What I’ve Learned Navigating Work and Kids as a Digital Exec

When I took the CMO role at my organization mere weeks after returning from maternity leave for my second child last July, I had the typical working-mom apprehensions about the time and energy necessary to fulfill the obligations required of a C-suite executive. Was it selfish to prioritize my own career when I had a newborn and a toddler?

I ultimately decided that, while it’s unrealistic to tell mothers they can have it all, I could make a go at it.

Fast-forward four months, and my worlds are colliding in one Brooklyn apartment. In my rare quiet moments, I realize I’ve learned a few things that I — and hopefully others — can apply to work/life balance in the future.

Cutting Ourselves Some Slack Doesn’t Mean Lowering Productivity

This crisis has exposed how human we all are. Frozen has been the backdrop of many work calls. Even my colleagues who don’t have kids have had to figure out ways to balance work with their own home obligations, like checking in on elderly parents, learning strategies for quieting their dogs, or even handling their roommates.

Everyone’s “real” life is now fully exposed  — and it’s all for the better. I don’t feel any suppressed eye rolls when I tell people I have to go deal with a crying baby. I certainly don’t sigh when I hear about other people’s logistical challenges or their boredom and loneliness.

The reason to be hopeful about all of this runs deeper than simple human empathy. People are really stepping up. I’m seeing employees work more, not less, and that lesson will last. C-levels see that they can keep their expectations high while letting people be themselves and work from home, which will help us all create and maintain a better balance in the future.

Continue to Take Joy in the Small Things at Work and at Home

Working-parent narratives used to feel separate from digital advertising’s hard-driving lifestyle. Now, we no longer have to choose between kids and work because we’re forced to juggle both simultaneously.

Some of us have been able to experience our children’s firsts in person rather than through videos from childcare providers. Last week, I got to see my youngest son crawl for the first time, and I cheered him on as he army-crawled across the playmat to grab a rattle, grunting with determination and pride. Would it be so bad if a parent could stay home for a few days as their kids achieved these milestones once life returns to normal?

Among my colleagues, one is itching to get back to the gym, while another can’t wait to get back to volunteering. We should allow ourselves time in our days to balance these important things that make us human with our duties at work.

I often find myself building a Magna-Tile castle while responding to low-priority emails on my phone, but I’m 100 percent present for an important strategy brainstorm and still get to spend 30 minutes a day with my son’s virtual preschool class.

Let’s Continue to Be Present

In the immortal words of Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda (that’s where I get my wisdom these days), “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the ‘present.’” It’s important for us to take advantage of the time we have to be present. Some of us work too much, and we should take time away from our desks so we don’t feel like every day is Monday.

Slacking with colleagues around the globe at 5:30 a.m. is now a normal occurrence, and that allows our team to be nimbler and more efficient at client service through continual engagement. Many of us will be excited to dive back into our normal schedules once the bans are lifted, but there will also be mixed emotions. Will we still be able to admit that we have dogs and deliverymen while we’re on a conference call? Or that we actually have kids when 5 p.m. rolls around?

While I will miss some important firsts no matter what (I’ll likely be in a meeting sneaking a peek at my son’s first steps on video), I also want to make sure I can be present in both worlds going forward. I am so fortunate to still have a job during this unprecedented time, especially one that allows me to provide for my family while staying safe. I want to make sure I carry these lessons with me over the coming months, and I hope we can all use the things we learn during this time to make lasting improvements to our work/life balances.

Johanna Bauman is CMO of PubMatic.

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