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Working Mom: Jennifer Basso Smith, Group Director at Underscore Marketing

In June, many of us celebrated graduations of one kind or another. My oldest, Nadia, graduated from preschool. Part of the ceremony included the kids saying what they want to be when they grow up. I was a little miffed when Nadia didn’t say recruiter (kidding) and surprised when she said, “I want to be a mom.” I always wonder what kind of role model I’m setting as a working parent, whether I’m present enough.

So I decided to interview one of my favorite working moms on the topic of balance. How do you give 100% to two important and demanding jobs?

Jennifer Basso Smith is an accomplished marketer with 14+ years of experience at leading digital and CRM agencies. In 2010, she had her daughter, Sophia Rose and decided to take an extended maternity leave. During these 2 years I stalked her. Then one day she decided it was time to come back in a full-time role as the Group Director of Marketing & Strategy at Underscore Marketing.

I wanted to know what led to her decisions to take time off and to return. This is what we talked about when we got together.

Q.           Why was it important for you to stay at home when you had your daughter?

A.            It’s what I knew growing up. My mom was a school teacher, and she was always there for my sister and me. If she had distractions or other commitments, they were never apparent to us.

I also didn’t feel comfortable handing over my baby to a perfect stranger. My husband’s mother lives in New Hampshire, and my mother passed away five years ago. If we were able to leave Sophie with a family member full-time for the day, our decision may have been different. Plus, I wasn’t ready to leave her yet.

By the same token, I knew it would be temporary. Especially for those of us that get married and have kids later: You’ve built a career, credentials and a reputation. It’s hard to imagine resigning all that to be just a mommy.

Q.           How did you make your decision not to return after maternity leave?

A.            Lots of spreadsheets! We figured out that we could survive on one salary. We were lucky. I know that not everyone is able to do that.

Q.           Did you feel deprived?

A.            No, because as new parents our lifestyle changed. We weren’t going out all the time or taking vacations. Eight o’clock dinners at Babbo were replaced by Applebee’s at 6 PM!

Q.           How did you adjust to being a new mom?

A.            It was a lot harder than I expected. No one tells you how isolating and lonely it can be.

But Thank God I found this mother’s support group online called Mommybites. It was my lifeline! It turned me on to a 6-week class for first-time moms. Sophie was just under 8 weeks old. There were 16 of us and we all had the same glazed- over look. Am I doing this right? You’re baby does that too? I suddenly didn’t feel so alone.

When the class ended, I sent out an email to everyone to see if they wanted to continue to get together. A dozen women responded and I became the social director for us all. I’m always the Account person! We now celebrate our children’s birthdays together and get together as families with our husbands. I’m grateful for these women.

So that contributed to my stay-at-home decision too. I could relate to these other women and it was enjoyable to raise our kids together.

Q.           How did your choices affect the dynamic between you and your husband?

A.            It’s definitely better now that I’m back at work!

I missed being part of the adult world. My wardrobe totally flip-flopped. After wearing yoga pants all week, I wanted to get dressed up on the weekend. Even if we were going food shopping, I’d put on make-up and blow out my hair! I know that sounds silly but I just wanted to feel “pretty” again.

I missed the social aspect too. There were days I was resentful as a stay-at-home mom. My husband would call to say he had to work late, or fly out for a client meeting or take a client to dinner and I’d be like, “What do you mean?! I haven’t showered yet!” I didn’t like having those words come out of my mouth.

My husband is a creative director in the industry so it’s not as if I don’t understand what this line of work entails. Even through the frustration and exhaustion, I made sure he knew how much I appreciated him supporting us. And not only financially, but emotionally too. I know I wasn’t the easiest person to live with during those two years. My husband is a true partner and hands-on parent, which I know can be an anomaly. I’m very lucky.

Since going back to work, I’ve been able to achieve a balance between work, social and parenting duties. Before I was so tired nights and weekends that I was ready to pass Sophie off as soon as my husband walked in. Now I really treasure the time I have with her and we do more things together as a family.

Q.           How did you know it was time to go back?

A.            At 2 years old, Sophie was starting to need more than I could give her: More learning experiences, more interaction with other kids. Also, 2 years was about the maximum time I wanted to be away from digital advertising, because everything changes so quickly. Plus, I was talking to the UPS guy entirely too much!

In the beginning, you wonder how you’re going to get it all done, how you’ll make it to pick-up time, etc. But you do.

It’s also important to me to be a role model for Sophie, to show her that you can be both a mom and a career woman and you don’t have to choose between those two worlds. Yes, it’s a juggling act. And yes, I feed my daughter chicken nuggets and Bagel Bites sometimes for dinner because I’m too exhausted to cook, but like everything else in life it’s a trade-off. I knew in order to be the best mom I could be I needed to be happy with me first, needed to feel like I was whole again. And I finally do.

Jenn and her husband, Jim, and daughter Sophie live in Fleetwood, NY, a suburb in Westchester County.

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