Women are bombarded every day with images of celebrity moms effortlessly able to be, do and have it all— own mega-brand businesses, win awards, have babies…and be able to pop right back into a sample-size dress for the red carpet. In her best-selling book Bossypants, Tina Fey conveys the image of a woman who seems to have it all, but she also states that the rudest question you can ask a woman is, “How do you juggle it all?”
Yet while it may be rude, it’s a question worth asking—but a better question might be: Can you juggle it all? Can you manage a career, home, finances, relationships, kids, elderly parents and passions? Do you struggle with the tug-of-war that is the “work-life balance”? Do you have an organizational system in place that helps you to achieve more in a day? How do you measure success?
We wanted to know. So we asked.
We spoke to three Long Island women, each with her own set of strengths and struggles, to showcase the many stories of how women on LI are coping with their unique challenges.
Ann Marie De Gregoria, 35, manages to squeeze in an errand whenever she has a free moment. Since being laid off from a high-paying corporate job, she has gone back to school and is juggling schoolwork, household chores, a husband and a social life while also raising her 2-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son. Her climb up the career ladder has come to a pause, and her priorities have shifted. Will they shift again once she graduates?
Linda Williams, 46, is excited to begin building her picture-perfect Long Island dream home in a few weeks. The envy of all her friends, she is a successful corporate marketing executive, throws dinner parties that rival Martha Stewart’s, participates in charitable causes and regularly enjoys social events with her husband. At times she used to find herself wondering if her decision to forgo having children was the right one. Is she really content and fulfilled?
Karen Perry, 52, is generally eager to get home after putting in long days as the owner of a business on Long Island. Most nights, a late dinner with her husband is on the agenda, but with her mother’s health deteriorating, her evenings now include regular conference calls with her siblings. Karen credits her parents for the inner strength that guided her through her divorce, helped her put her daughter through college and kept her focused through the growing pains of her now-successful business. Would she continue to have the strength to make it all work?
ANN MARIE DE GREGORIA
Minka Brzezinski advises in her book, All Things at Once, to not hold off on having a family while you pursue a career. “If you intend to have a family, then don’t forget to have kids.”
For Ann Marie De Gregoria, kids were always part of her life plan. “In college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in terms of a career, but I always knew that I wanted to be a mom,” Ann Marie recalls.
Feeling pressure to achieve a high-profile career, Ann Marie began climbing the corporate ladder to an executive position at Hewlett Packard—a job that demanded 50+ hour weeks. In her off hours, Ann Marie kept a meticulous home, enjoyed jaunts to the city and frequently went out to dinner with her husband. Then in 2008, she became pregnant with her first child just when the global financial crisis hit. Shortly after returning from maternity leave, her job was eliminated due to company layoffs.
Ann Marie was upset, she says, “for about 12 hours.” She decided that this was an opportunity for her to follow her passions, spend time with her children and to go back to school to become a certified nutritionist. A few questioned her choice but she says, “I didn’t love my prior path. I’m not sure that I could do so well working the long hours and not being home. Emotionally I want to be there for my family—that’s No. 1 on my list.”
As a real housewife living in Merrick, Ann Marie sometimes feels the pressure to be perfect and have all the requisite symbols of status. The key to her life now is balance. When she finds herself obsessing over her home being perfect, she reminds herself that not everything can be and shifts her focus to more important things such as finishing her schoolwork. She finds shortcuts such as using email and Facebook to stay in touch with friends, running errands whenever she is out, and doing almost all of her holiday shopping online. She also credits her husband with helping to make it easy for her to get through the day’s tasks.
At times, Ann Marie and her husband have discussed leaving Long Island because of the high taxes and cost of living. However, her family will remain here because, she says, “there is an energy here, a personal history here and family here.” In a few months, Ann Marie graduates and will become part of the workforce again, which will bring on a new set of issues. Whatever the case, her strong focus and love for her family will help her carve out a path to success. “I believe in the traditional woman and I believe in the modern woman. The beauty today is that you can create your own life’s identity.”
Linda Williams refers to herself as a DINKWAD (Dual Income No Kids With A Dog) and for the most part, has no regrets. Instead of having a family early on in her life, her career was her priority. Linda says, “Career was the place I got to be me and where I became the person that I wanted to be. Babies were not on my mind—I wanted to find the right person first.”
When the right person did come along, Linda was 35, and she and her second husband soon attempted to conceive. After suffering two miscarriages, her mother died suddenly. At that point, Linda came to terms with her struggles and decided to embrace a new dream. “With my mother dying around the time of my miscarriages, there was just too much loss. I don’t want my life to be about what I don’t have—so I chose to accept my path and move in a different direction.”
Taking charge of her career, Linda started her own business, but then life took another turn. As with many middle-aged adults, Linda took on the role of caregiver when her beloved father became very ill. According to the Society of Human Research Management, there is significant growth in the number of workers today with eldercare responsibilities. She closed her business and took a job where she would have the flexibility to go back and forth to Quogue, where her father was living, until his death in 2008. Shifting gears once again, Linda pursued a high-level career and currently is the North American Regional Director of Consumer Marketing for Ottobock.
Linda enjoys a very full life and explains to her friends that she can do everything that she does, “because I don’t have children.”
She and her husband are early adopters to the latest technology and credit this with making their lives more efficient. She uses FaceTime on her iPhone when she travels, birthdayalarm.com as a reminder for birthdays, catalogchoice.com to eliminate mail clutter and all forms of online shopping keeps her routine streamlined and organized. She also makes the most of every day—getting up early to go to the gym at 6 a.m., cooking extra meals at one time and she knows not to over-commit herself to anything. In addition, she and her husband share responsibilities as a team, 50-50.
They are currently working on building their dream home in Babylon, and for them, being on Long Island is a choice. “On Long Island, there is lots of competition on who has it better—it’s hard not to get caught up in it all. I was offered to go to Minneapolis for my job, but we would like to stay here. Long Island has a lot here, including access to Manhattan and the Hamptons.”
Typically, when Linda and her husband spend time with their friends who have kids, she says “I don’t know how they do it—I have so much admiration and respect for them.” Rather than being haunted by what they don’t have, Linda and her husband accept the choice they made to not have kids and do not feel that they are lacking in any way. She explains, “This is my story—there is no one perfect plan. The flexibility of my jobs, and my attitude, allowed me to go after what I wanted and manage the course of my life.”
More Magazine recently published a survey stating that 43 percent of professional women aged 35 to 60 said that they are less ambitious today than they were 10 years ago. In addition, 40 percent said that they would take a decrease in pay for more flexibility at work. Karen Perry, founder and president of Event Journal, Inc., credits flexibility for her steady success in her life. When she was raising her daughter as a single parent, taking a commission-based job in sales suited her needs. “Being in sales was very liberating. I was always able to close sales and produce results so I could go to pick my daughter up at school. It wouldn’t have worked with a structured job,” she says.
For Karen, having a child was one of the things that she wanted to do in her life, but not all.
“My life needs to be about more than just a family, more than just a job, more than just me: I do want it all.” Following her goals of having a multifaceted life, she met her first husband in college, married and had her daughter while she was in graduate school. However, Karen soon did what many married women do, “I hooked my star to someone else— I bought into the myth that a woman should count on a man and I lost my power for a while.” When her husband was faced with a huge career setback and could no longer provide for the family emotionally, monetarily or physically, Karen had to take charge and find a way to pay the mortgage and raise their daughter.
While she juggled her sales job at a TV station with childcare responsibilities, she soon began to craft a concept for a business. Emboldened by her husband’s lack of support of her idea, she knew she deserved better. She got a divorce and sought out the support of a group of women friends to help ease her doubts and pushed her to get started. Ten years later, Event Journal is a success and continues to grow each year.
Karen’s life seems perfect from the outside. “For a long time I believed in perfection, especially in my 20s. It puts a lot of pressure on a person. In my 40s I let that go and I am much happier.” She is a continual multi-tasker and has no set schedule. Anything that is important to her, she makes time for, including finally finding the right guy in husband number two. She fits in errands on the way to and from appointments with clients. Other tasks are done online, such as her shopping, banking and scheduling trips. An avid reader, Karen uses goodreads.com to find out what her friends are reading and what books she should download to her Kindle. Currently a “weekend warrior,” the one thing Karen wishes she had more time for is the gym, which would mean getting up earlier during the week to fit it in.
Karen feels that to be a successful woman on Long Island can be a challenge. “I was divorced and had to pay the mortgage by myself. To afford a middle-class lifestyle on Long Island you need to make a six-figure income.” Karen believes that to do it yourself, women need to stay in their careers. “To take the time out from working and to stay at home with your kids, you sacrifice your earnings ability. The bar is high here, the cost of living is so high, and it is very competitive. That’s the tradeoff to be here on Long Island. Always work—it’s a smart move. Then you can always fall back on yourself. If not, you give up your economic independence and that leaves you vulnerable.”
Throughout it all, Karen’s fundamental belief in herself hasn’t changed. “People constantly tell me that I am ‘lucky,’” she says, “and maybe there’s an element of luck to it, but we make our own way. I always had a positive attitude that I would figure it out. There is no direct life path— it’s a leap of faith. It’s believing in possibilities.”
Although they have different stories, all the women here share commonalities – the search for flexibility, the ability to adapt to life’s challenges, a strong support system, the belief in education and a deep inner strength. Like women everywhere, they are utilizing the technological innovations that are now at our fingertips, to help them get through the day. They also all call Long Island their home and agree that living on Long Island costs a lot, but it also affords a lot.