Kathleen Henson on Balance

Kathleen Henson puts her family first, work second and enjoys every moment of it.

The topic of work/life balance comes up a lot amongst working moms. For many it’s a very hard thing to accomplish. Especially when you have several children and a very high position career. Which is why when I see people like Kathleen Henson, the founder/president of Henson Consulting, juggling her business, social commitments, trips to New York or LA and snapshots of her and her five kids I scratch my head in amazement.

I’m a working mom of four, soon to be five kids and so I had to seek some advice from a pro. I know from my own experience I love working and love what I do. I too am in the public relations field and love having a variety of clients and opportunities to meet new people but also love spending evenings curled up on the couch listening to my girls tell me about what happened in school or help with homework. I also know that it takes myself, my husband and our sitter to get them to various activities and keep the household running smoothly.

The Henson family has been doing it longer than I have and now that I’m having baby number 5 any day now, I wanted to find out how they get everything done and done well. They have a 14, 12.5, 11, 7.5 and an almost 5 year old. They manage to maintain work and the demands of various aged children and keep their sanity. I asked the very talented Kathleen Henson to share her secrets, and tips on how her and her husband Michael of 16 years raise five kids and flourish in their careers.

How do you balance a career and a personal life and make it look so effortless? 
There is no such thing as balance. Some days, I feel like I’m never doing enough but I have learned to chant internally, ‘It always turns out okay.’ And it usually is. I define work/life balance as a constantly fluctuating teeter totter of ensuring that you are able to do your job well and allow time to enjoy your home life, too. I think it’s entirely possible to find work/life balance but it is a personal barometer – you know when you achieve it but you shouldn’t watch others and wish you had their life.

Do you and Michael have outside help? 
Oh yes! We say in the Henson household it ‘takes a village,’ and I recently read something where it says kids benefit from a broad circle of love in their life. Our kids certainly have had a lot of love and support from different care givers throughout the years and their grandparents, too. Our kids have always known that their mom and dad work, so they have become accustomed to help in our home. We have the best nanny who is more like a house manager to us and we’re beyond grateful to her. I’ll never let her go!

How do you manage such a successful company and five kids?
I started HC after having my first child and realizing that I didn’t want to be known first for being a good PR practitioner and then a mom as an afterthought. I knew early on I wanted to be a mom, and I never could have had five children working for a big agency. That’s why I started my own business to ensure that I could still offer clients strategy, creativity and great results without losing the essence of what I wanted since I was a very little girl – a mom. I am so thankful that my company has been able to grow and flourish the past 13 years, and I encourage my team to be able to pursue their passions outside of the office – whether it’s parenthood or pet adoption or running marathons. I think people are happier at work when they are happiest outside of work.

What advice do you have for a mom re-entering the workforce in today’s world? 

  • First, it’s okay to love your job. Dads love their work and they are respected for it. It’s okay for you to be passionate about your work, too.
  • You can be a loving, involved mother and still be a rock star in your profession. Many women in PR call it quits because they can’t find the flexibility at their current employer. I would encourage you to think about what you want out of your career and find a way to achieve it.
  • Put your family first. No one is going to look back at the end of their life and say, ‘Boy, I wish I wish I had handled that client crisis differently.’ But they will remember the memories of being with their child. I vowed I would never miss anything important in my childrens’ lives and so far, I’ve kept my promise.
  • Do what’s right for you. I learned early on that you have to be your own advocate for what’s best for your lifestyle, income needs and desires for your family. It’s okay to stay home if you want to. But if you want to work, don’t feel bad about it.

What type of calendar system do you keep? 
We have a home calendar and our nanny, Kat, copies my administrative assistant, Carol, on anything that I need to be at so it’s on my Outlook calendar. Our older kids have iPhones so we can reach them to pick them up from practice, games, friend’s houses, et cetera. We also have a family ‘book’ on our kitchen island where our nanny places school papers, informs me of homework that’s due, medicines taken (Finley has chronic asthma and a serious peanut allergy) and other items of the day. Again, it’s all about good communication between the parents and the caregiver in the home.

Whats a typical day like for you? 
Every day is different. I usually check my Outlook right before bed so I know where I am supposed to be the next day. Some workdays I might be at an early morning TV segment or jetting off to NY or LA for meetings…or other days I’m up and out the door by 7:30 heading to my office in Chicago. I love that every day is different – keeps my life very interesting. One thing is for certain, I always have my iPhone, a Diet Coke and my notebook with me to keep a running list of to-do’s during the day. I try to be as efficient as I possibly can during the day to keep up with all of our client needs and always have had an ‘open door’ policy for my team to talk to me or review documents, new PR plans, et cetera. I absolutely love my company and my colleagues at HC – they are my ‘day family’ and it’s a very special place to get to work. I truly am joyful when I come to HC every day. I don’t take that for granted one bit.

How do you unwind? 
Ha! What exactly is unwinding? (laughing) I honestly don’t have too many extracurricular activities outside of my work and my family life. But that’s the way I wanted it – my life is very full with incredible opportunities to do some pretty exceptional things at work (meeting celebrities, going to award shows), and then I have a very equally full life at home and on the weekends (lacrosse and soccer games, going to the park). Mike and I are pretty much exhausted by Friday nights so we just hang out with the kids and snuggle with them and catch up on TV shows like The Voice. That’s my favorite thing to do. But if I do find a few hours to myself, I obviously love clothes and shoe shopping and reading is one of my all-time favorite past times. I am a very fast reader and usually start and finish a book in a day or two. I plan to read at least five books on vacation in a few weeks!

Kathleen says she lives without regret and puts her best into each day: “I’m proud of the example I’m setting for both my sons and my daughters that moms can be fun, powerful and imperfect. While I don’t have it all figured out now, 14 years later, I think it feels right. I often joke with my oldest, Emily, that she really needs to be patient with me since I am learning everything I do as a mom on her”.

And, naturally, Kathleen wraps up our interview perfectly: “As they say, moms are what make the world go around. While I’m so extremely proud of the business I’ve been able to create with the help of some extraordinary colleagues and clients, I’m exponentially prouder of the family I’ve been able to create with my husband and my awesome ‘five pack’ at home. I’m here to tell you, it’s okay to ‘lean in’ as Sheryl Sandberg says. Just be ready to hold on for the ride!”

Christine Bachman

About Christine Bachman

Christine Bachman is founder and president of Plan It PR, a public relations and marketing firm. The mother of five shares tips and survival stories in “Play Dates and Power Lunches.” Ms. Bachman started working public relations after a long career in broadcast journalism, which included work as a television anchor, reporter and producer.