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Been there, done that

Four veteran working moms share the secrets to juggling a career with raising children

By Loraine Balita-Centeno

What does a magazine editor, company owner slash consultant, a city mayor, and an HR director all have in common? They’re all remarkable working moms.

Even though these amazing women had to power through under different scenarios to make it big in different fields they all had to struggle with the same challenges to get to where they are today. They, too, had to deal with the gut-wrenching mommy guilt, the insane pressure, and the seemingly insurmountable tasks that working moms (regardless of their status, race, or religion)  all over the world have to accomplish on a daily basis.

If you’re a new working mom struggling to balance wanting to be a good mother with achieving your dreams of having a fulfilling career know that these women went through the same things you might be going through now. They, too, were caught in the crossfire between the demands of their job and the needs of their once young children. So how exactly did they make it? Read on and find out about their journey.

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  • Lalaine Chu-Benitez and Armi Treñas (Manila Bulletin)
  • Ramona “Girlie” Sison, and Imelda Aguilar (Manila Bulletin)
  • Lalaine with her two boys (Manila Bulletin)
  • Mel with her four daughters (Manila Bulletin)
  • Girlie next to her husband and three kids (Manila Bulletin)
  • Armi with her husband and three daughters (Manila Bulletin)

Tell us a bit about yourself

Lalaine: I’m Lalaine Chu-Benitez, 46 years old. I have two boys ages 19 and 15. I’m an entrepreneur working as managing director and editor-in-chief in our Dubai-based publishing/advertising and marketing services company. I’ve been a working mom all my mom life. I used to have a high-powered career working in marketing for multinational companies based here in Dubai, until I eventually turned into an entrepreneur.

Armi: I’m Armi Treñas, 49 years old. I have three kids—Erika who’s 24, Cessi who’s 20, and Nina who’s now 16. I am the owner and principal consultant of a Learning and Development (L&D) solutions company.

Girlie: I am Ma. Ramona “Girlie” Sison, 54 years old. I have three kids aged 25, 24, and 20. I work as an HR director for a telecommunications company.

Mel: My name is Imelda T. Aguilar, mayor of the city of Las Piñas.  I’m 70 years old and I have four children—April, Aivee, Alelee, and Ann.

 What was it like when you started as a working mom?

Lalaine: It was very stressful particularly in my former corporate life working for a multinational company where I had to travel frequently. On one hand, you want to be a good mom. On the other hand, you have to be competitive on the job and you can’t tell your boss you can’t travel because your son is sick.

So it was a very tough balancing act, and I think during those years, my energy, patience, and good humor were all zapped by the stress. That is one of the reasons my husband and I eventually thought of starting our own business venture so that we could work for ourselves, while taking care of what mattered the most—family.

Armi: My life revolved around Erika (my first born). I’d wake up early to be able to bathe and feed her, call the house to check on her during the day, and played with her, fed, bathed, and put her to sleep when I got home from work. When she was in pre-school I remember driving for 45 minutes just to watch her read three short lines for her reading recital, then going back to work after that. I was tired, but happily tired.

Girlie: At that time, I had—just like most first-time working moms—hoped to be a fulltime mother. But I needed to work, not out of financial needs, but because having a career while playing my role as a mother was what I thought then would continue to shape me as an individual, which eventually would benefit my children. Work was an avenue to learn, grow, relate to, and influence others, and keep myself productive.

Mel: Every day was a learning experience during my early years as a mother and career woman. There were plenty of times when I improvised to adjust to a situation without compromising my values.

 Who helped you take care of the children?

Lalaine: My parents were always there to help us bring up our kids, from the time they were born. So they are an amazing support system. I don’t know how we could have managed without them.

Armi: My parents helped whenever they were around. The greatest help came from their “manangs,” though. My husband and I wouldn’t have been able to raise three daughters and keep working without them.

 Girlie: My husband (also working), parents, parents-in-law, and a very trusted nanny whom I consider today as almost like a younger sibling.

Mel: When the children were growing up I was a hands-on mother. We have household help, but I personally attend to their needs like bringing them to school and fetching them after their classes. Being a teacher then, it was automatic for me to check on their assignments and help them with their schoolwork. I was their first reading teacher. Aside from their textbooks, I bought trade books for them to appreciate the love for reading.

 What’s the toughest part about being a working mom?

Lalaine:  The guilt you have to contend with when you have to make compromises, especially when you need to prioritize things other than the family at certain times. And with a full-time high-powered career, there will always be those moments. Exhaustion is another thing, but that’s easier to live with, compared to the thought that you’re not being a good mom, or that your kids have grown not to need you anymore.

 Armi: The first one is getting things done in the little time available.  The other tough part is managing the guilt. As a busy working mom, I’d feel guilty about not spending enough time with the girls. Often, I’d be so tempted to give in when they would request for material things, or certain liberties, thinking it might compensate for my absence. Saying no, and making tough choices are difficult knowing you won’t add points to what may already be a depressing maternal scorecard.

Girlie: To be misunderstood (occasionally) by your children. To “let go” so that they discover and learn about themselves and life. To trust that the decent individuals you have raised will make the godly decisions and learn from their mistakes/failures.

Mel: I had to make a choice between our family business and teaching. Eventually, I had to leave the teaching profession and concentrate on the family business. It was more than an eight-to-five and I was faced with time management problems. I had to strike a balance between my responsibilities in our business and attending to the needs of my growing children. It was a hit-and-miss thing. Now, as a chief executive of a progressive city, the challenges are bigger. I am thankful that my previous experiences prepared me to face the tough problems in managing the city.

 Can you recall one situation when you almost gave up and wanted to stay home instead? Why did you decide to keep working?

Lalaine: Two situations, in fact. Once, I almost missed a flight home, and my eldest son’s nursery graduation (it sounds silly but those little things mean a lot to families). And then, there was that time I had to leave for a flight, at 2 a.m. and my youngest was running a fever. Those times were miserable for me. I had to keep working after that because it’s not that simple to leave a progressive career, but I worked to get into another situation where I would have better control of my time, and therefore, my life as a mom.

Armi: One was when Erika was a toddler. I recall rushing home looking forward to spending time with her after a stressful day. When I motioned to her to come to me, she looked at me and refused to leave her yaya’s arms. No amount of cajoling would convince her. I was heartbroken and questioned myself whether my salary was worth the alienation of my daughter. But then, I realized I had a “good” problem. At least, I could work in peace knowing my baby is loved and treated well.

Girlie: 1.5 years in a BPO meant 1.5 years of memory-building with family/kids that I missed. I truly regret that. So I quit the BPO and shifted to a day job. The choice to continue working was hardly an issue. Again, my philosophy is that career and motherhood help make me whole, a better individual.

Mel: Modesty aside, I could not recall any incident that made me want to quit working and just stay home, maybe because I’m a very active person. I could not imagine myself not working and just stay idle. Work is the engine that keeps me going. No work for me is menial. My work schedule starts very early and it has been like this since I was young.

 What advice can you give young working moms?

Lalaine: Believe that there is a good way of doing this. There are different types of work that will allow you to pursue a career and satisfy your personal aspirations, while at the same time, do mommy duties. Also, talk to your kids and keep talking to them. Explain why you do what you do and help them understand that life is all about compromise. And learn the art of saying no. Always try to make good choices and love yourself. You can’t do everything and nor should you. Sometimes, you just need to stop and take care of yourself, so that you can be the mom who takes care of everybody else.

Armi: Find what works for you given the support network that you have, and who you are as a person. There’s more flexibility if you have extended family or other trusted people to whom you can delegate. Don’t try to prove you can do everything at the expense of being stressed out and driving your family away instead. Don’t forget to take care of your well-being. Continue to do something for yourself, even in small increments: learn, work out, go on a date with your husband. Your kids won’t be with you forever. So while you love them with all your heart, love yourself, too, so as not to lose your sense of purpose when they’re off making lives for themselves.

Girlie: Articulate a vision for yourself and discern the most reasonable path toward your vision. If you see yourself becoming a better person by being a fulltime mom, then find/work on ways to keep yourself productive and earning while staying home (technology today can facilitate this). Motherhood is a career in itself.

If you are constrained to work outside of your home every day, establish reasonable and sustainable support mechanisms (spouse/partner, parents, trusted nannies) to help care for your children. Find an employer or a manager who will also place value on the balance you need to have as a working parent.

 Mel: Nurturing a family is not a hindrance to having a successful career. It should work hand in hand. Raising a family and starting a career is not incompatible with one another. You don’t need to prioritize one from the other. Of course, an effective time management strategy is necessary and a positive attitude toward work is needed.