Tales of two high-powered tech careers in one household are hard to come by unless you’re Bill and Melinda Gates. In a nearby neck of the woods, Jenn McColly and her husband of 18 years are navigating the complexity of senior leadership roles that both require business travel, while actively parenting two boys in middle school.
“Our time with them is not sacrificed,” says Jenn. “Our careers are important, but we prioritize our family.”
Her story brings much-needed visibility and encouragement for those of us designing our families around the idea that dual-career parenting is not a zero sum game.
“Figure out what is best for you and what is best for your family,” she says. “You don’t need to rationalize that or defend that to anybody.”
Precision-like prioritization is key. When Jenn and her husband faced the prospect of overlapping business trips to Europe last month, she boiled her itinerary down to the essentials.
“In an ideal world, I would have gone in on Saturday so I arrived on Sunday feeling a little fresher on Monday,” she says. Instead, Jenn took a Sunday night flight after spending Saturday at lacrosse with her boys and husband who had just arrived home the day before.
“I was fully present for what I needed to be present for,” she says, about maximizing time in the office Tuesday through Thursday, before jetting back home in time for school commitments.
“I was on a 6 a.m. flight outta there Friday morning because that was going to get me there the soonest.”
“We can all do anything for a short amount of time,” adds Jenn, which any working parent who’s opted for the red-eye option can relate to.
While it’s easy as a new parent to assume that travel will get easier as kids get older, Jenn points out that life gets complicated–in a different way–when school and activities expand outside a half-mile radius.
“Your kids need you differently at different stages,” she says. “Every stage has different complexities with it.”
“I wish I had traveled more when they were younger,” says Jenn, noting that routines are simpler to share with other caregivers in the early years.
“I’m less physically exhausted and more mentally exhausted,” she says, describing how they’ve already had to have conversations with their boys about incidences among local teens of elicit texting, drug overdose and suicide.
Every new stage presents an opportunity for Jenn and her husband to open the conversation about how to manage it all, together.
“Sometimes it’s really messy and sometimes it’s easy,” she says. “When it’s easy are those times when we’re feeling connected as a couple, and when it’s hard is when we’re not feeling connected.”
Jenn says “the move to middle school” and the addition of a new puppy to their household “has created some really good conversations.”
For example, her husband’s math prowess has come in handy, while Jenn continues to be the resident proofreader and history buff. She’ll even text pictures of schoolwork to him during business trips so they can continue to play an active role.
“School is starting to matter,” she says. “They get legit grades in middle school.”
Jenn also points out that now that communication with their boys is getting more limited as they get older, she and her husband can help each other fill in the gaps while the other one’s away.
Jenn, her career and family have all blossomed as they’ve entered the teens. She reflected on a time when she didn’t have the same sense of priorities or awareness of her own limitations.
“I didn’t feel like I was a present mom. I didn’t feel like I was a present employee. I didn’t feel like I was a present wife.”
“I really felt like I was just spreading peanut butter and was feeling physical effects as a result of operating at that pace and I knew something needed to change,” says Jenn.
“I knew there were people around me that wanted to support me but I didn’t know any other way than just tapping out.”
So Jenn took a pause to try a different path. To her and her husband’s surprise, it ended up turning into a 6-month period of hyper-speed transition while her husband was “going full throttle into the CFO role.”
She ultimately returned to the same company (where I worked at the time), feeling a renewed sense of balance. Now looking back, I can see how this showed up in her commitment to building company culture and driving employee engagement.
“I will never regret taking that time away to figure out ‘how do I move forward in a meaningful way?”
“It gave me a lot of clarity, a better foundation of boundaries and being more intentional about tradeoffs,” says Jenn.
“We, collectively as a society, spend so much time comparing ourselves to other people and we just need to stop,” she says.
“We so often put ourselves last, and putting yourself first isn’t selfish,” she says.
Jenn recommends identifying “that thing that you do for yourself on a regular basis” even if it’s taking a short walk outside “and don’t feel guilty about it.”
“We’re all doing the best that we can. How are we giving others grace and how are we giving ourselves grace?”
For Jenn, that means focusing on seeing her “kids thriving, and being happy and healthy, and that they know that they are loved and supported.”
Plus, now that her boys are older, she and her husband find ways to spend quality time together–like they did during a recent Saturday when lacrosse practices overlapped.
“What I am most proud of is that we have always prioritized our family, our kids, and we are really coming back to prioritizing our relationship as well,” she said.