Managing work and home means busy parents never clock out
Photos by Rachel Coward
Having kids changes everything. Many working parents are required to juggle a myriad of tasks — like carpools, bottomless laundry baskets, soccer practice, medical appointments, rushed family meals, help with homework — that their childless peers might not need to worry about.
Those working parents are so busy, in fact, that more than 90 percent of them take care of personal or family needs during work hours, according to a 2013 survey by in-office news provider Captivate Network. This can include anything from a run to the post office to medical appointments. According to the same survey, more than 70 percent of white-collar workers cited leaving work to tend to personal banking, while 51 percent said they used work time to buy groceries.
In some cases, this busy lifestyle gets so overwhelming that it begins to cause career interruptions. More than 40 percent of women and 28 percent of men have reduced their weekly work hours from full- to part-time to care for a child, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, 13 percent of women and 10 percent of men have turned down promotions for the same reason, and 27 percent of women have left their jobs altogether.
We spoke with several successful Eastsiders with kids about how they keep their hectic lives from crashing down.
Instead of a reception desk, the first thing visitors see when they enter the offices of The Keller Group is the desk of the CEO, Lee Keller.
The walls in the intimate office, located in a downtown Redmond loft, reflect the achievements of Keller, a lifelong communicator. A massive tangle of outdated press credentials dangles in a corner. One shelf is lined with photographs of Keller with various U.S. presidents from the time she spent working in Washington, D.C., as a press secretary to then-Senators Dan Evans and Slade Gordon. Another shelf holds photographs of Keller with various celebrities and public figures, like Paul Allen, collected from the time she spent campaigning to demolish the Kingdome. Another still is filled with worn notebooks containing the beginnings of what is now a successful communications firm with clients such as Overlake Medical Center and The Museum of Pop Culture.
But Keller’s proudest accomplishment happened when she was in her 40s, and it dominates most of the small office. It was the birth of her son, Jacob. Keller beams with pride as she shows off photos of the now-14-year-old freshman clad in the football uniform of Sammamish’s Eastside Catholic High School.
“When I had Mr. Jacob, it changed everything. In a good way,” she said of her career trajectory. When her son was born, Keller was the managing director of the Seattle office of public relations firm APCO Worldwide.
Keller said she almost immediately began to feel the work-life scales tipping in the wrong direction. She struggled emotionally with being away from her newborn, a separation made longer due to her lengthy commute from her home in Carnation, as well as the breastfeeding conundrum many working women face.
“I’d have to sneak bottles of milk out past my male employees, and it completely freaked them out,” she said. “Even if you are the boss and you are in charge, it is still incredibly uncomfortable.”
It was at that point that Keller said it was time for a change.
“I just thought, ‘I really don’t want to do this,’” she said of her corporate job. “When you wait until your 40s to have a child, it is all about (that child).”
Keller resigned from APCO Worldwide in October 2002, and by November of that same year, her public relations and crisis management firm, The Keller Group, was up and running — in the renovated chicken coop on the family’s 40-acre beef farm — just a stone’s throw from her house.
For a while things ran smoothly, considering Keller was raising an infant while starting a company from the ground up. Keller ran the business almost entirely by herself, with only the help of a part-time business manager to deal with the startup minutia. The commute to the office was a breeze, allowing her to spend plenty of downtime with her son and her husband, Mike, while pitching in on the family farm that Mike manages on a daily basis.
“That worked for about three or four years, and then I started hiring people and they’d have to run up to the house (with their jackets on in the winter) because there’s no bathroom in the chicken coop,” she said.
These days, Keller’s got an onsite bathroom, a better office, a staff of 10, a teenage boy at home, and an impressive client list, but she still finds it difficult to keep her balances in check.
On top of professional and personal duties, Keller also helps her husband around the farm, sits on four boards, is a member of eight Eastside groups and committees, and routinely volunteers and fundraises for causes like the Humane Society. She also volunteers at her son’s school.
Keller said her full schedule makes the reality of a simple 9-5 workday seem impossible; she can’t remember the last time she went to bed before 10 p.m.
“The work happens a lot at night in the off hours. The work happens when you can jam it in and meet deadlines,” she said. “I honestly don’t know how else to do it.”
While Keller is fairly proud of her time-saving email-sorting methods (she gets upward of 700 emails a day), she said her one saving grace is making sure she works only with people who wholeheartedly understand that her son is, and always will be, her first priority.
“I walk out and I leave when I need to leave; you have to find work, or jobs, or clients that respect that,” she said. “I’ve worked for a lot of different people — I’ve been super lucky that most of them are fine — but I’ve used the ones that weren’t as an example of what I don’t want to be.
“I want to be a really great person to work for, and it’s a good example for Jacob.”
Once a successful marketing professional, Melanie Reed left the corporate world 17 years ago when the first of her three children was born. She hasn’t looked back.
Today, some 20 percent of children are raised by stay-at-home moms, according to a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center, although that number is significantly down from the 1970s, when more than 40 percent of children were raised by non-working mothers like Melanie.
With Melanie keeping things running on the home front in Redmond with three children under 5 years old, her husband, Steve, was able to start, and subsequently run, two successful businesses from a small downtown Redmond office space.
“I feel like Steve’s involvement (with the kids and home) was more like big picture, and my involvement is more like the minutia of daily life,” she said. “It is nice because it allows him to focus on his business because it is not easy to run your own business. I couldn’t do this without him doing what he does, and he couldn’t do what he does without me totally handling home life.”
Each day, Steve would split his time between Vision Media, his advertising agency, and DrinkSpace, his wine and spirits marketing company. He also endeavored to donate his time to help foster kids by sitting on the board of local nonprofit Treehouse, while also coaching youth sports. Steve credits Melanie with the bulk of his success in business and his ability to help his community.
“I don’t want to think about what it would be like with the shoe on the other foot — I simply don’t have that kind of patience; she’s so nurturing and selfless — (the kids) would have not been as well off with me at home,” he said.
Despite their partnership, the Reeds were not immune to work-life balance issues. Like many stay-at-home moms, Melanie never clocked out. Visits to the gym or trips to see her girlfriends barely existed in those early years.
“I’m very social. I need people around me, and this job — being a stay-at-home mom — does not necessarily lend itself to being around other people, and you can be kind of isolated,” she said. “That drove me kind of nuts.”
Likewise, Steve would come home from a long day of working and coaching, eat dinner, and dive right back in to work from his home computer.
Yet somehow the duo always managed to carve out enough time to spend quality time with each other, with their children, and on their own. Steve credits a large portion of that leeway to his chosen career path.
“The reason I started my own business was so that I could have that flexibility to spend time with my kids,” he said. “If we were going to be busy and have the risk of owning a business, then we should also have the opportunity to do things (outside of the office or the home).”
Now that the Reeds’ children are teenagers, the pair said they are both feeling more balance in their personal and professional lives. They are hitting the gym more, and Melanie has more girls’ nights out. But Steve said he is happy finding his balance in everyday life, especially when coaching football with his kids.
“You are not always afforded a two-hour block of time where you can go get a workout and a massage,” he said. “If you can’t get that all the time, you have to look for those other opportunities to make time — which isn’t necessarily solo — that still helps you charge the batteries and helps you feel fulfilled.”
For the past 21 years, any time tech titan Microsoft has acquired new companies — such as the recent high-profile LinkedIn purchase — attorney Keith Dolliver has been on the case. And for the last three years, Dolliver has been a full-time dad 50 percent of the time.
Dolliver is divorced from his two teenage sons’ mother, so his boys split weeks between their mother’s in Issaquah and Dolliver’s home, a mere five miles down the road within the boundaries of the same school district.
On weeks when his children aren’t with him, Dolliver said he is able to free up some time to unwind by going to the gym or having an occasional dinner out with friends.
However, when his sons are home, he’s in constant dad mode. Like many single parents, he often needs to leave early to shuttle his kids home from afterschool sports and to cook dinner. And after dinner, he uses his home computer to pick right back up where he left off at work.
“I compare myself against my father’s generation: When he was home, he was home,” he said. “On the other hand, he worked pretty late, so I think the compromise we have is that I am maybe not physically in the office until 8 p.m., but I am still working and people still know how to catch me on the phone or via email.”
Even family vacations require Dolliver to be at least a little distracted.
“There’s always the question: If you can’t be 100 percent present is it worth doing?” Dolliver said. “And I take the view that, yes, because if not you just aren’t going to do it at all. They aren’t always thrilled about it, but I think they’d still rather be doing the activity with the understanding that Dad needs a 20-minute break.”
During Dolliver’s dad-mode weeks, he said, having transparent conversations with his understanding leadership at Microsoft makes all the difference.
“When I talk to other people in similar situations, people generally are — this may be generational, or maybe it’s a workplace evolution — more open to being honest about (parenting conflicts)” he said. “On the whole, with this ability to work almost anywhere, people are very open to (being flexible).”
Oftentimes, Dolliver said, his leadership is in the same situation.
“I remember being on the phone with the (then) CFO of Microsoft while I was on the sidelines of a kids soccer game and it turns out he was at something very similar, and we kind of laughed about it even though we were talking about important stuff on a deal,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of 425 Business.