The Mom Perspective: Juggling Work, Family, and an MBA

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As a working mother myself, I can’t help but think about some of our amazing Booth moms who manage to balance a demanding career and challenging coursework while raising a family.

As more women opt to pursue MBAs, it will be increasingly important for business schools to acknowledge the unique set of challenges they face —for some, the challenges of combining motherhood and MBA studies. And who better to hear from than our Evening MBA and Weekend MBA students and alumni who are managing to juggle it all!

We asked a series of questions to two Booth moms and we hope their experiences, insights, and advice will help as you explore your next educational and professional steps!

KELLY FRANK
Weekend MBA Program student (commutes from Milwaukee, WI) | Financial Analyst, Corporate FP&A at Fisery, Inc.
Mother to Sophia (13), Mackenzie (12), and Tyler (9)

Photo of the Frank family

WHY WAS AN MBA AN IMPORTANT STEP IN YOUR CAREER AND WHY WERE YOU ATTRACTED TO BOOTH'S WEEKEND MBA PROGRAM?

Seeking out an MBA was initially driven by my desire to accelerate my career, through gaining access to strategic frameworks and developing new intuition about how to solve business challenges around me.  I was drawn to Booth because of its reputation and course offerings. As a parent considering a long term commitment to school, I preferred the ability to adjust school based on my professional and personal needs, should any arise, and Booth afforded that to me with its personalized curriculum options.

While Booth’s world renowned program was exciting, I questioned whether there was the ability to add commuting to the mix. I found that Amtrak runs trains between Milwaukee and Chicago, and if I committed to using that travel time for studies, it would be an effective use of my time away from my family each week. I have found a community with the other Boothies making a similar journey each week while managing the multiple demands on their time. 

 

TELL US MORE ABOUT BEING A PARENT WHILE PURSUING YOUR MBA AND WORKING FULL TIME

My children are old enough to be fully aware of what I am working toward. My husband, David, and I protect specific family time during the week so that we can all be together. Family dinner is a nightly occurrence, and Sundays are almost exclusively a no-work, no-school, all-kids day. This makes the hours that I spend studying each week somewhat bearable for them.

We have made school a family endeavor as much as possible. At least once a quarter, my husband and kids will come into Chicago and meet me in Gleacher after class where they get to see where I spend my time and meet classmates (professors too!). We make a fun Chicago weekend of it so that they are just as excited about this amazing city as I am.

The kids have all gotten to know the groups that I work with since calls frequently overlap with bedtime. It is not uncommon for them to say “goodnight” to the Google Hangout group on their way to bed. It is important to me that my school and home worlds intersect so that each understands the importance and perspective of the other.

We have also included them in some of the decisions that we’ve made over the past two years so that they feel invested in the process as well. For example, when we realized that the timing of my program would cause me to miss out on three of their summer breaks, I offered up the alternative of me taking three classes during each winter. While I would be gone for a total of 22 Friday nights (so that I could take a Friday evening and two Saturday classes during two quarters), it meant that I would graduate in June 2018 (one quarter early), freeing up my time to enjoy the summer as a family. While three courses while working full time was definitely challenging, I will feel no regrets when I am on a family bike ride or sitting by the pool come June!

ANY ADVICE FOR PARENTS (OR SOON-TO-BE PARENTS) CONSIDERING AN MBA?

When considering an MBA with children (or having children while in the program), there is substantial benefit when your partner is 110% committed to the program as well. The hours each week that you may spend in class, on calls, or doing homework, mean that there are less hours for you to contribute around home. These responsibilities will fall more to them, and the “village” that you pull together, during your time at Booth. The decision needs to be a family one as everyone will take on more. Having a supportive partner in this journey can enrich the overall experience. In the end, maintain focus on the end-game - the time that is being invested in classes now will be turned into career opportunities that will afford more options and choices for satisfying work and providing financially for our families into the future.

Each of us has a unique ability to find a way to fit everything into our schedules. You learn to prioritize and make things work. I am a firm believer in the idea that a person can do anything for a short period of time.  Booth’s quarter schedule means that classes run for 11 weeks (10 in summer) and I’ve found that to be a good measure of a “short period of time.” When I’ve selected courses that are more challenging one quarter (less family time), I balance that with slightly less demanding ones the next quarter (more family time). That is the benefit of the Booth curriculum, and I’ve found that it keeps the family engaged as well.  

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF BEING A PARENT WHILE PURSUING YOUR MBA? WERE YOU NERVOUS ABOUT JUGGLING MOTHERHOOD, A FULL-TIME JOB, AND A RIGOROUS MBA PROGRAM?

The commitment to classes means that compromises and adjustments happen elsewhere in my life. The family dynamic has shifted to where my husband is now the primary contact for our kids’ lives. While sometimes it is challenging to get accustomed to, I have also taken great pride in watching the relationship between the kids and their dad develop into something more special than it was before.  

Because of my choice to keep family, school, and work as my priorities, my personal time and time with friends outside of Booth have been put on a bit of a pause. I have found that everyone has been incredibly supportive during the past two years, but they are fully expecting a blowout graduation party when I rejoin the social circles at home!

Despite the challenges, I also recognize the intangible benefits that this program offers to me as a parent. My children are watching me work hard for something and understand the self-discipline that it takes to make it happen. They are witnessing first-hand the outcomes from the time that I have invested in myself. Similarly, they are watching the level of support that Dave provides as a part of our family and how we conquer any challenges together as a unified team moving our family forward. I hope that it will shape a part of who they are and that they will know that they have great potential that can be unlocked when they are willing to put in the work to make it happen. 

 

LESLEY SWEENEY
’16, Evening MBA Program | Chairperson at Citizens for Rauner, Inc.
Mother to Edward (6), Vivian (4), and Eamon (16 months)

Photo of the Sweeney family

WHY WAS AN MBA AN IMPORTANT STEP IN YOUR CAREER AND WHY WERE YOU ATTRACTED TO BOOTH'S EVENING MBA PROGRAM?

I felt that I had reached a point in my career that, in order to get to that next group of job opportunities, required an advanced degree. As a student, I was attracted to Booth because of its academic rigor, reputation, and network potential. As a working mother, I knew that I needed a program that could provide flexibility.

TELL US MORE ABOUT BEING A PARENT WHILE PURSUING YOUR MBA AND WORKING FULL TIME?

It’s definitely challenging to purse and MBA as a working mom. You definitely need a good support system. My husband also works full time, and so we ended up relying on a babysitter that we could trust to handle the evening routine a few times a week while I was in class. My husband also pitched in when I needed additional coverage for things like group projects and studying for midterms or finals.

What I will say, is that I quickly realized that while not all students were working parents, many of them had equally challenging obligations (such as significant work travel). This gave me some comfort, as I understood we were all under a lot of pressure and being pulled in different directions.

ANY ADVICE FOR PARENTS (OR SOON-TO-BE-PARENTS) CONSIDERING AN MBA?

Firstly, your spouse has to be on board. You WILL need their support in order to do this. Assuming you have that, I think that if you want to pursue an MBA, you just need to move forward. Things will not get easier as time goes by as far as family life is concerned. In my case, I had my second child during the program, and was pregnant with my third at graduation, so the sooner you get going, the sooner you finish and can go back to spending time with your family.

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF BEING A PARENT WHILE PURSUING YOUR MBA? WERE YOU NERVOUS ABOUT JUGGLING MOTHERHOOD, A FULL-TIME JOB, AND A RIGOROUS MBA PROGRAM?

Of course, I was nervous! There is definitely a lot to balance, and time management is key. I think to this day I have four separate calendars that I maintain! But I would say two things: First, before I applied, I decided to take a GSAL (Graduate Student at Large) class through the Graham School to see how I did balancing motherhood, my job, and taking a Booth class. I ended up doing well in the class and thought to myself “I can do this.” I would recommend this to anyone who might be unsure about the balancing act – and the great thing was that once accepted, my class counted toward my degree. Second,I truly believe that we aren’t given more than we can handle. I think that we adapt to the situation we’re in. Looking back, I still wonder how I did it, but at the time, I was just doing it. 

ANYTHING ELSE YOU THINK A PARENT SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BOOTH'S COMMUNITY?

The Evening program has surprisingly more mothers that one might thing. It takes a little while, but you will find each other, and finding people that are in the same situation as you provides comfort. Also, everyone is so great to work with. Like I mentioned earlier, everyone has a lot going on. So in group projects, if your child gets sick, or something prevents you from contributing as much as you wish you could, people understand. They themselves will often have something that comes up that quarter that requires them to take a back seat on an assignment,so in the end it all evens out. 

HAVE YOU FOUND WAYS TO INCLUDE YOUR CHILDREN IN THE BOOTH COMMUNITY?

We really enjoyed the family day at the zoo. We went both years. I have even made friends with classmates that have children with similar ages, and our children get together despite being well past graduation. 

HAVE YOU FOUND THAT BOOTH OFFERS YOU THE SUPPORT AND RESOURCES YOU NEED TO ACHIEVE ACADEMIC AND PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS WHILE THRIVING AS A PARENT?

The program was amazing for my needs. I did tap into career counseling when I was trying to make a job transition; it took a while because I wanted to find something that would still allow me to participate in certain activities with my children (such as parent-teacher conferences), so I needed some degree of flexibility.

In addition, when I had my second  child, I dropped to one class that quarter – Managing in Organization. I specifically chose that class because I wanted the ability to do the assignments on my own time (and not be worried about disappointing group members). In addition, the final was project-based, and so again, there was more flexibility as to when I could work on it. Finally, the professor taught the class more than once a year, and she told me that were something to happen that prevented me from completing the course, she would just give me an incomplete, and I could pick up the class later in the year to complete the course.