Boss Lady

Blurred lines: Working mothers can make it work?


You can stay involved in your child’s life even when knee-deep in a business project or thousands of miles away on a work trip.  Thanks to all those ‘mach-ten-speed’ moms before me who shared their wisdom.  I’ll do my best to pass it on!

The morning my twin daughters turned 10, the three of us snuggled up in bed, pulled out a calculator and did a little math. Just how many questions had my wide-eyed inquisitors asked me over their lifetimes?

We averaged the number per weekday and per weekend. And we came up with a figure that was close to a mind-boggling one million. My girls love to ask me questions—they are ferociously curious and delight to learn about the world around them. And that thrills me to no end.

As a businesswoman who travels internationally at least 150 days out of the year, encouraging that curiosity in my daughters—and answering them honestly and openly—has kept our connections clear and strong no matter where in the world I am. It also keeps them deeply involved in my life—and me in theirs—even when I can’t be at home to physically tuck them into bed.

Their questions come at me fast and furious every day: What did I do at work? Was it productive? How many objectives did I have? How many of those did I meet? They like to get into my business and understand what it is that I’m trying to accomplish at my job. They like to hear about the progress I’m making. I believe it’s incredibly important for kids to know what their parents do every day and what contributions they’re making to the world.

There are other ways my girls stay front and center in my life even when I’m deep in a project or when my job takes me hundreds of miles away. Here are a few tips for working moms (and dads) who may find themselves in similar situations:

Don’t assume your kids don’t want to know about your job

My daughters love to learn the ins and outs of what I do at Philip Morris International. And they want to be involved as much as they can. We once role-played my budget presentation: One of them pretended to be the CEO and the other played the COO, complete with pencils behind their ears.

They didn’t know how my CEO and COO act, but they figured you’re supposed to write down notes and fire questions. It was pretty spot-on, the firing-question part. (Of course, I didn’t give them my real presentation, but I tried to illustrate what it might look like.) The daughter who was pretending to be the CEO asked, “What is it that you’re really trying to accomplish here in Germany?” I said, “Well, we’re trying to have double-digit profit growth.”  And she said, “Stacey, I’m surprised you haven’t figured out the answer to that already.” And I said, “Well, Miss CEO, what is the answer?” And she said, “It’s simple. If you want to grow double digits you just add a zero.”

Explain to kids why you work and who/what you work for

When I travel, my daughters often complain and ask why I have to work and why I chose the job I did  ( I think most kids have this complaining question!).  The easy answer is “Most people work, and I need to earn money to provide for my family.”  Well, that’s true.  Most people do work, but the vast majority don’t have the privilege to do what they love and love what they do.  I talk to my girls about the privilege to be fulfilled.  Fulfillment is at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and something to consider a great privilege.  And I tell them that it is my most sincere hope for them to be fulfilled too.  I also engage them in conversation about who and what it is I work for.  At PMI, with our bold mission to switch smokers who don’t quit to less harmful smoke-free alternatives, I am focused every day on how best we bring smoke-free products to adult smokers in South and Southeast Asia.  That’s a serious ambition, and a worthwhile pursuit, and one they can be proud of.

Embrace the beauty of FaceTime

When I travel for business, I always take a moment each day to do a video call with my daughters. And because time differences can make that tricky, my colleagues are generally pretty gracious if I need to step out of a meeting to do so.

Because my daughters love to experience what I’m experiencing—we go even further than just video chatting. They often want to see where I am, and they like to take FaceTime screenshots while we’re talking on the phone. So it’s become a quest of mine to find a cool background for their screenshot from wherever I am – I’m in Manila and here’s a Sari-Sari store right behind me, and in Karachi, you can see the most amazing view from our offices. If I’m in India and I’m driving on the street, they try to catch a screenshot when there’s something cool in the background.  If they can’t snap a screenshot, I’ll offer them a few photos of whatever I saw throughout the day. It makes for fun stories along the way, a fun connection with them and a great collection of photos.  Now, they are eager to do the same.  They chose to participate in their first elective 10-day school trip to Hangzhou, China, this summer.  Every day I received a fun FT screenshot with a super cool background, and a new cultural adventure.

Find the benefits in the hardships

Not only does my job require me to travel, it sometimes means we have to pick up and move. Neither of these are ideal family situations, but they do come with incredible benefits.

I’m very focused on helping my daughters develop their broadened worldviews while creating a balanced sense of having roots. It’s not easy to do both of these things at the same time. Even though we’ve moved a lot, we look at each and every move as the next adventure beyond the rainbow, because there are new people to meet and new cultures to experience.  Good-byes are hard.  They are.  We embrace the German “auf wiedersehen”  (until we meet again).  And planning FaceTime and visits to friends made in other countries is key.  I’ve taught my daughters that although ‘auf wiedersehen’ is tough, if you don’t have ‘goodbyes’, you have even fewer ‘hellos’ in your life.  List all the fabulous friends we would have missed out on if we had never moved to Switzerland, Germany, Hong Kong!  If we can stay curious and interested in new cultures, it really broadens our own horizons. I think even at a young age, my daughters can see and appreciate that.

When you have time off work, seize family time

Life has its demands for all of us.  So when you have time off work, choose your family passion, and do it together.  My husband and I are both pretty passionate about travel, and so now are my daughters. As a family, we always have a running list of new destinations to explore.  Lucky us that Mother’s Day fell on a 3-day weekend so we hopped on a plane to Vietnam for a mother-daughters adventure. For Easter, we flew to Indonesia and took a boat up a river in Borneo to hike and see orangutans.  And we just returned from witnessing mating season among komodo dragons (that was educational, more than I intended!), and visiting Balinese Hindu temples and cultural rituals.  Fall break is planned to be Tokyo, Kyoto, and Okinawa.  (and yes, we must be ‘nuts’!)

Though I’m not at home as often as most parents, I make sure my time off is spent wholly engaged with my family. They get serious face time (not of the phone variety), and we truly embrace our time together. My sincere belief is 30 fully focused minutes of attention is more valuable than 3 hours together while unfocused and multi-tasking.   We adopt the household phrase “Be present or be absent, but don’t be both”.  (and my girls remind me sometimes!)  When I’m on the road or consumed with work projects, those moments of connection—be they our video chats or role-playing games—are just as precious, and just as important.

There’s no doubt that consistent work travel adds an element of challenge to maintaining family closeness, but I also have seen firsthand its fascinating benefits, and the deep bond that we create as a family when we experience new things together. Whether together or apart, our keen sense of exploration and curiosity is shared as a family, manifesting in memories that are priceless and unique to us, and there is tremendous joy in watching my children become fluent in adaptability, openness and perhaps most importantly, lifelong learning.

About Stacey Kennedy'

Stacey Kennedy is president of the South and South East Asia Region for Philip Morris International, responsible for the full spectrum of PMI’s operations in more than 12 markets including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. She resides in Hong Kong with her husband and twin daughters.

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