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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Kristen Padavic

My Archiparent Journey

The Archimom stories I have been reading on the Equity by Design site and other social media sites regarding women in architecture over the past few months have been inspiring and remind me of the trials and successes I have experienced on my journey. I don't know how I feel about being an #Archimom if my husband doesn't require the title #Archidad, so for now, I'll just call myself an #Archiparent or perhaps more fitting, general life ninja.

I am a 38-year-old mother of identical twin daughters and an architect. In the same year that the economy bottomed out in a city that had already over built the exact building type my husband and I  were designing, I was blessed with the surprise of twins who were born ten weeks premature. The first several years of juggling work and parenting were a nightmare.  The laundry list of things that had happened to us was long and daunting. Besides the pay-cuts and our tiny 800 square foot home losing half of its value, our children had multiple health issues requiring therapy and lots of hospital visits. I have vivid memories of trudging through the snow with soaked pant legs after walking a mile to my office in Chicago, starting another twelve-hour day away from my family only to get a call that my child was having an asthma attack and needed to get to the ER. And I won't even touch on how my employer felt about my "situation."

Simply put, our life was not sustainable or enjoyable.  I was a very angry and tired person who no longer wanted to be an architect. Having always been a vivacious, happy woman, very direct and called a "tough cookie" by many, the male dominated aspects of the profession had never bothered me. My first employer was a trusted mentor, advocate and friend, who showed me how compassionate and human a boss could be. He shared with me the entire world of architecture that is never taught at school and gave me opportunities most young architects never see. I had once adored my career. However, having children with health issues and finding little compassion in my new employer, my value system had been completely turned on its head. Without really understanding what I was doing, I quit my job and we decided that we were throwing all of our negative energy away. We deliberately reframed our lives and sent out that positive energy to the universe. No more blaming the world for making this all so hard, and we called ourselves to action. Let the mortgage and the hospital bills go, we pronounced! We had no plan but we had each other.

Some say it was divine intervention or just old-fashioned luck; my husband’s friend saw my "Screw the World!" post on Facebook and gave us a call. He explained that his little home building company down in Texas was looking to bring a design team in-house, and asked if we would be willing to visit Austin and take a look. We felt the universe radiating positive energy towards us, towards our decision to let it all go, and moved to Texas two months later, joining the PSW team as partners.  Our company has grown from just a handful of us in a little run down house to over fifty of us building well-designed, sustainable, urban infill homes all over Texas.  And most importantly for our family, my husband and I have been able to craft a very sustainable set of careers and family life. Our company philosophy is founded on this principle as well, so we are trying to help our employees do the same. We have hired six architects and designers, of which over half are women and several are parents. Our families always take priority and that is non-negotiable.

This journey has provided so many lessons, none the least has been gratitude. Gratitude is the gift that keeps me loving what I do, even when I put in late nights. We both work hard, but have a joint purpose and immense gratitude in this opportunity. The list I have going in my mind is no longer about what is happening TO ME but what I am making happen and what I am ok with letting go. If I were to catalogue the ways in which I am able to successfully work and parent, here's a stab at a top five:

1. Having a life partner who takes on exactly half of the load that life throws at you. My husband and I have different styles and preferences, but we both do laundry and pick-up the girls. We go to the girls' pulmonologist together and trade off gymnastics. We have a system of tasks and we over-communicate about it.

2. Pouting is not allowed. One of the most important lessons we learned from our parenting coach to help us with our very behaviorally intense kids is to accept a challenge, deal with it and move on. Life can be very hard at times, especially when balancing work and kids, but negative energy sucks the life out of you.

3. You can always change your situation. Reframe it, scramble it up, and move to Alaska if you want. You won't die if walk away from a house, even. Own your situation - you get one chance at this!

4. Exercise often and take stock in you. Date nights are mandatory.

5. If you are an employer, give your employees the ability to have the life you would want to have. Treat them like adults. Not everyone will get to be an employer someday, so it comes with an immense amount of responsibility to help them shape lives that are meaningful and manageable.

architect, lead project designer  


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