Genius Expert: How to Be Ringmaster of the Working Motherhood Circus

photo of Jennifer Folsom with her three sons

Jennifer Folsom is a dynamic leader with a proven record of growing all sizes of professional services firms. A human capital expert, she embraces a people-centered approach to drive revenue in organizations from start ups to large companies.

Jennifer knows that living your whole best life is the ultimate key to success. She's the mom of three sons, 17-year-old twins and a 12-year-old firecracker. Jennifer is also a wife, daughter, sister, friend, yogi, soccer player, amateur farm-to-table chef, paddleboarder, runner, reader and writer. Her book The Ringmaster, a practical guide to modern working motherhood, is available now.

jennifer folsom headshot
Jennifer Folsom
SignUpGenius: Can you share a bit about your family and career? What inspired you to speak out about working motherhood?

Jennifer Folsom: I first became a working mother when I learned I was pregnant with twins — the day after 9/11 — in my second year of a very intense, full-time MBA program at Georgetown University. I took a career pivot away from investment banking and into consulting, and when my then Managing Director rescinded a recommended promotion because I "couldn't handle the next level with my responsibilities at home," I knew there had to be a better way.

SUG: You advise moms to avoid the pressure to create work-life balance and embrace the circus instead. How can this idea help empower working moms?

Folsom: We need to stop chasing some fictitious balance. It just doesn't exist. And in our quest for balance, we constantly feel like we're falling short. We're too slow on the promotion track. We aren't classroom parents. We don't make enough to pay for daycare AND save for college. We are too exhausted after a 10-hour day and hour commute to read to our kids at bedtime. Moms, you're doing just fine. There is no single perfect way to do this.

SUG: What are some ways busy families can fit in time together during the week?

Folsom: Find the moments of connection that matter most to you and your family for the stage you're in, regardless of what everyone else around you is doing. When my kids were younger, keeping them up until Dad got home late in the evening was a disaster. So we did family breakfast instead. Connect 1:1 on the carpool ride home. Or when you're reading and doing your bedtime routine. Despite packed teenager schedules we try to do family dinner most nights, even for 20 minutes (allowing friends to join has made this a more popular option).

SUG: How are the challenges you juggle different now that your kids are teenagers? What are the biggest challenges for working mothers with younger kids?

Folsom: The early years are flat-out physically exhausting. Sleepless nights and nursing and pumping and early wake-ups no matter what, that just wears you out. But the exhaustion shifts as the kids get older and the emotional exhaustion? Wow, that really surprised me. There are plenty of books to read and a neighborhood or online parent group to get you through potty training, but how to help your daughter get through high school with severe anxiety? That's one heck of a lot more complicated. I have found the teenage parenting years to be very isolating. No one wants to talk about the struggles with their children. But I'm out of the dark on this one. I need the support of my village — we all do — and the only way to get that support is to ask for it.

SUG: We know self-care is important along with supporting our families, but it can be the first to go when things get busy. How do you make time for yourself?

Folsom: When my boys were younger, self-care meant overlooking Mount Laundry and instead, sneaking out for a pedicure during naptime. As they — and I — have gotten older, self-care looks a lot more like a daily commitment to my meditation practice, a focus on getting good sleep, and giving myself permission to let myself off the hook.

SUG: What are some of the most meaningful ways companies can support working parents?

Folsom: Hire professionals and treat them as such. Schedule flexibility, around time and place of work, is the number one factor for retention of key talent. Every study shows that, and anecdotally we know that it works because every family and working parent has different needs. Managers: give your working parent employees clear goals and metrics and let them do their job how it works best for them. You will gain loyalty and productivity beyond belief. And lead by example! Don't slink out at 4:30 p.m., proudly announce to your team that you're driving the ballet carpool tonight and if anyone needs you, they know how to find you!

SUG: The chaos is real, but what are some of your favorite things about life as a working mom?

Folsom: This juggle has pushed me to my limits, to achieve more than I ever thought possible. Whether it's doing ALL THE THINGS before 8:00 a.m. or getting to the executive level while being a very hands-on mom. The infringing gray hair, the laugh lines, the career tradeoffs that didn't always make sense in the moment, they have all been worth it.

We are so grateful for Jennifer's genius perspective on working motherhood! For more practical tips, check out our article on how to stay organized as a mom.