Forte Connect
Work/Life Effectiveness

Juggling Full-Time Work, Kids, and an EMBA Program

All students in EMBA programs are juggling full-time jobs and school, but many students are raising families too. Whether they already have children or expand their families during school, maintaining work-life balance can be a challenge.

The key, according to EMBA alumnae, is planning and communication.

Build a Support Network

Think about how you will manage childcare. Will your partner take care of the kids on school weekends and when you need to study? Will you hire a babysitter or rely on friends and family? Whatever your plan is, make sure everyone involved is supportive and knows your needs in advance. 

Liz Tammaro, department head, Institutional Investor Group at Vanguard, had just given birth to her second child two weeks before learning she was accepted into Wharton’s EMBA program. With a one-and-a-half-year-old son, a newborn daughter, and a full-time job, she knew she needed support.

“This was an extended family decision. My husband was supportive, but I also needed my mom, dad, aunt, mother-in-law – everyone – on board to help take care of my kids when I was at school. In addition, I hired a nanny when I went back to work,” said Tammaro.

Talk to your Stakeholders

It’s important to communicate with family members as well as other stakeholders. Madhuri Alahari, senior manager of technology at Expedia and mother of two young kids, explained, “Talk to your stakeholders (your spouse, kids, team at work, manager, friends, extended family) and set expectations. Perhaps you plan to study in the library every Saturday or to travel to every global course possible – discuss with them as early as possible.

“This is also the time to listen to their expectations of you and come to a mutual understanding. Keep checking in with them throughout the two years, as expectations could change.” 

Talk to Other Moms

Before you start an EMBA program, talk to other moms who have done the program before you. Ask them how they prepared and how they made it work. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Before Tammaro began her program, she asked staff to put her in touch with other mothers who had been through the program with young children. “I needed reassurance that this was possible. The women I talked to were very supportive and gave me advice about being organized and getting help,” she said.

Frame (or Reframe) Expectations

Alahari suggests asking yourself a few questions before you start a program about what you would like to achieve. “Do you want to be in the top 5% or graduate with a certain GPA? Are you looking for a career switch or advancement? Most importantly, will your academic goal help you achieve your ultimate career goal? MBA admissions essays trigger these thoughts, but your goals could change, so it’s important to revisit these questions,” she said.

Students should also think about their expectations for their social life. Alahari explained, “Do you want to tone down your current social life, or do you plan to put your social life completely on hold? What balance do you want to strike in managing family activities and responsibilities? Think long term because the program is a marathon and not a sprint.”

Be a Team Player

Lean on your learning team for support because issues are going to come up at work or there may be times when you need to focus more on home. Communicate with your learning team when you need support, and make sure to give that support back in return.

As a single mom of two young children, Maggie John, senior process engineer at U.S. Oil and Refining, noted that her classmates were a “tremendous source of support,” especially the four other single parents in her cohort. When working in teams, she made a point to talk to members about her schedule limitations.

“I always told my team when there were certain parts of the day when I wasn’t available. Everyone has their own limitations and we were very supportive of each other,” she said.

Communicate with Staff

EMBA staff gets to know students and is there to provide support. For example, Wharton ensures new moms have rooms for pumping and a refrigerator on school weekends. They also hold several events for partners and children on campus.

Dr. Marie Laure Romney, assistant medical director of the Emergency Medicine Department at Kings County Hospital Center, had her third child during her first year at Wharton. She said, “My class manager checked in frequently to see what I needed. She even arranged a larger hotel room for me to share with my mom and baby when I was nursing on school weekends. The staff felt like family who were concerned about me as a person and not just as a student.”

Don’t Underestimate Organization

Carve out specific times to focus on work, family and school. Many students prefer to study after their kids go to bed. Or, if their kids are older, they like to do homework together. If you have a commute, many students say that airplanes create a great study hall environment.

John converted Tuesday evenings into “weekend time” to make up for time away at school. Instead of focusing on school, she would do something fun like going out to dinner or to a park. She also set limits.

“I became deliberate with my time. I was comfortable saying no to commitments outside my goal areas,” she explained. 

Fight Mom Guilt

There are important reasons why you are going back to school, so make sure your kids know those reasons. Remember that you are showing your children how much you value knowledge and that you’re never too old to learn and grow.

Tammaro said, “There were times when I felt guilty for not being with my kids. I tried to mentally reframe that feeling to focus on this as an investment in myself and an opportunity to model my values in education and hard work for them. I showed them that if you have the ability and motivation, then nothing can hold you back.”

Have Fun

Going back to school isn’t easy, but it’s also important to have fun and make friends. This is an exciting journey and students make lifelong friends.

Alahari explained, “It’s very easy to keep your head down and get into the ‘I need to work on my assignment’ mode. But these are memories for a lifetime, and you will want to make as many as possible by joining the various clubs and being a part of the social scene in your class!

“While going to every event that comes your way might not be possible, don’t forget to go to as many as you possibly can and make new friends and memories.”

Diane Sharp and Barbara Craft are admissions directors for the Wharton MBA Program for Executives. Wharton delivers an undiluted MBA curriculum to working professionals through their MBA Program for Executives in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

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