Traci St Lawrence, PR manager APAC and Japan, Sophos, manages the unique challenges of parenting teens/tweens while excelling in a role that requires deep thinking time

by Liz Benson

Traci St Lawrence, Public relations manager, Asia Pacific and Japan, Sophos.
Number of kids: 2
Age of kids: 12 and 14

What’s important to you in a role?

I need a role that is challenging and busy but flexible. It’s also important to me to believe in the company I work for and like the people I work with.

Can you describe what’s involved in doing your job on a day-to-day basis?

I work with a team of PR experts around the world to identify different ways to tell the Sophos story. While my immediate responsibility is in Asia Pacific and Japan, I am part of a small, tight-knit global team so my day can include late night calls and very early morning emails to collaborate with my global colleagues from one side of the world to the other.

Did you have any personal concerns or worries in relation to family or out-of-work commitments when you started combining working and parenting?

No, not really. Although it does seem a lifetime ago now as I went back to work full-time before both of my kids turned one. I truly didn’t know what to expect or how hard/easy it would be. I was more concerned when I went back to work after my second child as managing one baby and working was tough so two would be harder, especially staying awake during the day when I was getting up around six times a night between the two of them.

What kind of support did you have at work and outside of work when your kids were little?

I was fortunate to have a supportive workplace that offered flexible working so I could work from home a couple of days a week, which relieved the pressure of getting everyone out for the day by 7.30am. This set the scene for me moving forward as a flexible work environment is a prerequisite for me.

How does that compare to now?
A flexible and supportive work environment is still a priority for me to be able to balance work and home. While my kids are bigger, they are still kids and while their needs have changed, they still need me around, particularly in the afternoons/evenings as we manage homework and extracurricular activities.

What are your work commitments?

I work full-time in a busy role, however, the nature of what I do (mostly writing and editing) means I can do it from pretty much anywhere at any time. As one previous boss said to me, “I don’t care where you work as long as you get it done!”

Does your role include travel and/or working across time zones?

Yes. I have a regional role but report into the US so I am dealing with multiple times zones all day. In terms of travel, it’s never easy. I try limit my travel and always ensure it has a definite purpose rather than travel for travel’s sake. Late night phone teleconferences are unavoidable but I try to draw the line at midnight. Now my kids are older, it’s quite manageable. They know not to disturb me if the study door is closed; although that doesn’t mean they don’t send me texts or slip the occasional note under the door, usually food-related.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced finding a balance between work and parenting commitments?

I used to struggle with the notion that I wasn’t providing 100 per cent in any part of my life, feeling as though I was spreading myself too thin. I’ve come to terms with it now and live by the mantra “I am only one person and I can only do what I can only do”. So, if the washing doesn’t get put away, the world isn’t going to end. The other piece of advice that keeps me going came from my very accomplished grandmother from her window seat in the nursing home: “Appreciate being busy, because one day you won’t be.” Sad, but poignant.

How long did you take maternity leave/time out of your career with your children?

Nine months the first time and six months the second. Both were shorter than I had planned but both times work had asked me to come back under flexible arrangements.

What advice would you give someone returning to their career after having kids?

Get a cleaner! They are worth every cent. I have had the same cleaner for 11 years now and they are my angels.

Parenting and the demands of small children is different to older children. Now that your children are in high school what has changed for you?

I think the biggest shock as a working parent is when your first child moves from long daycare to primary school. All of a sudden, you are dealing with lot shorter school hours and of course you now need to deal with school holidays, which come around a lot quicker for parents than they do for kids. Once you are over this shock and work out how on earth you are going to deal with 12 weeks of school holidays on four weeks of annual leave, things get easier. The best thing about high school is that the kids get themselves to and from school on their own now and they have to be out the door pretty early.

How do you manage before and after school now?

My husband and I divide and conquer on weekdays. He does the mornings so I can get out the door before anyone else gets up. This allows me to put in some solid hours in the office before doing the afternoon shift.

How do you manage their after-school commitments?

I get into the office early, so I can get home at a decent hour to shuffle the kids around or else I simply work from home so I am there just to keep an eye on things. Thankfully, all their commitments are close to home so I can drop them off/pick them up quickly and easily. Carpooling with other families also works a treat to take the pressure off a bit.

How do you manage/monitor etc their online presence (if at all)?

As the first wave of parents having to deal with kids who are digital natives, this is a minefield. While there are certain benefits of connected kids—I know where they are and they can find me too—there are certainly a lot of concerns with teens/tweens, especially in relation to social media. This can be what they are saying or is being said to them, or what they are watching on platforms such as YouTube. I follow my kids on social media and we have a rule of no devices in the bedroom at bedtime. It doesn’t always happen but it does reduce screen time.

How do you manage/monitor their relationships with others (if at all)?
We try to foster open communication and constantly remind the kids that they can talk to us about anything and that we are there for them/on their side. Sometimes it is harder than others as teenagers are notorious for under-sharing but I find it comes in waves so we try to make the most of any opportunity to chat. I like to take advantage of time we are in the car together just one-on-one for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are few distractions and talking fills in the time; secondly the trip is usually short, so they know you aren’t going to read them the riot act; thirdly, because you are both looking forward and not engaged in direct eye contact, they are sometimes more confident to open up. Sometimes, we just play music really loudly and sing really badly.

How do you manage homework challenges?
We have never really struggled with this as we have always put the onus on the children that they are responsible for managing their own homework, assignments and school responsibilities. Obviously, there are lapses and the occasion last-minute panic but I always think these are good reminders to be more organised next time. My son in particular goes to a strict school and failure to do homework has consequences, which he is keen to avoid. It’s therefore a great incentive for him to log off social media and get his work done. We’re always happy for the kids to have a break after school but then homework should be done before they go online etc.

What’s the biggest differences between their requirements, and therefore your schedule, between now and then they were infants/toddlers?

They can dress themselves! Okay, as long as they can find the clothes they want to/have to wear. It seems trivial but not having to chase around a toddler trying to get their socks on gives you a lot of time back in the morning. While they are a lot more self-sufficient in one way, reducing the physical aspects of parenting, they become more demanding in other ways. Evenings are always full on and a mix of sport, singing, homework, and assignments. Then add to this the social/emotional aspects you need to work through with tweens/teens and it is still exhausting. I feel there are a lot more challenges now than when they were little. While I would like to tell you it gets easier, it’s not easier, it’s just less physically demanding.

Do you find time for yourself? And if so, how and what do you use it for?

I do, actually. The kids are old enough now that we can leave them on their own for a few hours at a time. This has given my husband and me more time for just the two of us to pop out to see a movie, go to dinner or simply grab a coffee (and a sneaky piece of cake) at our local coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon. We also get to walk our dogs together now; it’s a great way to digest what is happening in all aspects of our lives and work through any issues without any eavesdroppers or other distractions/interruptions. It’s therapy and exercise at the same time! Win/win. In terms of total me time, I’m an avid reader and steal any time I can get to read. I also like a good podcast and have a few favourites I listen to regularly.

Do you have a daily routine, and if so, what does it look like?

The key to my morning routine is to get out the door before my kids get up! While getting into the office early helps me deal with the back end of my day more efficiently, I actually really enjoy it. I love an (almost) empty, quiet office, it’s so conducive to getting a lot of writing work done before the office gets busy and noisy! It also means that my day crosses over with my US colleagues, which helps move things along too. Afternoons/evenings are for calls and meetings.

If you could do anything differently in relation to developing your career over the years, what would it be (if anything)?

I’m actually a no-regrets kind of person so I actually wouldn’t change anything.