5 Survival Tips for MBA Moms and Families

by   |  October 9, 2015

Mimi West Darden 2016

Part I: My Journey as an MBA Mom

I am a mother who can say I have tried all the arrangements: I have been a stay at home mom, a work-from-home mom, a student mom and a full-time working mom. Throughout my MBA and career journey I have tried different childcare setups. People often ask me which one was “the best”.  The truth is that each configuration was best suited to different stages in our family development.
 
Prior to MBA school I was at home with my twin boys for three years. As the primary caregiver I also worked as an opera singer and owner of two small businesses. I wrote articles for online publications and designed software programs during my boys’ naps. I taught music lessons and performed in stage productions at night. It was fun and exhausting. I knew the lifestyle wasn’t sustainable.
 
I discovered through building my ventures just how much I enjoyed business. I developed a dream to get an MBA “someday”, and my husband Michael was 100% supportive of this dream. In fact, he lovingly pushed me to apply to grad school many years sooner than my original plan. I surprised both of us when I got into a top business school, and so Michael quit his job at Adobe and we moved to Virginia.
 
For my first year at Darden my husband and I sponsored an au pair from Brazil to help with childcare.  My husband found a software engineer position in Richmond and commuted two hours round-trip each day.  For my summer internship we all moved to Minneapolis.  My husband quit his Richmond job so he could stay at home with the twins.
 
For the Second Year our twins are in a full-time preschool program, for which Charlottesville has an excellent reputation.  We didn’t want to do the Richmond-commuting-arrangement again. As such my husband is at home working on his own business ventures, as I did before Darden.  I like to tell people that we have switched places: he used to work for the big companies and I ran businesses from home.  Now I’m working for the big companies and he’s working from home.
 
In terms of adjusting to life at b-school, mine was a special case.  As a so-called “non-traditional” student I had never had an accounting class before Darden.  I was one of the most dramatic career switchers in the history of my school.  I also was a mother.  My husband and I were very involved in our church community and had both been asked to take on significant leadership positions.  On top of that, I had chosen Darden, a school that thrives on its reputation for having a tough boot-camp-like format with the case method.  It wasn’t easy.
 
The first year was not so much about “balance” as it was about survival.  Second Year is better now because I have more flexibility to select my classes.  I am the President of the Darden Music Club, VP of Finance in the Net Impact club, and a personal career coach to seven First Year students.  I also remain very involved in my church community and the Building Goodness Foundation in Charlottesville.  I see my family a lot more this year than I did last year, and that has helped us all be happier!

West Family

Part II: 5 Survival Tips for MBA Moms and Families

    1. Create your own support network the summer before b-school. Find and build communities over the summer and continue as school starts before your schedule gets crazy. Establish childcare arrangements and contingency plans. Connect with classmates, affinity groups, babysitting groups, church congregations, the Darden Partners Association and other parenting groups to establish a support network for when things get tough in the fall.

 

    1. Define your own priorities. The three-pronged stool analogy or “Unholy Trinity” is often referenced at Darden as the impossible balancing act among academic, social and recruiting activities. At any given time you can only choose a maximum of two to perform reasonably well. Be realistic with yourself. Accept that your experience will be different from that of students who don’t have children. Define your priorities, stick to them and don’t let your classmates make you feel bad about the ones you have selected.

 

    1. Set expectations with your learning team. If you need to be home at certain times for your family, discuss it with your learning team to see how you can make it work. Some learning team members will be more understanding than others regarding your personal commitments, but be firm and try to work out an arrangmenet that is mutually beneficial.

 

    1. Reassure yourself that this isn’t forever. First year is notoriously difficult. At Darden the late fall and early winter period is the most demanding from both an academic and recruiting standpoint. Be mentally prepared for this but know that it won’t be the rest of your life. Make arrangements to prepare your family for “Black November” and reassure yourself that it will pass.

 

  1. Ask for help. If you find your support network isn’t as strong as you were hoping, never stop asking for help throughout the year. Darden has resources in the Office of Student Affairs to help you adjust to life at business school. UVA has Counseling and Student Psychological Services (CAPS). Other schools have similar resources. Do some research and make sure you know where to get help when you need it.
More on: Business, Career Paths, MBA, Strategies
About the Author:

Mimi West is a consummate entrepreneur, brand and marketing expert. This retired opera singer and Founder of My Dream Teacher is now pursuing her MBA at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Administration. You can follower her on Twitter: @MimiGuynnWest.
Publshed: October 9, 2015  | 
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