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Motherhood, careers and Zoom classes: How three working moms are doing it all

According to a 2019 WalletHub study, Minnesota is the second-best state in the nation for working moms. But as COVID-19 restrictions continue and school is in full swing, balancing it all gets even more complicated.

Here’s how three women across the southwest metro are juggling motherhood, education, Zoom meetings, careers and a million other details.

Audrey Kennedy / Photos by Audrey Kennedy 

Valerie Amsden looks over her son Carson’s schoolwork in her Shakopee office on Friday, Oct. 2. Amsden brings Carson and daughter Piper to her work for online learning twice a week.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Valerie Amsden has been a working mom since her first child was born 10 years ago — as in, she brought him to the office when he was just a few days old.

“We converted our server room into a space with a crib, changing table and rocking chair,” she said.

Started by her great uncle in the 1930s and bought by Val and her brother two years ago, she’s the chief financial officer at Kelley Fuels, a wholesale distributor of petroleum products. It’s a flexible job, but comes with a huge amount of responsibility — she wears a lot of hats, she added.

One of them is mom to Carson, 10, Piper, 8 and Henley, 6, who are more than used to their mom’s Shakopee office. They’re all enrolled in the same elementary school, though Carson and Piper spend two days in-person while Henley is there for four. On distance learning days, they attend virtual classes next to their mom.

Working side-by-side isn’t just convenient for the family. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Val said it’s important for her daughters to see their mom working.

“I want them to see that they can be whatever they want. They can choose to be a stay-at-home mom, they can choose to work, they can choose to do both. And whatever they choose, it’s their choice. They can do anything,” she said.

The key to balancing a business and a family? Well, there isn’t one, Val said. She doesn’t seesaw between work and home — life is like balancing a dozen balls on a single plate.

“There’s all different kinds and they’re all rolling. Sometimes they fall off, sometimes we have to make adjustments to keep them on. It’s just knowing where they are and knowing what the most important ones are,” she said.

There are no easy answers or secret hacks to a work/life balance, but having a support system of family and friends makes all the difference. Her husband, who works from home, does “80% while I do 20,” she laughed. She runs the business with her brother and has a group of close friends who help when needed.

“I don’t feel that I’m solo in anything that I do. I’m fortunate to have had some successes, but none of them are because of me alone. I couldn’t do it without everybody else,” Val said.

Blessing in disguise

Photo courtesy of Neyva Nava 

Neyva Nava with her husband Suriel and their three children: Nathan, 11, Leyla, 6, and Jacob, 3 months.

Neyva Nava was six months pregnant with her third child when COVID-19 restrictions began.

“When you plan on having another child, you don’t think something like this would happen. Everything was normal until March ... it was a very different adjustment,” she said.

Instead of planning a baby shower or gender reveal party, she began teaching her two children virtually while balancing her full-time job. Neyva, who works with the Women, Infants and Children program through the Scott Carver Dakota CAP Agency, worked from home until the day before she was due.

“I feel more connected with our participants who are also at home. We both have kids screaming in the background,” she laughed.

Pre-pandemic, her 11-year-old son Nathan went to before and after school care while Neyva’s mother watched 6-year-old daughter Leyla. Now that they’re a family of five, Neyva is up at 6:30 a.m. to take care of her now 3-month-old son Jacob. After getting Nathan and Leyla up for school, she settles in at her computer by 8 a.m. — working right next to her daughter.

The three take a group lunch break and Nava sets the two up with their online classes for the afternoon. After months of distance learning, they’re practically experts, she added. After school ends at 3 p.m. and work ends at 4:30 p.m., they get outside as much as they can before dinner.

While her immediate family is nearby, she’s lost the physically close relationship she has with her relatives, who all live in Shakopee. Pre-pandemic, Neyva saw her mom almost daily. They used to have family dinners on the weekend, but with a new baby, social distancing is vital.

But while her schedule is busier, Neyva is counting her blessings.

The stay-at-home mandates meant she could spend extra time with her son and daughter before the new baby was born. She and her husband, who runs his own business, were planning for her to reduce her hours at work after maternity leave, but because she can now work from home, she was able to come back full-time.

The best part about working from home is the extra one-on-one time with her family, she said.

“You get into that schedule when working — dropping them off at daycare or taking them to school, picking them up and going to activities, coming home and eating dinner. ‘Tell me how your day is’ during that 10-minute drive home. But now, we get to sit down and chat with them and know much more. I appreciate all this time together,” Neyva said.

‘Give yourself some grace’

Audrey Kennedy / Photo by Audrey Kennedy 

Jamie Bell poses with her 5-year-old son Jacob outside their Savage home.

When Jamie Bell and her husband Jason moved to Savage last year, they were looking forward to sending their 5-year-old son Jacob to Prior Lake schools for his first day of kindergarten. He made it there the first day — but on day two, he was back at home, while his parents tried to balance work and online learning.

“That first week was really rough. There’s growing pains, for teachers, for kids, for us. It’s a learning curve, and I only know so much,” Jamie said.

Jamie, an operations coordinator for Medicare, has worked from home for years. But now, she’s added a 5-year-old in school with “12 hours of tornado energy” while coordinating schedules with Jason, a Minnetonka high school teacher who is now working out of Jacob’s playroom.

Because Jason is a teacher, the family has access to extra care through the school district that allows Jacob to attend an in-person program every day. But the hardest part of pandemic life has been keeping her son at home while still working herself, Jamie said.

Before, Jacob would hang out with friends, go to baseball games and play in parks across the suburbs. He was signed up for swimming lessons and T-ball, but they were cancelled. The yearly summer programs they were used to attending shut down.

“We want him to experience as much as he can. I hate seeing him miss out on things, because he knows he’s missing out on them. You can just see the sadness in his eyes when he can’t see friends,” she said.

Initially, the switch to online learning meant the entire family could spend more time together, she said. But now that high school sports have been reinstated, Jason will go back to coaching track and football — another timetable to keep straight. One savior is her color-coded kitchen calendar and the baskets on each side: one for school days, one for program days.

Jamie is making up for the outdoor losses as best she can. The two practice reading and writing together. She’s teaching him how to cook. Everything can be a learning opportunity, and there’s some major positives to working at home — namely, the relationships the family is building now that they’re together for most of the day.

Juggling everything is a part of parenting, she added, but it’s important to make time for yourself and allow for slip-ups.

“Give yourself some grace. Nothing will go as planned. Your kid will not get up at 8; he wants to watch Rescue Bots. You’ll forget an assignment. It’s not going to be perfect, but if you get through the day and get off to school and they come home happy, that’s what matters.”