By Kristen Ivy

As part of my professional life, I recently had an opportunity to speak to a room of leaders. After it was over, there were a handful of people waiting to ask questions about the content and continue the conversation. But like so many times before, there were also some people lined up who wanted to talk about something completely unrelated. Something much more uncomfortable. Something I don’t have the answers to.

They want to know about me—as a mom.

No matter how well I prepare for a presentation, how poised and professional and articulate I try to be about my content, the conversations that follow will inevitably drift from the topic at hand to one simple idea:

“How do you do it?”

“How do you do your job AND have two kids?”

The simplest answer is that I don’t.

For the record: every day I don’t . . .

wake up and make my family breakfast,
make pintrest-worthy snacks for their preschool,
shower, dress well, and show up to work on-time and put together,
remember to send back the library books,
lead staff, lead meetings, generate new ideas, innovate systems,
sign the kids up for the next round of swim lessons,
write 10,000 new brilliant words for a book (like my friend Jon),
write 10 thank you notes (like my friend Jeff),
answer all my emails, return all my calls, and get home in time to make dinner,
play with my kids as much as they would like,
read to my kids as much as their teachers would like,
finish all the laundry, clean the kitchen, write a few blogs,
and get 8 hours of sleep at night.

I don’t. Because I can’t. I mean, is that humanly possible?

If it is and you have the answer, please send us the answer, and we’ll be happy to publish your best-selling book on being an all-star working mom.

But for me and every other working mom I know, I fail at this a lot. I’m not sure if that’s comforting or depressing. But all I know is that we aren’t alone while we try to sort this thing out.

So, I can’t give an answer to working moms about how to be successful at work and also be the perfect parent you always hoped you’d be. I have come to terms with owning a lot of “failures” and with knowing I will never have balance, but I will always be navigating a minefield of tension.

So, instead of an answer, here are three ways that I try to prioritize the un-doable, so that at the end of the day I have done more of what matters most.

1. People over tasks.

Whether it’s my kids or my co-workers, the people in my world matter more than the tasks at hand. When the day is over, if the people I’m closest to feel supported and loved, the day is a success—even if there’s still a pile of laundry at the foot of the bed and I didn’t answer every email.

2. Reality over Perception

The room mom might judge me for bringing store bought cupcakes to the party instead of homemade ones. My co-workers may be frustrated when I change the time of a meeting because I forgot that I was the “mystery-reader” today, or I have to run to the pediatrician again.

Every day, I have a choice: I can worry about the perceptions others have about my “failures” as a mom or as an executive. Or I can focus on what I need to do in the moment. Most of the time it’s just a whole lot better to be as committed as I can be to doing what I am able to do than to spend time worried about perceptions.

3. Authenticity over Perfection

I mess up. I let people down. Sometimes I don’t prioritize the way I should. Since I know I’m not perfect, all I know to do is be authentic about my imperfections. With my co-workers and with my family, I can be honest about my shortcomings and about my efforts.

I don’t plan to raise perfect kids; but I do want to raise kids who know how to work hard and deal with failure well.

I don’t plan to lead teams who respect me because I’m the perfect leader, but I do hope we can respect each other for our gifts and abilities in spite of our weaknesses and struggles.

For those reasons, I choose to work and parent with authenticity even when it means I have to own up to not meeting my own or someone else’s expectations.

I know some pretty remarkable people who seem to have more of this figured out than I do. I love learning from them and hearing their stories because they inspire me. If you have heard a story or discovered a principle that helps you navigate two worlds of tension, share it with us. Lets keep discovering how to do this better; even if we never get it all right all the time.