You Can't Have It All (At The Same Time)

03/28/2008 02:47 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It was the epitome of modern motherhood. Snow delayed my flight to New York and I was scrambling to find out whether I would be able to catch another. With the cordless phone pressed to one ear, my cell phone on the other, I struggled to figure out my arrangements while my daughter clamored for another blueberry waffle and my son tugged at my bathrobe. As a mom in pursuit of wellness, I have written about the goal of "being present" in each distinct realm of my life. But at this particular moment, all I could do was laugh. Sometimes it's just not possible.

The morning got me thinking about how despite our best intentions; it's really tough to keep parts of our lives from colliding once in a while.

I recently had the privilege of chatting with Laura Stack, otherwise known as, "The Productivity Pro." The mom of three is a time management guru who counsels companies including, Microsoft, IBM, KPMG, Cisco, Sunoco, Nationwide, and Nestle. Even the woman who coaches others on organization admits she had trouble balancing everything once she hit motherhood.

But the realization didn't hit her until she missed a major milestone in her 14-month-old daughter's life.

"I was out of town on a business trip...and found out from our nanny that my daughter had walked (for the first time)," she recalls of the pivotal moment that forced her to switch gears.

By the time Stack realized she needed to focus more on the home front, she says it was too late to save her marriage.

Suddenly, she found herself a single mother to a toddler and looking for work that didn't require any travel. But instead of giving up her dreams of speaking to audiences worldwide, she altered her short-term goals to fit her new situation. Stack honed a "laser beam" focus on drumming up business within driving distance of her home in Denver, Colorado. It was a counterintuitive decision for someone with aspirations to go global. But she decided she was going through a certain "season" of life and that eventually, she would be in a position to expand.

"I knew my daughter was only going to be two years old once. I knew I had time to be famous later," she says.

Eventually, Stack did remarry and had two more children. And by the time she did, her reputation as an expert speaker on time management was taking off. Her husband became an integral part of the business and today he often stays home with the children so Stack can travel far and wide to speak to corporate audiences about being more productive.

I love the idea of approaching the work-life balance as a season. Just because you shift gears for a little while doesn't mean you are losing ground or off the radar or that your skills are not as sharp as they always were.

I know, I know. In many demanding professions, downshifting or taking some time off or saying no to out of town travel doesn't seem like an option. It's tough to wrap your mind around the idea when you've been charging ahead for years turning your professional aspirations reality - or when you are the primary breadwinner.

I think we all agree that employers need to do more to retain off-ramping women and to make the work environment more family friendly. But I do think that it also requires an attitude shift on our end as women and as mothers in that at some point we do have to make some choices. I guess what I am saying is that now that I'm a mother myself, "having it all" at THE SAME TIME doesn't seem so feasible - at least when the kids are still in diapers.

I asked Stack for her advice to other moms trying to navigate this complicated, guilt-ridden part of motherhood and their feelings of "losing time" when faced with scaling back work to accommodate personal priorities.

"You have to think of it as, I'm not losing time - I am just changing focus," she says

Stack says the key is being honest about what one can really handle.

"I see so many women trying to wedge themselves into a job that doesn't fit...They don't know when to make adjustments...Too many women hang in there under the auspices of bravery for too long," she told me."

This week on The Well Mom, we feature a few of Stack's timesavers for the holiday season. And of course, while you are navigating all of the challeges of balancing work and family, you've got to make time to laugh. Check out columnist Carol Kaufmann's take on "Your Own Personal Daily Show." Be well this week. And if you or someone you know needs to be pampered, please sign up for our weekly email and register to win a free gift set from vedaMAMA skincare.

Check back here every Wednesday for more tips from Heather Cabot on how to be a happy and healthy mom.