I had some decisions to make.

I didn’t quit my job (obviously).

I don’t plan on it.

I’m not leaving the industry that I love for as long as I have the choice.

I’m not offloading responsibilities or seeking a demotion.

I’m not going to be a bad wife.

And I sure as hell am not going to be a bad or absent mom.

So how is it possible?

I’m not going to do a whole lot of things at 50% anymore. I’m going to be brave.

I know what you’re thinking—what the hell does being brave have to do with it? I’ll explain.

If you’re a mom and you’re aiming for an executive position in marketing (be it at an agency on or an in-house team), or you’re in one and you plan to hold it (or better yet, move even further forward with your career aspirations)—you have got to have some serious b-a-double hockey sticks.

Stay with me.

  1. You have to be brave enough to say “no”.

If your marketing career is headed in the direction you wanted (more towards the top rather than the middle), there’s a real good chance you’re a people pleaser. Don’t take offense. But think about it. It’s true.

You have to work harder, longer, smarter, faster than your counterparts—male and female—to be the one who gets the promotion. You say “yes”. It’s in your DNA. You’re a problem solver and you’re laser focused on that end goal.

So you’ll work late. You’ll travel. You’ll do four people’s jobs. You’ll meet completely unrealistic deadlines for your clients. You’ll dream up brilliant creative for that critical ad campaign, by tomorrow. You’ll get that proposal out the door today. You’ll prepare the entire deck for tomorrow’s pitch. You’ll push your team harder.

Oh yes you will. Yes. You’ll do it.

But there comes a point of diminishing return. And motherhood, for many reasons, brings that point to light real fast.

You’re exhausted (to varying degrees depending on the age of your children and the amount of help you have at home). You’re ridden with guilt and doubt at every turn (if there’s a mom out there who claims never to feel guilty about being a “working mom”, I call b.s. You’re lying to yourself.) Your brain is on overdrive at all times.

And suddenly nothing gets 100% from you anymore, you’re spread too thin and it all starts to suffer. Sure, it may not crumble into oblivion immediately—but the effects can be felt pretty fast.

You have to prioritize, every day, and you have to say “no” to everything not critical to your responsibilities as an employee, a boss, a wife, a mother, a human being that deserves to be happy (not in that order).

Can you travel again next week? If the voice in your head says “man, I was gone  for 5 nights already this month, I don’t want to, my family doesn’t want me to and the trip isn’t critical”, the answer is “no”. So clear your throat, and say it.

Can you go to these 17 erroneous activities this week after work? No.

Can you add fandangled, ineffective bell and or whistle to this campaign? No.

Catch my drift? You have to be clear on what is critical to your mission (and you have many, so this is a moving target) and say no the rest. You can’t say no all the time, but you have to say it when necessary.

Buck up buttercup. It actually feels good.

  1. You have to own your choices and their consequences—and don’t look back.
This is a real Pinterest board I created, gearing up for my daughter's first birthday. I did none of it. Nice ideas. And I'm sure she won't look back and think "Dear Lord mom, why didn't you make me handmade hair bows for my first birthday?!?!" Pinterest is for the delusional.
This is a real Pinterest board I created, gearing up for my daughter’s first birthday. I did none of it. Nice ideas. And I’m sure she won’t look back and think “Dear Lord mom, why didn’t you make me handmade hair bows for my first birthday?!?!” Pinterest is for the delusional.

Seriously, all of them. Just own them. Own who you are. You decided to go back to work, you decided to continue reaching and working for more from your career. Are you making felted flowers from Pinterest to adorn your daughter’s hand-crafted tiara for her first birthday photo shoot—no. Nope, you gave those up in favor of some late night emails, after tucking everyone in, to be prepared for a big meeting the next morning. And that’s ok. And the mom who is felting roses, that’s ok too. Stop comparing.

As for that other mom, she really isn’t looking at you through squinty eyes judging your lack of compassion and care for your child.

  1. You have to schedule regular gut-checks for yourself.

There might come a day, when that voice in your head that says “I really, really wish I was with my family more than I am” needs to be satisfied in order for you to be a happy, productive human being, a good mom, and a good partner. So while I mentioned earlier that guilt and doubt are a regular occurrence in motherhood—you can’t sweep them under the rug forever. Trust your gut and because you’re so damn busy, be sure to schedule regular check-in’s with it.

Goals change. Courses change. And that’s ok. But not listening to or answering calls from your heart because you’re so busy in your mind is not.

Mom and marketing executive? It’s totally possible. Not without sacrifice. Not without support. But you can have some say in just what you sacrifice. And if you remember to praise and hug those who support you, you can keep them in your corner for a real long time.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you momma’s out there! Take a break this Sunday. Seriously. (I’m looking at you mom!)

My mom...also an executive-level working mom. And the best woman ever.
My mom…also an executive-level working mom. And the best woman ever.