The first time I thought I might be in over my head with this whole “Mom-and-MBA” combination, I was standing in front of the Avis car rental booth at Gatwick Airport. It was closed. 

I had been awake for around 18 hours, saying goodbye to my parents and siblings and “see you in a few days” to my partner, who would follow us to England later that week.

A sign on the car rental desk instructed customers to visit the south terminal, “just” a few minutes’ walk away. Easy for them to say, I thought. They didn’t have a jet-lagged pre-schooler, three overstuffed suitcases, and a car seat to consider. I checked my watch. It was just after 3 a.m. back home.

Leaning on the luggage cart I had just paid exorbitant exchange fees to unlock, stacked high with unsteady luggage, I racked my tired brain for solutions. My son, who had just turned three, started to cry. I thought I might, too. 

Instead, I took a deep breath. “Come on, buddy,” I said, with all the enthusiasm I could muster. “You’re going to sit on the handlebars. Ready? One… two… threeeee!”

There are lots of wonderful things about bringing your family along on a Cambridge MBA journey. I’m never lonely or bored, and I have the best travel companions around. Plus, the Zoology Museum at the University of Cambridge is way more fun with a pre-schooler. 

But there are difficult parts, too. 

Time management may be the most obvious. A one-year MBA is an intense proposition, no matter what your personal life requires. But mine has some constraints that others don’t, especially because I do my best to be home for bedtime. That means no after-dinner group meetings or late-night library sessions. 

I handle questions of time management using proven, technical strategies. I use the “Getting Things Done” method of productivity, with some pomodoro timers mixed in. I plan my next actions and deadlines in Todoist, track daily responsibilities with an app called Streaks, and sometimes I watch videos on the virtual learning environment while multitasking around the house. 

It’s the emotional dimension, though, that presents the greater challenge. After all, I’m balancing two completely irreplaceable experiences: a Cambridge Judge MBA and my son’s third year of life. Of course I fear regret. How could I not? 

In heavier moments, I practice grounding techniques, like box breathing, taking a quick walk outdoors, and feeling my feet connect firmly to the earth. I journal or call my sister. I try to trust that I’m doing the best I can.

The strongest tension, though, is about identity. Traditional ideas about being a “good mom” don’t always mesh with the platonic ideal of the always-on MBA. Meanwhile, the demands of being a great teammate or employee can absolutely coexist with parenthood. Dads have been doing it forever. But I still worry about discrimination. After all, I was laid off from a previous position while pregnant.

The only solution I’ve found is to identify and rank my values, and to measure every hour against that standard. I practice saying “no” to things that don’t help me to either nurture my family or grow professionally and personally. I believe I have a clarity of vision and purpose that couldn’t have developed any other way.

At the end of the day, I work and play – like a mother, and I’m proud of it. 

In the end, Michael and I made it to the South Terminal at Gatwick Airport. It took a while, and we earned a few questioning looks, but he’s still convinced it was a great game – and we only dropped a suitcase once or twice along the way. 

As I turned the key in the rental car at last, Michael fell soundly and immediately asleep in the backseat. I braced myself for a two-hour drive down the left side of the highway, not knowing what was ahead, but feeling certain we would reach our destination in our own way.

Family photo credits above – Amber Bauhoff Photography