Yael Eckstein is president and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and mom of four (ages 14, 13, 10 and 6).
What keeps your plate full these days?
When my husband I moved to Israel, our plan was that my husband would go to law school. I was going to be a teacher, and then when we had kids I would stay home with them. We didn’t want nannies raising our kids—we wanted at least one of us to be around at all times. So when we moved to Israel, things really changed when I started developing my role there, not just as a passion, but as a career. At that point we decided that my husband would work from home writing, so he could be with the kids. We always had a local safta—a grandmother who would come in and help with the kids when they were younger, so my husband could work. We did this up until about 3 years ago, when my oldest was 13. My husband started a business, and now we try to take turns taking care of the kids during the day. And now, we have both a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old who are always around to babysit if need be.
What keeps my plate full these days is really making sure that everything at The Fellowship is coordinated. The Fellowship is really unique in the sense that we have a very clear work plan, strategy, budget and goals, deliverables, and programmatic implementation plans.
We oversee a lot of staff and volunteers, in addition to helping over two million people in 34 different countries last year alone. So what we really try to do is have that very clear direction of where we’re going, what we’re doing, what our strategy is, what our work plan is. So a lot of my time is spent making sure everything is coordinated.
And there’s always new needs, no matter how much you plan, so part of my role in coordinating all these moving parts is to make sure we are able to shift immediately to meet any urgent needs as they arise.
What does your day to day look like?
6:30 a.m. — My husband and I get up, we wake up the kids, and my husband goes downstairs with the kids and feeds them breakfast and makes their lunch. I get ready for the day.
7:30 a.m. — I drive them all to school, except for my second oldest Liam, who takes the bus. I usually make a lunch for him the night before, and put it in the fridge with his name on it (with a cute message). Then, I help Shimmy, our youngest, our baby, put on his socks and shoes, and get them all into the car and drive them to school. I drop off the little ones, the six-year-old and the 10-year-old. Then I drop off my high school daughter.
8:00 a.m. — I usually park my car on the side of the street and catch up on any urgent emails. After that, I go home, drink coffee, and eat fruit salad. I have the same breakfast every single morning: fruit salad. And I either work from home, or go to the office, driving around an hour commute. And many times I’ll have meetings on the phone the whole way to the office.
3:00 p.m. — The kids usually take a bus home from school. And so two or three days a week, I’ll have a babysitter come after school to be with the little ones for around two hours until I or my husband gets home.
5:00 p.m. — After work, my husband and I really just try to have fun as a family! We make dinner together, we eat dinner together, we watch movies together, we go for walks depending on the day. Usually, all the kids always have friends over. So there’s a lot of cutting up fruits and vegetables and snacks. There’s a lot of cleaning up. There’s a lot of driving kids all over to their extracurricular activities, like dance class and dog-training class.
8:30 p.m. — I start getting them ready for bed. My husband then takes over does bedtime and I go back up to my office to work the American hours with our Chicago office.
How does being a working mom impact your kids — either positively or negatively?
I definitely think it impacts my kids. Thank God, only in a positive way because we’re so privileged and blessed that when I’m not around, then my husband’s around. We don’t have much family in Israel, so it’s often just us, and so in many ways that’s hard. In many ways it’s also beautiful that they are fully surrounded by one of their parents the whole time. So I think really seeing their mom who goes out and feels fulfilled by what she does is meaningful. They also see me on social media! I’m on social media all the time and posting things that I’m doing at work, like bringing food to the elderly or heat to the poor. So my kids see me on Instagram and on Facebook, and they see what I’m doing each day, and I think they’re really, really proud that I’m doing such meaningful work.
What holds the biggest tension in trying to manage everything?
I’d say meals. My husband does a lot of cooking—he’s incredible. And also we do order in food—pizza and hamburgers and sushi. Or we have my big kids cook for the little kids.
Even so, I don’t have too much mom guilt because I feel like my kids are proud of what I’m doing, and I do think I’ve spent a lot of time with them. But yes, the fact that these four kids have to eat at least three times a day is definitely something that’s a little bit challenging for me.
What’s one resource that would make your life easier?
A full-time person to clean and cook would be amazing. That is the area that’s harder for me. If I had somebody just running the logistical side of the household that would make my working mom life a lot easier.
How does being a mom change the way you lead?
I use the same skills at work that I use at home as far as managing and leading others, whether that’s my kids or my staff. For example, I want my kids to be happy, and I realized the only way that they’re going to really listen to me is if they feel like I appreciate them, that I love them, and that I see them. So even when I’m having a disagreement with my child, I always try to understand their side, understand where they’re coming from, understand what they were thinking, and then try to lead them and direct them in the way that I think is right.
And I think guiding my children through love and respect is now how I lead my staff. You have to believe in your staff, you have to believe that they want what’s best, that they had a certain logic when they did something. So even if you disagree, the way to be a leader is to listen to what they were thinking and then share your suggestions, share your vision, share any information that you feel was lacking.
How would you encourage other working moms who are overwhelmed and in the thick of it?
I think the biggest thing is just being present. Wherever you are. And I think it’s something I’m always reminding myself of and I’m not always very good at. But I think children and parents are resilient, and guilt is really what brings us down. We have to be conscious of where we can do better, but feeling guilt isn’t in and of itself a positive value. It doesn’t make you a better person or parent by feeling guilt. And so I think the biggest thing for people who are juggling so much—like working executive moms who are maybe by definition a little bit overwhelmed by juggling everything—is just to be present.
Everyone goes through different journeys. I think it’s most important as a working mom to respect everyone’s journey. In my community and circle of friends, I did things a little bit opposite of how most other moms did it. Most of my friends had babies, were stay at home moms when their kids were little, and now are starting and developing their careers. I think there’s something so special about that.
For me, I was always the mom who, when everyone was having coffee days, would have to be working and running to the office or running overseas. I remember it was hard leaving my babies, it was hard leaving my husband with so many responsibilities. I would sometimes feel overwhelmed. It was hard juggling everything, like coming home from work and right away getting in mom mode with four little kids who needed me every day, every second. But I also remember just really focusing on the positive.
Find more from Yael on Instagram.