Career advancement and family life: Let’s start a conversation

“I would like to see more about career advancement with family life, specifically how taking parental leave and having young children impacts career opportunities. I would be interested to hear about this from the perspective of men and women AND those who are currently on leave (or have recently returned to work) and those who now have slightly older children and how they feel their careers may or may not have been impacted (and what they did to mitigate or accept this). Consider: length and place of travel, breastfeeding, childcare, 12- vs 18- month maternity leave, etc.”

When we publish blog posts we try our best to answer questions that the community has, and this was one of those questions.

As I reached out to find community members who could provide their insight into this topic that I didn’t have much experience in, I became inspired by one woman’s story which I use here as a first step into a conversation that I hope the PH SPOT community will have.

A student of the Infographics 101 course reached out to ask about the best way to plan out her time in order to complete the course. She was a mom of three, who was working part time, and four months prior had began commuting to a city an hour away to do her PhD. I knew this superstar mom/ PhD candidate/ public health professional was the right person to begin shedding some light on this topic. Here are my takeaways from her honest reflections on career advancement with family life, which I hope is a start to some healthy conversations we can have on the platform to offer support to one another – as well as hear different perspectives.

As you will see, I do not have many solutions here. The way I have structured this post is by including bits and pieces of our conversation and some solutions that I have read about or heard from other stories. I am hoping for the community to engage in conversations to offer their tips as well (which will form additional blog posts here).

Ask for help

If you are like me, you always feel like you can do it all and that you don’t need any help. When you have so many things on the go with respect to your career (full-time or part-time job, school/ certification/ continuing education, manuscripts, conference attendance, travel for work, etc.) and then you add family into the picture, it becomes challenging to do it all yourself. Having additional help is healthy, and it will ensure that you are performing at your best.

“I wish that the workforce were more amenable to families and children. It is hard, emotionally and in a time management way, to work full time and have children. Personally, I would prefer to be a ‘part time worker’ and be more of a ‘full time mom’ but that isn’t the economic reality for my family, or most Canadians. Also, even though male partners (if you are married to a man) are so much better at participating and sharing the burden of child and house work, I (and most women I know) find the woman is still the ‘manager’ of all things. It is mentally exhausting.

I worked mainly from home (but for a large organization) and used childcare and still found the balance difficult, and so expensive ($1500/month per child is not rare). I often had meetings or had to work/travel in the evenings or sometimes had to be away overnight (one to three nights max). It is taxing for your partner and/or expensive if you have to pay for childcare. And just plain hard to be away from your children. The parents I know who did not struggle as much are people who have grandparents to help. Grandparents CHANGE EVERYTHING. We, unfortunately (in so many ways), do not have our parents here to help us and so it is all on our shoulders.” -PH SPOT member

In addition to support from family members, here are two creative ways to “ask for help”:

  • Speak to your manager to see if working from home is an option (even for a couple of days a week). If you can eliminate a few hours of commuting in the morning, that’s extremely helpful. It not only gives you back some hours, it also reduces the stress of packing a lunch, needing to be at work at a certain time, and getting ready.

“Go ahead, ask for it. One of the most important messages in my book is that women have to ask for what they want. We often don’t ask because we’re afraid they’ll say no—and be mad at us for asking. But the squeaky wheel definitely gets the grease. Wish you could work at home one day a week or job share with another mom? Ask. If you’re a strong performer, it won’t hurt you. Just remember: Don’t make your ask about simply taking care of your own needs (“I want to spend more time with my baby”); you want to show you have your boss’s needs in mind, too. (“Working at home one day a week, and not having to worry about the commute, will help me be more creative and productive.”)” –Kate Whyte

  • Have a social circle/network of individuals you can count on for a helping hand, whether that’s with dinner when you return from a work trip, babysitting when your sitter cancels last minute, or for pick up and drop offs when you are unexpectedly stuck in traffic. This network can be more than just a helping hand, they can become your emotional support outside of the family support you may already have.

    “Surround yourself with others that are like-minded. It is invaluable to have other women that know what you’re going through, can cheer you on, give tips and tricks, and to just be an ear to listen to complaints and tears. Without that support, it would be very difficult to do all that we need to do as working women in one of our most important jobs of being a mom.” –Tori Tilton, owner of Share the Soap and mom

Be kind to yourself

Being a public health professional, we are passionate people who care a lot. At times, not seeing the impact of our work upsets us emotionally. In addition, the lack of resources in some public health organizations means that you may be playing many roles at work, and have many deadlines that add to your endless to-do list. Understanding that public health is a large wheel that needs a lot of pushing, and that public health impact doesn’t happen overnight is important. Put yourself first, and make conscious decisions for self care. It’s okay to “take a break”. Find time for those cuddles, read a book, take a walk, or sleep. Burnout is real, and it’s not fun.

“I breastfed all three of my children until age 2 or 3…It was an easy transition to childcare and they would nurse on waking, after childcare, and then at bedtime. [This was] lovely and a great way to connect and cuddle. And a nice Zen time for me.” -PH SPOT member

“I also often feel guilty when I prioritize sleep over work, my social life, or whatever else I feel I should be doing instead. If I could commit to sleeping eight hours in the name of work, I’m all in.” -Arianna Huffington

Urgent versus important

The main tip I heard in my conversation is “to not try to do it all. It is exhausting (and unfair to you and others). At some point, something has to give.” Understanding the things that are important to you and your family will be key. Prioritizing between things that are urgent and important versus those that are not can remove a lot of the stress we carry.

Although I don’t have children, and therefore don’t know the additional workload that comes with it, I still want to offer a practical tool that I hope you can try. I use a prioritization matrix to help me organize my activities – I have also found this to be recommended in other communities.

The matrix helps you prioritize your activities between urgent and important. You want to do the “urgent & Important” tasks first, followed by the “not urgent-but important” tasks next. The “urgent but not important” tasks are ones that could possibly be delegated to someone else, and finally the “not urgent and not important” tasks are ones you can consider deleting. Take a look some versions of this and try it out!

Here are other versions of the prioritization matrix you can consider:

The PH SPOT community would like to hear your perspective on this topic. If you have additional tips, thoughts or reflections please share them in the comments below, send me an email at, or submit it anonymously in the form below.

Other readings/tips:

What it’s really like to work full-time and be a mom

8 Essential tips every mom needs for work-life balance

My 6 Best Gutsy Tips for Working Moms (Besides Pick a Partner Who Makes Great Margaritas)


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