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Is Work-Life Balance for Women Leaders Even Possible?

by Deneen Guss


As I am flying home from my son’s wedding in Minnesota, I thought to myself, “Wow, how did I survive a re-election campaign in June, my daughter’s wedding in September, and my son’s wedding the following May, all while working 10-12 hour days full of activities and meetings, and I’m still sane?” Or, am I? Maybe I just thrive in the world of insanity? I tell myself that someday I will find work-life balance and will slow down a bit, but continue to find myself leaning in and asking my team to undertake new and innovative programs that always come with a ton of work.

When I was a teacher, I was always the last one to leave the school because I just couldn’t leave the work site until I was ready for the next day’s lessons and my classroom was set up for the next day’s adventures. Then after ten years of teaching, I became a vice principal, then a principal, then a director, an associate superintendent, a district superintendent, then a deputy superintendent, and now have the honor and privilege to serve as the Monterey County Superintendent of Schools. I have dedicated my life and love to education and have proudly served students and families for the last 36 years.

The truth is, as a woman leader in education, we can and do take on the world and feel we can do anything we put our minds to. We model what we teach our students, and it is how we lead our teams – with strong conviction, passion, high energy, and an unwavering love for the world of education.

When my children were young, I dragged them to every work-related event I participated in: spelling bees, cheer competitions, back-to-school nights, community service activities … you name it. For the most part, my kiddos enjoyed being with me, they were my best helpers, and were usually happy to share their mommy with all the other kids. I never wanted to be the mom that left her kids in daycare for exorbitant amounts of time, or be the last mom to pick them up. Well, I’m not going to lie, there were quite a few times when I was the last mom to pick up her kids, but somehow my kids always found a way to forgive me after just a few minutes of together time.

I always worried that I wouldn’t be able to be the best administrator and the best mother, because both jobs are demanding of our time and energy, and can be exhausting and exciting all at the same time. I also thought that as my kids grew older they would need me less and that the job would get easier. Of course, over time, I learned that no matter how old your children are, they still need you, and the job, probably because of the administrator over-achiever type people we are, never gets easier, because there are always new challenges coming our way. I also believe that moms are the best administrators because we know how to juggle many things at the same time, are flexible, patient, and most of all full of love for ALL kids, so we are always willing to go that extra mile, even during the hardest of times, like a two-year global pandemic. Moms and women administrators are truly superheroes: always willing to put on our superhero capes, so we can save the day!

As for work-life balance, with the insanity of a job with a million demands for my time, I’m not sure that I ever have or will achieve it. However, I am certain that somehow, magically, I must have achieved the goal of being the best mom ever and a darn good administrator, because my son crowned me “The Queen of Moms” with a paper crown that he made when he was ten years old. Still today, both of my adult children tell me that they never felt neglected or second to my job, because they knew I had an important job and others were counting on me. They seemed to learn through participation in my job, my community service work, and my insane and usually chaotic days, that if you love what you do, and you work hard at it, you can positively affect the lives of others and nothing is more rewarding than making a positive impact on the lives of others. Both of my children have grown up to be hard workers who are healthy, happy, and financially independent adults who are thriving. They work hard in industries that positively impact the world, and they continue to make me proud each and every day!

In conclusion, as a woman leader and a mom, we should not feel guilty about committing so much time and energy to our work, because our kiddos are watching us model a strong work ethic with a caring heart, and there is nothing more important for our kids to learn than that!


Deneen Guss, Ed.D., is Monterey County Superintendent of Schools.



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