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On Becoming an EP (Entrepreneurial Parent): One Woman's Journey

© 1998, by Saba Kennedy

On January 22, 1997 it happened! I had just returned to work from voluntarily taking off to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King's Birthday the day before. Unfortunately, that year it was not politically correct to make such a choice on Wall Street. It was a year before Jesse Jackson had begun the "Wall Street Project" -- the endeavor by Mr. Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition to investigate firms which have had complaints of racist or sexist practices. Sometimes I wonder if things would have been different had I decided to take off one year later?

It was work as usual at the global securities firm for which I had been employed in marketing and incentives. At approximately 5:30 p.m. I was summoned into the conference room (completely unexpectedly) for a closed-door session with my supervisor, who was armed with a memo boldly highlighting the words "Final Warning." As the conversation proceeded my boss' tongue became a whip as the words lashed me with every syllable.

My job performance was on the line and my time management skills where being evaluated. I was told I needed to re-evaluate my child care schedule. My present arrangements where causing me to be late and my periodic absences due to my infant's sickness was a bit much -- and technically not a justifiable reason to take off. In other words, my sick days did not cover my child's illnesses. Things needed to change I was told.

I began to wonder, is this the "she" I have always heard other women talk about? Is this when I am supposed to start feeling guilty for being a mother, or to feel like an impotent worker because I am a mother? After about 45 minutes of this one-way session, I was asked to sign this make-shift document which would indicate my having reviewed and discussed my unprofessional conduct the "firm's way." Was this a death sentence I had signed for my career, agreeing that one cannot be a loving parent and have a career? I was incensed!!!

As I walked out of that conference room with this solitary warning (marked Final!), my briefcase and evil thoughts racing in my brain, I caught a glance of my husband who was awaiting me in our black Thunderbird, with my two-year old daughter peacefully resting in her car seat. I began to wonder; "Is this all worthwhile, the prestigious Wall Street address, and all the trappings that come with it?" We were preparing for our daily two-hour commute to our townhome out of the city, a lifestyle we wanted for our daughter. (A lifestyle we wanted for our daughter??? Waking up at 4:00 a.m. every morning, commuting four hours daily, risking our lives on the highways, sleepy week-ends, and basically using our country home as a sleep stop?)

Well, I justified, everyone else is doing it and, after all, I am a professional woman on Wall Street -- I have arrived! Just at that moment my hurt intensified. After busting my butt, taking on projects, working over-time, eating lunch at my desk, shuffling my daughter to nannies, and arriving home generally past 9:00 p.m. nightly, the only thanks I received was a "Final Warning." This had to come to a halt! I needed to take back my and my family's life. I needed to follow my soul. I enjoyed being a mother -- after all, I had taken off eight months after she was born, resigning my previous position. Why else would I have done that? Unfortunately the guilt I felt as a professional forced me back to work again, overriding any guilt I felt in leaving my child in the care of a nanny.

I realized that this time around I needed to find an environment where my choice to be a parent would be celebrated. A coup-d-etat! I was going to stage a takeover of my life which began with a two-page memo in response to my supervisor's allegations. I outlined my accomplishments during my tenure (which helped to build back my self-esteem and re-define me in my own terms), placed a reminder that the firm knew that I was a parent upon my hire (this took away my parental guilt), acknowledged specific instances of lateness (this allowed me to own up to the accusations), discussed my documented over-time and "desk lunches" (this re-stated my commitment to my job and level of professionalism) and finally, I forwarded a copy to the firm's Equal Employment Opportunity Officer (showing my use of company structure to resolve issues). I felt so empowered!

I was quite surprised, however, that on receipt of my response there had been no further discussion on the matter until two to three weeks later. My supervisor had been away on business trips during that time, leaving me (the incompetent!) alone to run the office, as was customary. Upon my supervisor's return, I was called into the office and told about my "marked improvement in my work since our last conversation." I could only nod my head and wonder how an individual in a position for a year, on the verge of being fired, could have improved so dramatically in two to three weeks. I could only remind myself "give it another year."

The subsequent twelve months were spent planning and setting-up meetings with outside contacts to begin the formation of my company. I had decided that I would bring together my marketing, promotions, and communications skills in a profitable venture. My vow: "never again would I allow myself to be in such a predicament." No one would ever put me in the position to choose between my work or my family. That Final Warning was the hard lesson I needed. I took control of my career and my destiny in that twelve-month period, which even led to a raise (without a formal review) and the start of my advertising specialty and promotions company. I also continued to write for several small publications, doing restaurant reviews and personality/celebrity stories.

I attended the company Christmas party that December where I danced up a storm, then returned to work bright and early the next morning, armed with my letter of resignation and ready to begin the New Year very differently. This January was certainly different from the last. I started it by working on my business full-time, growing it pretty successfully with my business partner. I even took off on MLK's Birthday -- and oh, my daughter has started pre-school three days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and I am happily on hand for drop-offs and pick-ups.

My former supervisor? Well she has since had her own baby and from what I understand, has managed to negotiate a one day a week work schedule while maintaining full-pay. Rumor has it, however, that her "unproductive" work schedule is not good for the bottom-line and is being evaluated. She too may have to choose soon.

There are moments when I know I must forge ahead as an Entrepreneurial Parent because we are all leading and changing the world by example. Who knows? Maybe one day my former supervisor may receive her "Final Warning." At least for her and others like her, we would have built a place from which solace, encouragement, and alternatives can be found...The EP Community.

Saba Kennedy is the Owner of Jesa Promotions Inc., An Advertising Specialty, Marketing & Promotions Company located at 839 Scaleybark Rd. #2T, Charlotte, NC 28209 - USA. Phone: 704-676-0847, Fax: 704-525-7805, Email: [email protected]. Learn more about Saba on her Profile Page at http://www.en-parent.com/Profiles/Kennedy-Washington.htm

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