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If you’re a working mother in this or any other industry, and you’re looking for a magical app or shared calendar that will help you find the correct equilibrium between work and home life — forget social life! — you won’t find it here, because it doesn’t exist. We’re all rolling calls in the car on the way home from the office. We’re all texting at traffic lights (but not when the kids are in the car, right?). We are all very grateful for the domestic help we’ve been lucky to find and fold into our families. We are all not going to the yoga class we so badly want and need to attend. We are all sure we’re not doing this right.
But if you’re looking for perspective on how to handle the guilt and which way to wiggle on the choices you do have, well, you’ve come to the right place. “I like to say my job has flex hours,” cracks UTA’s Louise Ward, who has three children and reps Channing Tatum and Colbie Smulders. “Twenty-four of them a day!”
Embrace the chaos because you have no choice
When CBS Films co-president Terry Press, a married mother of 14-year-old twins, went to stores in Beverly Hills (where she lives) with a six-page, single-spaced document in August looking for holiday gifts, salespeople laughed at her. She didn’t care. She was just hoping to find one gift that would accommodate at least 12 people. Yet, as of this printing, not one gift had been procured. “There just hasn’t been an hour,” she says.
Notes FX senior vp series development Nicole Clemens, who is married to writer Vaun Wilmott and resides in Malibu with their sons, ages 6 and 4: “I’m Lucy in the chocolate factory. Two sports schedules, two playdate schedules. This is how it is for me right now.”
Surround yourself with people you really trust
“On every movie I’ve produced, I’ve had a business partner,” says The Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson, whose kids are 15, 13 and 7, and who comes home to them and her wife from the set three out of four weekends of a domestic shoot — two out of four of an international one. “They have to cover for you when you’re not there.” Plus, she says, she has a “kick-ass assistant.”
People to rely on are doubly important at home. “The key ingredient is a great partner,” says Jacobson. “It’s knowing that when the kids aren’t home with Mom, they’re still home with Mom.”
Outsource what you can
Clemens recently hired a business manager to pay the bills and do tax prep. “I always thought that was a luxury item,” she says. “But it’s been three weeks, and I see it’s a total necessity. My husband and I didn’t have an hour to sit down to talk about bills.”
Adds Press, “I don’t do my own travel or my own laundry.” You can also find her at Subway having sandwiches made for the lunches she packs on “more days than I’d like to admit.”
UTA’s Ward has a babysitter who helps with homework (she and husband William, a Roar Management founding partner, have two boys, 10 and 9, and a 6-year-old girl) and a housekeeper who gets a meal plan, shops and cooks. “My nanny is very involved,” adds CAA’s Tracy Brennan (who is a single mother to 6-year-old Dash while repping Jennifer Lawrence and Kerry Washington). “My nanny is my partner. She remembers when it’s spirit day or when the lunch has to be in a brown bag for a field trip.” Seconds FX’s Clemens: “My nanny is the key; she gets it all done. She’s like our wife.”
Optimize your technology
“I marvel how women did this before the Internet,” says Brennan, whom you can find in the middle of the night online, signing up her 6-year-old for sports leagues, researching coaches and ordering uniforms and supplies. “If I had to go around town for all this or even had to order it during office hours, it would kill my day.”
Brennan fully works the apps on her phone: WAZE, which gives her real-time traffic-avoidance suggestions; and Facetime and Skype, which allow her and Dash to see each other when she’s away. As for Jacobson: “I use my technology to organize me.” She doesn’t procrastinate when it comes to calendaring and works the reminder and checklist functions on her phone so that her mind isn’t weighed down with extraneous details and what-am-I-forgetting twinges. “It’s a blessing and a curse because you have to know when to stop,” she says.
You don’t want to take tech too far
UTA’s Ward never will forget the day years ago that her toddler son came over to her and her phone and asked if he could “play with my work,” she remembers. “I was horrified. I realized I couldn’t allow the kids to see my phone as an extension of myself.” Since then, she doesn’t ever let them see her take a call. “I live two miles from my office. The pull of both jobs is so compelling and important, but you have to be 100 percent focused on each of them.” Adds Clemens: “I never walk into the house on the phone. I’ll go around the block a few times if I’m still on a call.”
Jacobson also draws a line. “I try to employ a no-technology rule in the car for them and for me other than listening to audio books or music,” she says. “There are significant transgressions, but we try. I love to listen to Radiolab and books on tape.”
Ask for what you need
Recently, Brennan had to ask her son’s teacher if she wouldn’t mind starting parent-teacher conferences at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8:30. “She said, ‘No problem,’ ” says Brennan. “People are always willing to help. Women have this reputation for not helping each other, but I’ve had the opposite experience. There are all these moms at school and in my neighborhood who are so helpful to me.”
Actively cultivate the time you do have with the family
Like other working mothers, Clemens doesn’t have the amount of time she wishes she did for her kids, but she does have a system: “We literally make Mommy or Daddy time,” she says. Each child gets a half-hour (whenever time allows) to close the door with a parent in the room and do whatever the kid wants. They also make it a point to eat together on weekends and each morning.
Ward used to think that eating together was crucial and that time like that would prevent the kids from becoming drunks and drug addicts, but she soon learned that she only had the kids for as long as the food interested them. Now she’s figured out some diabolical games to keep her young children at the table longer. One of them: She’ll put 10 odds and ends — salt shaker, ketchup bottle, etc. — on the table, then make them close their eyes, take one away and have them guess what’s gone.
Ward also warns not to underestimate the power of a long drive home. “I find the best time to connect with the kids is if you can pick them up once or twice a week. If you’re in their face, you get a ‘fine’ on how things are going. But facing down endless traffic on the 405, not looking you in the eye, that’s when they talk.”
Jacobson does school pickup and drop-off when she’s around. “On days they don’t have school, they come to the set.”
Make taking care of yourself a non-negotiable
Clemens recently returned to a sport she loves but had abandoned: show jumping. It didn’t make sense that adding a leisure pursuit would help her stay on track or even accomplish more, but now she doesn’t question it: “The smartest thing I did this year was go back to riding horses.” And while she still rarely gets to see her family and friends, waking up at 6 a.m. on weekends and driving out to Hidden Valley has been worth it. “The drive and the riding — it’s like meditation and grounds me,” she says.
Jacobson loves bicycling but can’t manage to do it at home, so she takes her bike on location with her.
As for self-care, house calls can become a priority. Brennan always remembers that there are hairdressers, manicurists and facialists who will come to her house. “You may have to pay more, and you may not get to have your favorite person anymore, but you have to choose people who are flexible,” she says. Brennan also sees a Pilates instructor near her home who has “very flexible hours.” Once or twice a month, Clemens will have a masseuse come over at 8:45, after the kids are in bed.
Exercise your power of ‘no’
Yes, learn to say no. “Don’t forget you’re dealing with people who never have heard no,” says Press. “It’s part of the biggest problem in our culture and our industry that people react to it like it’s a racial slur. You have to be able to do say no.”
Family can be a good motivator — and excuse. “With a baby, you work so much smarter,” says Renee Tab, president of Sentient Entertainment who reps filmmakers like David Cronenberg. Tab says she also used her pregnancy to “cleanse” herself of clients who weren’t quite what she wanted anymore. “You’re just so much more strategic about what your function is and how to get there. This is my business, and I’ve got to execute.”
Accept the things you can’t do anymore, says Tab: “I don’t have drinks, late meetings or dinners. That’s what my 20s were for. Now, I have to be laser-focused and home for dinner.”
Remember to enjoy the small wins
“There’s a feeling like you’ve gotten away with something if you’ve heard an entire This American Life,” says Jacobson, who also cherishes time to walk the dog.
Recently, Clemens had a revelation: “One of the things about getting older is that you realize there’s no later or ‘there,’ ” she says. “We’re ‘here.’ The list is never going to be checked off. Everything that has to get done will get done. You have to trust your process.” And, she adds, trust others: “Everyone around me has a kid. We’re all grown-ups. Everyone knows we’re doing our job and then some, so taking a half-hour to go to a school play isn’t going to affect your job.”
Tab explains that a fair amount of weighing of professional perceptions against personal realities does occur: “As a woman [in the industry], you have to be concerned about how much you put out there,” she says. “But family comes first. If you need to go to the pediatrician appointment, go. I wouldn’t announce that I was in a baby music class, but everyone gets that health comes first.”
And now that you’ve leaned in so hard on the job, you also need to lean in on the guilt, too. “You have to be able to tolerate feeling guilty most of the time,” says Jacobson. “You have to sort of accept that it’s a part of being able to have both a job and a family you’re devoted to.”
Notes Press: “I would love to live in a world where I think I’m a great wife, mother and executive — in that order. But I guarantee you, it’s like a slot machine. You can get two cherries in a day. Three, maybe, but I don’t think so. Every day, I pull the arm and hope for the best.”
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