I gave birth four times over a four-year period, and during that time, I launched two Silicon Valley startups. Now, I am the CMO at Neustar, leading a major brand transformation.
I get asked all the time, "How do you do it?" And my answer is always, "I have an amazing husband." My husband, Sheldon, is a "home guardian" or full-time, stay-at-home-dad. This set-up is now being called "The Big Flip," which is the same title given to a documentary and book project for which I am an advisor.
Forty percent of American working wives now out-earn their husbands, according to The Big Flip. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 189,000 dads stayed home to raise approximately 369,000 children in 2012. This is the beginning of a new normal.
We did not actually plan this set-up. Sheldon's start-up ran out of funding shortly before our first child was born. When I returned to work, he had not yet found a job, so he stayed home with our son. We quickly found our groove. And every time I walked into the room with a giant plus sign at the end of that little stick looking both excited and panicked, he would smile enthusiastically and say "woo-hoo, job security, that's five more years I get to be at home!" (Sheldon is also a talented craft brewer and is thinking about going pro when our youngest heads off to Kindergarten.)
We have learned a lot during these past eight years. Here, tips on how to manage The Big Flip:
Check your ego at the door
Reversing traditional roles can be hard. To make this arrangement work, you have to make peace with the fact that sometimes your husband will know things -- who likes apples this week and who no longer eats broccoli -- about the kids that you don't. Conversely, he will need to make peace with the fact that mommy is still the mommy, and there will be things you instinctively know that he doesn't.
Anyone who claims that you can "have it all" or "be balanced" is lying. What I strive to do is "amortize" my balance, not by day or week or even month, perhaps by quarter, absolutely by year. If I can have family dinner just about every night when I am in town, attend most school events, meet all of my deadlines, speak at conferences, share the holidays with friends and family, have a conversation with Sheldon, sleep and get to yoga enough so that it all counts statistically -- I am doing OK. With that said, I have, on occasion, taken a press call while frosting cupcakes and been on impromptu work calls while sewing costumes; parallel processing helps with amortization.
Remember to be a team
I know this sounds obvious, but it is really important. You do not always have to divide responsibilities -- I do the laundry and you do the cooking -- you can share these tasks. In our house, we make fresh challah bread for our family meal on Friday nights. I prepare the dough and go to work, then Sheldon braids and bakes it. The kids call it "mommy/daddy teamwork," and they love everything about this tradition.
Create rituals (you can take on the road)
If you have to travel, try to create rituals that you can do remotely. While we read books every night, I also sing to my kids. I was once in a cab in New York City with two Fortune 500 executives, and it was time to sing. I called home and went sailing down 5th Avenue singing, "Raindrops on roses…" and guess what? My customers sang with me! I will never forget this moment, and I bet, neither will they.
Develop Teflon skin
You have to be prepared for things you do not want to hear, and let them bounce right off. One night I was kissing my third child good night. I took her head in my hands and said, "I love you so much." To which she replied, "I don't love you, I love Daddy, he is always here." Ouch. What she was trying to say was, "I miss you Mommy." Some days are hard, but you can't let words bring you down.
Embrace your multiple roles
There is no need to apologize. In fact, let the world know you are a flip mom. I find relevant and meaningful ways to work photos of and/or stories about my kids into every public presentation I make -- and every time they are tweeted. I am letting women and men know that you can be a professional and a parent and be proud of both. On my Twitter handle it says: "Mom-aholic, 4 kids in 4 years/Work-aholic, CMO @Neustar." I have a similar bullet point in my LinkedIn profile. Own your multiple roles in all your worlds and be proud.