How can Mothers Best Juggle Time for Career and Family? For Answers, we Talk to Four Working Moms Active in Coral Gables. Truth is, it’s Never Simple
Story by Doreen Hemlock // Photos by Robert Sullivan // Art by Robin Morris
For working mothers, it’s a constant concern: How to spend enough quality time with the family, while still de- voting the hours needed to be a good professional. And then, how to find time for yourself ?
Experts recommend flexible work schedules, so parents can take time from the typical work day to attend school events and finish tasks later, perhaps when the kids are asleep. They also suggest building a support network of family, friends and others who can pick up children or take them for weekends. And they urge scheduling time for the gym and other personal needs, just like business meetings.
Easier said than done.
In honor of Mother’s Day, Coral Gables magazine talked to four working moms about how they approach the challenge. All four were finalists or win- ners in the 2018 Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce-AXA Advisors Businesswomen of the Year Awards. All four also are immigrants, who likely would juggle their time differently in their countries of origin.
Here are their stories.
WORK FLEXIBLE HOURS
As a real-estate developer and contractor, Monique Selman has always had plenty of control of her work schedule. She could attend her children’s school activities and then head back to a job site to check on construction. Or she could fill out paperwork for projects from her home office after the family dinner.
Even so, after a divorce and the death of her ex-husband about a year later, the British mother of two young children had more than she could handle in the Miami area, far from relatives. So she accepted a gig through her fa- ther’s construction business in London, where she could earn more, better afford household help, and receive greater family support – at least temporarily. She returned to South Florida refreshed and by then re-mar- ried, the children also a bit older and easier to manage.
“I don’t know how women do it who have rigid work hours,” said Selman, 50, mom to Jessica, 23, and Max, 20.
Though working mostly from home, she recalls time management with youngsters in Miami as complicated. She occasionally left the kids alone when she went for early morning runs. And her daughter still teases her about that one time she forgot to pick up the children from after-school care. Had she stayed in England, the time juggle might have been simpler. In London, adolescents routinely take the bus, metro or other public transport to visit friends, so parents need not drive them. “The bus network is extensive here, but it only comes about once an hour,” says Selman of her Gables’ Riviera neighborhood.
I know the feeling that there’s never enough time and you’re never doing enough, either for work or the kids…
What’s more, many British moms don’t work, able to raise families on their spouse’s income alone. That’s possible because Brits don’t spend heavily on doctors or college under their government-subsidized system. “In the UK, you don’t have to worry about [buying] health insurance, so I imagine that’s a contributing factor.
And there’d be no student loans to pay off,” says Selman. “In America, it seems to be expected that women will work.”
Nowadays, with her children grown and working, Selman has fewer time pressures. Heading up the U.S. arm of her family’s Albany Homes group, she can comfortably show up as needed to her latest project at 6345 Riviera Drive. She’s building a modern five-bedroom home with high ceilings, marble bathrooms, and a pool, a tree-studded development she aims to sell for $3 million-plus. “It’s really important to me to work to be a strong, independent woman,” Selman says.
Her advice to other working moms: “I know the feeling that there’s never enough time and you’re never doing enough, either for work or the kids,” says Selman. “Work flexible hours, if you can.”
Friday afternoons at 3:15 pm are sacred for Pilar Baena. That’s when the divorced mom who manages a dentist’s office, runs her own micro-business, and volunteers with community groups always picks up her Nicolas from school, come what may. She thrills in starting each weekend by spending time with him.
Baena is crazy about organization. She keeps to-do lists of both her professional and personal obligations each day, so she can “make it all happen” – work, family and fun. She takes pride in staying happy and positive, pushing what’s negative out of her life, including TV news. After busy days that often begin at 5:30 a.m., she likes to read action books to disconnect and help her fall asleep after 11 p.m.
Even before she became a mom, high-energy Baena was adept at juggling. She worked two jobs in her native Colombia, where she earned a degree as a dentist. Had she stayed there, life as a working mom likely would have been simpler.
Housekeepers are the norm for Colombia’s middle class, and some families have drivers. “Here, you pay more attention to your kids and everything that happens to them, because you’ve got to be on top of it. I don’t have a nanny. I have to drive my son. I have to pick him up. I check his homework. I have to do everything,” says Baena.
Baena has taught herself to write chores down to address the items methodically. At the Smiles & Sonrisas office where she manages a team of nine, she’ll stop dentist Jose Gurevich when he’s about to ask for something and get her pad. “I realize when I write down tasks and scratch them off, I feel accomplished. I feel my day is coming together, I’m getting to the end and taking things out of my head,” says Baena.
I don’t have a nanny. I have to drive my son. I have to pick him up. I check his homework. I have to do everything…
At home, she’s just as organized, teaching Nicolas to follow rules and not procrastinate. Yet she also coaches her 12-year-old that solid organization leaves more room for spontaneity, so mom and son can head out to the movies or ride their bikes to the beach.
Baena credits Smiles & Sonrisas for igniting a passion for business and customer service. She now volunteers with the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce and has started a micro-business from home, Little Detail Design.
She makes gift packages for companies to share their products with social media influencers, sometimes single gifts, sometimes hundreds. “I love it, because I’m a shopaholic,” says the 43-year-old, with a laugh. “It’s crazy all I do.”
Her advice to working moms: “Follow your dreams, no matter what.” And don’t let a drive for independence harden you. “You have to be open for love.”
FIND INSPIRATION IN YOUR FAMILY, BUT MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
When her eldest son David Jr. was diagnosed with autism, Mary Palacio-Pike pushed into overdrive to help him. The former advertising executive researched doc- tors and therapies in South Florida, and soon found herself traveling back and forth to Broward County twice a day to drop off David for care, take younger son Josh to school in Miami-Dade, and then pick David up. After a near crash on Interstate-95 and years of grueling commutes, she ended up sick. “I-95 still makes me nervous,” she says.
Palacio realized she needed a place near home where she could take her son for his therapies. By then, her software-engineer husband, inspired by their son, was working on an online venture for children with autism. In 2009, the couple launched Crystal Academy in Coral Gables, initially to offer behavioral, occupational and other therapies in one locale. Crystal has become Palacio’s life work.
Today, the academy serves 23 children at a full-time school plus another 30 for therapies, operating with a staff of 40 and a budget topping $1 million yearly. Among those enrolled: her son David Jr., now 15, whose lessons include running a mock coffee shop to help him master vocational skills and online banking.
Find 5 – 10 percent of the time for yourself. I think we need that to balance it all out…
“It’s very emotional, but very satisfying,” said Palacio, 53, of work at the center, where some students can’t speak and others scream in frustration. “I never thought I had it in me, but I do it for my son. Our team gets hit. They get bit…. But they’re the first to celebrate the triumphs of our students. They’re dedicated professionals who love what they do.”
Born in Cuba and raised in Puerto Rico, Palacio earned a master’s in communications from the University of Miami and worked in advertising at Telemundo, J. Walter Thompson and other top employers before David’s diagnosis. She could not have afforded to leave those jobs and cover costs for her son’s care without financial support from her parents. “I’m blessed,” she says, gratefully. She initially worked for free at the nonprofit academy and only began taking a token salary two years ago.
While she sticks to schedules with family for TV shows, church and other activities, Palacio still feels guilty sometimes for hours away at work. “As a parent, you’re always asking yourself: Is it enough time for them? Am I too tired when I get home?” She often gets short-shrift herself, no longer frequenting the gym, for instance.
Her advice to other working moms: “Find 5-10 percent of the time for yourself. I think we need that to balance it all out.” Then she adds, with a smile, “I’m still working on that.”
ENLIST RELATIVES TO HELP AND FOSTER INDEPENDENCE IN THE KIDS
Christmas Eve dinners can be lavish affairs in some homes. Marichi Tinoco-O’Rourke recalls making reservations at upscale Italian restaurant Café Abbracci instead. For decades, she’s led the business that her parents started, Montica Jewelry. Christmas was peak season. She had no time to cook Dec. 24.
“I’ve always been a workaholic,” admits the well-groomed, stylish jewelry executive. With your own company, “you’re on call every day. You always do at least a little something for work.”
When her children were young, Tinoco-O’Rourke used to drop them at school in the mornings and rely on their grandmothers to pick them up. Her parents would sometimes take the kids for weekends, too. The children still fondly recall playing chess and poker with their grandparents. She won- ders how working moms can make it without lots of relatives nearby to lend a hand.
Even so, it typically fell to her to arrange scheduling. For school events, for example, “I made sure one of us, even if a grandmother, would attend, because the kids feel awful if you’re not there,” she says.
I’ve always been a workaholic. With your own company, you’re on call every day…
As the kids got older, Tinoco-O’Rourke tried to set an example and encourage them to be independent. Her teenage son figured out his own rides, carpooling with the mothers of children living in the area, so he could join school sports teams. She also tried to show the children what company ownership entails. “Get kids involved in the family business, at least to make an educated decision if they want to be in it,” she suggests, “and to understand how hard we all work.”
Tinoco-O’Rourke came to the United States from El Salvador at age 12 and graduated from Babson College, known for entrepreneurship studies.
Today, at 52, she leads Montica with a staff of five, opening her boutique at 500 South Dixie Highway Tuesdays through Saturdays, with appointments encouraged. She also serves as treasurer of the Miami chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Though her children now are grown – Jack is 22 and Katherine 26 – Tinoco-O’Rourke recognizes that the joys and responsibilities of motherhood never end. Jack recently moved back home after college, aiming to save up to buy a house. “He does my supermarket shopping, and he cooks for me,” she says, thankful. Katherine already has bought a home in the Orlando area, where she works. Yet both Millennials reach out to mom for guidance. “I’m the one in charge of their tax returns,” she says, shaking her head yet smiling.
Her advice for other working mothers: “Use the family to the max to help with the children.” And as the kids grow up, “teach them to be independent.”