The primary reason holding me back from plunging into an executive MBA program earlier than I did was my son. Alex is seven years old and I am a physician with a full-time job at Duke. As an academic radiologist, my career was taking off in exciting directions. I was already working after hours and traveling regularly for meetings.

I knew an executive MBA was the logical next step for my personal and professional growth. However, I was worried that piling an intense program on top of weekend classes would mean I would miss out on seeing him grow up over his critical years. It’s a common theme among parents—the struggle with work-life balance, and the tug between your own ambitions and guilt of not being adequate at home.

Now with my first few terms under my belt, I can reassure you that it is possible to balance it all. I remain happily married and satisfied that I am doing my best as a mother.

How is life at home?

Alex did not notice many changes at home. I still took him to after-school activities (where I did MBA coursework), cooked at home (less ambitiously), and avoided working when he was awake. This was possible with organization and prioritizing the workload in my daytime job. My team was extremely understanding that my family time was precious, and we never had meetings on weekends or early evenings.

Early on, I recognized that quality family time was essential and that the perception of quality was not just mine. I asked both my husband and Alex about their favorite things to do as a family. Alex chose reading together, and bedtime conversations and games. We increased time on these activities and stopped doing most of the rest. It dawned on me that I did so many things as a mother that was my expectation rather than his. This took so much pressure off!

What about leaving home for residencies?

Being away from family for a long weekend is hard. As I packed my bags on Thursdays during the first few weekend residencies, I felt the dread of leaving Alex and my husband behind. I know Alex definitely felt my absence and was not a fan.

As a student, days at Fuqua are busy and exciting, and nights are jam-packed with dynamic conversations and fun with your team and cohort. However, it is very important to have the perspective that your family is spending the weekend without you. They spend those days missing you, and your spouse will be bearing more of the load. My husband is extremely supportive and I was sure to keep in touch while I was away and tell him how much I appreciated him. We celebrated when I got home and caught up on the news. Sundays afternoons were free from any MBA work.

Are there advantages for children?

Alex learned that I had to do homework and assignments, work with a team, and study for exams. He celebrated my Term 1 grades with me. He met my team members via Facetime and learned their names. He even got to name our team, as you’ll see in the photo below. Above all, Alex learned that his mother was a person that would never stop learning, growing, and challenging herself.

Jenny's family: a note written by her son that explains how he named her team "Pikachu"

I passed!

We only have a finite amount of time in the day. However, as a parent, you can manage an executive MBA with attention to organization, good communication, and a lot of gratitude to those that help you. Close to the end of Term 1, I asked Alex for feedback (business school teaches you to ask!).

Me: “Alex, what score do you give me out of 10 as your mother?”

Alex: “500!”

Me: “What should I improve on?”

Alex: “Nothing!”

Well, I guess I passed Term 1!