Tired as a Mother: A Working Parent’s Battle for Balance

August 2, 2018

Caroline Dettman

Caroline Dettman is a founding partner of Have Her Back Consulting, a female-owned business helping companies tackle gender equity differently. By turning good intentions to intentional actions, Dettman leverages her craft as an award-winning creative leader to drive business outcomes and impact for all.

I get asked all the time how I find balance between work and family. I don’t think “balance” is the right word because it conjures up this false notion of “zen” or “ease.” And it’s not easy. Like so many working parents out there, we fight hard for time with our families. The “right” choice is often the exhausting one. I’ve made that choice, often. A few weeks ago, I crossed the Atlantic twice in three days to deliver on promises to my work and my family. Working parents: I know you’ve been there. So, this story is for you.

My scenario looked like this: I was flying from Chicago to Nice to spend a week at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity for work (lovely work trip, no doubt). I needed to be in London the following week for some speaking events. People all over France asked me what fabulous European city I planned to weekend in between the two trips. When I told them “Louisville” they immediately inquired what part of France this town was located in. Northern France? Southern? “South,” I told them and “not in France.” Or any part of Europe for that matter.

In between my trips to Cannes and London, I would be spending the weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. Yes, Kentucky.   

Travel is part of my gig and, while it can be too much sometimes and cause me to miss too much at home, I know how lucky I have it as the chief creative officer for Golin.

But for the last weekend in June, I knew where I had to be: with my husband and three boys as we embarked on a weekend to (a very hot and humid) Louisville where my 14 year old son would be playing a Lacrosse tournament. It would also be a belated celebration of my husband’s birthday, which I sadly missed.

So there I was, flying from Nice to a layover in London followed by a flight to Chicago. Upon arrival at O’Hare International Airport, my boys picked me up and we headed out for the five hour drive to stay in a motel in Louisville. After 27 hours of travel, we arrived at about 2 a.m. with a game time of 8 a.m. that morning.  

And as I walked up to the fields, barely awake, I saw my son score his first goal in a lacrosse tournament. He’s a defensemen, so goals are not usually his thing. It was glorious. And by the end of the weekend, he had scored six more.

In our downtime, we took my 12 year old twins to bet on some races at the iconic Churchill Downs. We won $53 dollars. Of course, we spent $75 dollars to win the $53, but the kids still think we won big. We took them to an awe-inspiring art museum which, for my artistic twins, was a true highlight.

The weekend was a winning one for me and for our family. As I traveled to London for work the next day, I was tired as a mother…but with a smile on my face. As I left for the airport, my son said to me, “Mom, I am so happy you were there.” 

He might not remember this moment, but I always will.

And here’s the thing. This isn’t the first time I’ve been faced with making a choice between my career and my family – or challenged to find a way to make BOTH work. (“Work” being the operative word.) Some choices may seem mundane: like dropping off or picking up my kids from school or having dinner at home as a family. Others are bigger: graduations, recitals, annual mother/son weekend trips away. You don’t talk about all of these little sacrifices you make along the way – day in and day out – and no one will make the choices for you. So, you have to decide. When you look back, what will have mattered most? 

That’s the battle for balance. And we working parents know it’s a battle worth fighting.