The trick to balancing work and family


When women become mothers, they have plenty of decisions to make: Cloth or disposable diapers? Feed on demand or stick to a schedule? Pacifier or no pacifier?

Yet one of the biggest decisions after baby is whether to work, stay home or blend a combination of the two. While there is no right answer, we talked with three Maryland moms to find out what they chose and why it works for them.

Blending business and babies

As executive producer of WBFF Fox 45’s morning news show, Kate Ansari was used to working overtime.Work family ballance Ansari WKate, Ava, Mclaren and Sajid Ansari enjoy Disney World. Kate works from home so she can balance career and family.

On busy news days, she worked around the clock to get the stories out. During a massive snowstorm in 2010, she even lived in a hotel near the Baltimore station so she could be there for her job.

“It’s a fast-paced business,” the Fulton resident says.

But not a pace she wanted to maintain once she had her first child, Mclaren. While pregnant, Ansari also discovered she had thyroid cancer.

“It’s challenging to raise a family in that industry, regardless of your health,” she says.
So in 2014, after delivering Mclaren and undergoing surgery to remove part of her thyroid, Ansari and her husband, Sajid, agreed she should stay home with their son.

“It was such a high-stress environment,” she says. “I just created a baby, and I just fought cancer. I didn’t have time to deal with all of this stuff.”

While she enjoyed staying home, Ansari says she became restless.

“I always have to be busy, always have to be doing something,” she says of her type A personality.

She decided to explore the more natural lifestyle she adopted during pregnancy and, with the help of her sister, began experimenting with all-natural skin care products in her kitchen. Their first product was a simple white body lotion, made from coconut oil, shea butter and arrowroot powder. They continued experimenting and, within weeks, created bottom paste and powder for babies.

By summer 2014, they had enough products to form their own company, Dear Baby Products.

Now a mother of two (daughter Ava was born in late 2014), Ansari works part time from home making and fulfilling weekly Dear Baby orders. She’s also working toward a master of business administration degree online and expects to graduate in 2017.

By working part time, Ansari says she can still provide for her family while enjoying quality time with her children.

“I just want to show them that they can really do anything,” she says. “You don’t have to have a normal office job. Work and life can really be a nice blended mixture.”

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At-home mom discovers new passions

For 13 years, Sue Sontag developed software for the U.S. government and government contractors, with jobs ranging from writing software for NASA’s space shuttle program to conducting satellite command and control.Work family ballance sontag wSue Sontag and her husband Chris decided it was best for her to stay home with sons Andrew, now 15, and Ben, now 13.

But when the Elkridge resident met and married her husband, Chris, she says they agreed one parent would stay home if they ever had children.

In 2000, their first child, Andrew, was born, and Sue left her job to be a stay-at-home mom.
“Initially, I thought I’d stay home two years and then go back to work,” Sontag says.

Their second child, Ben was born two years later, so Sontag decided to stay home another two years. Then, when Ben was 3 and Andrew was 5, Sontag’s father died.

“It just made family seem that much more important,” she says. “I had just fallen so in love with my children and loved being home with them so much that I just couldn't imagine doing anything else or being anywhere else.”

Financially, the family could afford to have Sontag stay home. So instead of returning to her career, Sontag embraced being with her sons.

“I’ve never gotten bored at this job because it’s constantly changing,” she says.

When the boys were young, Sontag joined a parenting group with other stay-at-home parents. She and the boys participated in the group’s playdates, as well as local mommy-and-me classes.

“You can’t just stay home with the kids by yourself,” she says.

Now that the boys are older (Andrew is 15 and Ben is 13), Sontag spends most of her free time volunteering at their schools. She tutors children with learning differences and helps coach the It’s Academic team at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, where Ben is in seventh grade. She also volunteers in the social studies department at Calvert Hall in Baltimore, where Andrew is a freshman.

Looking back, Sontag says she would have never predicted she’d be a stay-at-home mom. But she’s thankful every day she made the decision.

“My life has more evolved than been planned,” she says.

Sontag is enjoying watching her boys grow and says she could even return to work once they are out of school. If she does, she may forgo a job in software to tutor young children instead.

Dad stays home so mom can work

Lauren Russell says she always intended to have a career.Work Fam Russell WLauren Russell went off to work while her husband stayed home with the girls, often coaching their sports.

Since graduating from Salisbury University, the Severna Park resident has worked as an advertising agency art director, launched her own freelance design and marketing company, and started a furniture company with her husband, Kevin.

Along the way, she also had three daughters: Sawyer, 13; Gretchen, 11; and Libby, 9.
Life was busy, but Russell and her husband managed — until 2009. That’s when they hit a roadblock, Russell says.

“The demands of running a startup company are relentless,” she says. “Having both Kevin and me in those demanding roles was taking a toll on our marriage and our family.”

The couple called a “timeout,” Russell says, and re-evaluated their family’s situation. Kevin Russell decided to become a silent partner in the business and a stay-at-home dad for their three children.

“It was, hands down, one of the best choices we ever made,” Russell says.

In 2011, the couple merged their business, Russell & McKenna, with Maine Cottage, a furniture store in Annapolis known for its colorful, coastal style. Russell became vice president and creative director, while her husband remained home with the kids.

Family is still the “epicenter of her life,” Russell says, but some weeks she works more than 60 hours. She credits her husband with keeping the girls involved in extracurricular activities and says they are more athletic because of their time with him. Kevin's flexibility at home allowed all three girls to play field hockey year-round, she says. He even served as field hockey coach for their indoor and outdoor teams.

“Balancing work and family is not one of my stronger attributes,” Russell says. “As a working mom, it is one of the most challenging things I deal with every day. I am insanely lucky to have so much support from my husband and children, and teamwork is my saving grace.”

That teamwork extends to Sawyer, their oldest child, who recently became the unofficial “family administrator,” Russell says. Sawyer maintains the shared family Google calendar, updating sports practices and games as needed.

The extra help makes a difference, especially since Kevin took a part-time job last summer as a physical therapy technician, Russell says.

“Lots of sacrifices are made every day by each member of my family and usually on my behalf,” she says. “I am extremely appreciative and try not to take it for granted.”

Mothers Share Words of Wisdom

Three moms share honest tips that help them manage their choices for balancing parenting and work life. Sue Sontag chose to stay home full time; Kate Ansari started a small business from home; and Lauren Russell managed a family company while her husband stayed home.

“Develop a new support system. Join a stay-at-home parents’ play group.” – Sue Sontag

“Develop a nice nest egg. Live off of one income and put the other’s away (before quitting).” – Sue Sontag

“My main tip is to be flexible and to be OK with, and even find humor and joy in, things not going according to plan.” – Kate Ansari

“Be up front when scheduling things. I tell people that I'll call them as soon as my kids go down for their naps. No fake excuses. Let people know what you're working around. People appreciate honesty.” – Kate Ansari

“Laugh! A sense of humor about the absurdity of just about anything can turn a bad day into an exceptional one.” – Lauren Russell

“It’s all about managing your own expectations of yourself. The best thing you can do is love yourself and love your choices.” – Lauren Russell

By Allison Eatough