I’ll never forget the time my dad had a business trip scheduled during my school play, so he went to great lengths to make sure he could at least see a dress rehearsal. It wasn’t as if it was my Broadway debut, but both my parents certainly treated it as the special event that it was for me at the time. I’ll always remember it as a great example of how they often went out of their way to be involved in my life.
When I was a kid, few people were really talking about things like work/life balance, workplace stress, or parental leave. Nevertheless, my dad, with my mom’s encouragement, always found ways to prioritize time with my sister and me, even while he ran a national cleaning company. Since then, our society has come a long way when it comes to workplace flexibility, whether it’s state laws requiring paid parental leave or major companies shifting to policies that emphasize goals accomplished rather than hours in the office. My parents, in other words, were pretty ahead of their time.
Now that I’m a mother of two, and running the same national cleaning company my dad did, I often think about his approach to balancing work and family. And in many ways, I have it easy. When I was a kid, if I wanted to talk to my dad while he was out of town, I had to plan to be home at a specific time so I wouldn’t miss his call. (For the benefit of any Millennial readers, I’ll explain that once upon a time, voicemail didn’t exist. Also we called it an “answering machine,” but never mind that now.) The point is, whether it’s phone, text, video chat or email, I have countless ways to be present in my kids’ lives when I’m traveling or just working late.
In the two decades that I’ve worked at Jelmar, I’ve learned a few key lessons on how to excel at work while also prioritizing the people you love:
- Find alternative ways to be involved. We all experience feelings of guilt if we can’t attend every sports game, dance recital, and play. But you can always find an alternative way to participate in your child’s activities, like my dad did with my dress rehearsal. While being physically present is important, making arrangements to have the event documented on video—then watching with your child later—is a great way to stay involved in their life. In my experience, making that extra effort to show how much you want to be there for your kids can be just as memorable.
- Seek out caregivers with shared values. When we look for nannies, babysitters and other caregivers, we check references and conduct background checks to make sure we’re hiring someone we can trust. But it’s also important to look for a less obvious type of trustworthiness: can you rely on this person to parent your kids in the same way you would? Will this caregiver teach life skills and instill values that you agree with? Once you find that special caregiver who fits in well with your family, it’s important to treat him or her like family. (A well-paid and well-treated caregiver is much more likely to stick around long-term!)
- Help promote workplace flexibility. As the president of Jelmar, I think a lot about my employees’ happiness and wellbeing, and I want to do everything I can to provide them the same flexibility I want for myself and my family. I have a dedicated, hardworking team, and I find ways to reward them, such as a regular 4:30 closings and half days on Fridays. Many of my employees have jobs that can be performed remotely and/or outside normal business hours, and I empower them to use their judgment to determine if and when that’s required. I find that my staff repays this trust with their loyalty and a desire to help the business succeed.
It’s true that when we’re overwhelmed and stressed out at work, setting aside quality time for family can seem like an extra burden. So we sometimes let it fall by the wayside, skipping family dinners, school events, and other opportunities to show our kids how much we care about them. Most parents will never be able to make it to every single event, and that’s OK. In my experience, it’s the times you went the extra mile to be there for your kids—despite the inconvenience—that they’ll remember decades later.