Kathleen Henson, founder/CEO, Henson Consulting, on debunking the balance myth.
Let’s just get this out on the table. I’ve never bought into this whole ‘balance’ thing. To be frank, I think work/life balance often sets us professional gals up to feel like we’re never meeting the other side’s expectations. When work takes us to Los Angeles, we often feel bad we’re not home with the family. When we’re home tending to a child’s school project, a sore throat or simply taking a much-needed day off, there’s a tendency to feel anxious we should be at work showing the world (and our bosses or clients) that we have things expertly handled.
I honestly think this balance thing needs to be debunked. In fact, when I looked it up in the dictionary I had to laugh: Balance: a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance. Does this really exist for us working moms?
As a mother of five busy kids ranging from a daughter entering high school to a son entering kindergarten, life in the Henson household is never dull. As founder and CEO of a successful Chicago-based PR agency, I’ve done my fair share of trying to figure out the tricky balance between work and home life. There have been many days when I’ve thought my head was going to implode from trying to keep track of client projects and family commitments. I even recall shedding tears on the congested Eisenhower, trying to make it home from the city to capture a photo with my kids on the last day of school. (I got the picture, but a neighbor had to take it.)
Fourteen years ago, in my first few months as a new mom, I was in a senior position at a global PR firm feeling rather unbalanced. During that time, I vividly recall making a 20-hour whirlwind day trip from Chicago to Malibu to meet with an actress to discuss a client project. I left at 5am and arrived home after midnight, just so I could see my four-month-old asleep in her crib. That evening, Emily was fine under the care of her father (who likely thought I was insane while simultaneously committed to this new working mom gig). My tiny daughter was oblivious to my obsession of being the ‘perfect’ working momma. That trip made me wonder if there was a better solution for my little family and me. Henson Consulting was ‘born’ soon after.
Five kids and 23 employees later, I figured one thing out: Motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s less about balance and more about juggling life (a ball might drop and that’s okay – you’re still a good mom!). I encourage other women like me to figure out what works best for them and their families. Don’t beat yourself up; instead, appreciate each moment at home and at work that makes you feel fulfilled. There are plenty of days when the scale is tipped on one side or the other, but learn to embrace that feeling and power through.
The most common phrase I hear as a working mother is “I don’t know how you do it.” I shrug and reply, “I don’t know, I just do.” I always find ways to be there for my children and let them know that they’re secure, loved and the most important part of my life. In fact, my kids are seeing that both Mom and Dad can be passionate about their jobs and their ‘little people,’ too. And that’s the perfect balance for me.
ABOVE Meet the Henson kids! Clockwise center: Kathleen, John Henry, Haley, Finley, Brady and Emily.