An Exceptional Journey: Lessons on Working Motherhood from Janice Dean

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I recently came upon the story of Janice Dean, a meteorologist for the FOXNews channel and mother of two young boys. Janice’s story of working motherhood was particularly interesting to me, as she has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. My blog, the PRIMARY DILEMMA, is about diversity among working mothers and the challenges that they face.

Janice’s story of managing working motherhood with MS, amplifies the challenges of work-family balance and I thought could teach us all something about ourselves. I spoke with Janice on the phone, and the interview was thought-provoking and inspiring. The following are lessons that all working moms can learn from Janice’s exceptional journey.

Janice was diagnosed with MS in 2005. At the time of her diagnosis, she was a professional, unmarried young woman. Her career was her life and she was thriving in the tough world of media. Janice could have cursed her disease as an obstacle to her professional success; instead she recognized it as a signal to change her life’s path. “The disease forced me to slow down and take stock of what’s important to me. It made me want to be a wife, a mother, to embrace living.”

LESSON 1: Live with openness to the possibilities.

In Janice’s words, “Today is history, tomorrow is a mystery.” As much as Janice’s diagnosis with MS in 2005 was a shock, a marriage proposal in 2007 was a welcome surprise. Sean, Janice’s now-husband, explained that he was not afraid of her disease and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Sean and Janice were married in 2007. Equally as surprising, Janice was encouraged by her doctors to become pregnant despite her MS. In fact, pregnancy is believed to reduce the number of MS exacerbations. Her pregnancies were successful and in rapid succession, yielding two beautiful sons, who are now 2 ½ years old and 6 months old. You can’t always control the path ahead but with openness and flexibility, you can find the good in situations that look bad.

LESSON 2: Find a partnership that works.

Successful working motherhood requires some kind of parenting partnerships with a spouse, grandparent, nanny, etc. No working mother can do it alone. When you have health limitations, a good partnership is even more critical. Janice credits the partnership that she shares with her husband as hugely enabling her work-family balance. Her husband is a fireman. His job is intense, but the hours are contained. He works close to home and is able to manage doctor appointments and play dates for the boys. Janice also has a nanny. Janice is the primary career in her family, or Workable, and she has developed partnerships to support that role. All working mothers need open communication and role definition with a partner. The partnership will not always mean equal division of career and childcare but it will yield a formula that can create balance for all.

LESSON 3: Recognize your limits.

Janice amazed me with her energy and drive. But she also amazed me with her humility and restraint. Against the advice of colleagues, Janice shared the truth about her condition with FOXNews, her employer. This could have derailed her career. But Janice felt that if she was upfront, everyone would benefit. FOXNews has been entirely supportive and Janice is not pressured to hide her condition or push beyond her limits. Janice knows that she needs to conserve her energy to be physically strong for the important things in her life. She is not embarrassed to take time for herself to rest and recharge. We can all learn from this. Every working mom needs to be honest about her limits and sometimes say “no.”

LESSON 4: Know Your Motivation.

Know your motivations, whether it is career achievement, time with your kids, whatever. And then create a personal plan to support them. I asked Janice why she does what she does. She replied, “I want to live a brave and full life to make my sons proud.”

Janice is a remarkable working mom, an advocate for people living with MS and an inspiration for us all.

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