When we discuss the challenges of balancing family and a career and the desirability for a mother to work full-time outside the home we often hear about the negatives. In my experience as a daughter and a mother I must say that I see many positives. I’m not talking about the ones the psychologists study and report on (e.g. that children of working moms have higher reading scores and better social skills – there are negatives on this front as well). What is on my mind are the specifics – what specific experiences did my children have because of my career.
The one that is most obvious for our family is travel and international experiences. I was interested in international relations since college and international marketing and sales since I started my business career. When I started my career here in the valley I wasn’t able to find a position focused on international marketing from the start so I began in product and channel management but I was looking for international opportunities from the start.
I worked quite a bit with the European sales teams at Informix then when Informix started its Latin American division I joined. I ended up moving to Sao Paolo for six months to open the Informix office and Derek (6.5), Todd (4) and our nanny Susan came with me. It was an incredible experience for all of us. The boys got to experience school in Brazil, play on a local youth soccer team and briefly live an urban lifestyle. We traveled every other weekend all over the country. The school was an international one so we made friends with people from all over the world.
Steve and his partner Gus Spanos had just formed a company to purchase 2 Miller beer distribution franchises so they were incredibly busy. Of course the separation was very hard on all of us, especially the boys, but Steve was able to come down and spend 2 weeks with us in the middle. We took a great trip to the Amazon and several other regions of Brazil.
I wrote previously about my experiences traveling with Margot in Latin America. I continue to take the kids with me when possible. Margot joined me at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona two years ago and last year Adam, Margot came with me to Tokyo. We’ve also had innumerable international visitors to our home for dinners and meetings and the kids have gotten to know them. I believe that there is something different and more educational being exposed to a foreign country and culture when connecting through work (or volunteering) rather than simply as a tourist. You get to know people and about their day-to-day lives – not just the tourist sites, although those are great too which brings me to my next point…
There is that second order benefit. I’ve racked up literally millions of frequent flyer miles – it’s been several years since I received this card in the mail. Steve has earned his share of miles as well and that has funded the air part of a good many of our trips – South Africa, Vietnam, Europe, Peru – you name it. Of course there is the downside to all this travel. Time away from home is not without consequences – there are things I’ve missed and it’s hard on the spouse at home. But even that has some benefits – the kids learn a bit of independence and see that Dad is competent to keep them fed and productive and even tucked in with bedtime stories at night.
It’s hard to know exactly how these experiences have affected the kids. I have to believe, though, that given how small our world is becoming, familiarity with other places, people and cultures will only be more important. Derek and Todd, as physicians will be taking care of people in a country where more than 10% of the population are immigrants – that percentage is certainly much higher for their likely patient populations during residency. Margot is considering a foreign language major (among many possibilities). Adam is enjoying Spanish 3-honors – who knows where this can lead 🙂