Being a parent is challenging. The CIA workforce, who dedicate themselves to the service of safeguarding the nation while staying in the shadows, face unique hardships and sacrifices when it comes to raising a family and maintaining work-life balance.
We recently asked CIA officers to share their experiences and reflections on what it is like to be a parent while working at CIA. The response we received from our CIA parents was overwhelming, so we will feature some of their stories over this two-part series. Lookout for Part II, where we will continue this feature of CIA parent stories.
- As parents who both work at CIA, our concerns about our children’s safety can be skewed by what we do for a living. Charged with monitoring foreign threats to U.S. interests, we can’t escape the understanding that those threats could be directed at us or affect those we love.
- I made a deliberate decision to focus on my family – going to all my kids’ events, volunteering at their schools – which meant I wasn’t willing to do some of the harder jobs that others did, like traveling or putting in long hours. This impacted my ability to get promoted, but I knew the work-life balance was all worth it one year when I brought my then 13-year-old son in for CIA’s annual Family Day. That day, a senior officer spoke to the CIA kids in the auditorium and thanked them for their sacrifices – the birthdays, sports games, and other events their parents missed. Later, my son came home and told his brother, “I didn’t understand why the guy thanked us for all the things our parents missed because mama never missed anything.”
- I had my children just a few years before the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act was implemented. I used up every bit of leave I had to spend three months with my first child. I then struggled to save up leave for my second child a few years later. Unlike many male colleagues, the lack of parental leave back then has had a lasting impact on my ability to build up any leave.
- One of the best parts about being a former CIA kid is that, if you also end up working for CIA, you realize that sharing in your dedication to the mission brings you even closer as a family. Growing up, I felt that my family was closer than other families because only we could understand the unique experiences of CIA life, and we relied on each other for support during tough transitions. Engaging in this shared experience with my parents made me appreciate them more and helped me to understand the sacrifices our family made as my brother and I grew up. While having to adapt to constant change as a CIA kid can be challenging, the unique experience teaches valuable lessons about having resilience, an open mind, and a positive outlook. These skills are helpful not only if a CIA kid becomes a CIA employee, but in any occupation or walk of life.
CIA Childrearing 101
- My husband and I have worked for CIA in one capacity or another for almost 30 years now. Without fail, when my husband was away on TDY, something would come up for my work that required some weekend hours. With no family in the area, my only option was to bring the kids to work. It was then that I discovered that a conference room, known to us as a place for dreaded office meetings, was quite the wonderland to my two small children. I knew I could get a solid 2 hours of work in while the kids enjoyed a take-out meal and took in the magic of wall-sized dry erase boards and executive chairs that roll and spin.
- When my son (now 11) was 5-years-old, he announced to me that he had decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. To my surprise, he wanted to be a “spy inventor.” Intrigued, I asked what that was. His response: “A spy inventor is an inventor who invents things for spies to use and is sometimes a spy too.” Mind you, he did not know where I worked, nor had he been introduced to Q via the James Bond series. Imagine his delight when I took him to his first ‘Bring Your Child to Work Day,’ visited the table that the Directorate of Science & Technology had set up, and learned that he could, in fact, be a spy inventor some day!
The “Agency Family”
- The Agency offers great support for families, bolstering a sense of “Agency family.” The most heartfelt experience as a CIA officer? We adopted our child while on an assignment.
- In my current assignment, my management team is incredibly work-life balance friendly. I’m able to leave early or come in late for parent teacher meetings, school events, or medical appointments. In the past eight years, I have seen a very significant change in the mindset of leadership and management toward the parental status of employees for the better.
- One of the challenges I had as a single working parent is when I went on TDY. I have a special needs son who lives in a group home. While I was away, the group home facility decided to move my son from his apartment to another apartment without notice. Of course the facility didn’t know where I worked, but I had told them I would be out of town. Thankfully, my sister stepped in to help in this situation. I will say working at Headquarters has been helpful as I can work flexible hours to make sure I can attend doctor’s appointment for my special needs son and handle any health situations that arise.
- Life with a medically fragile child is hard, but being part of the Agency family has made it so much better. My daughter, who is about to enter kindergarten, is one of the happiest children you will ever meet despite a daunting list of medical issues. My story as her parent has been shaped by the love of family and friends and by the stability and support that the Agency has given me. When we learned at my 20-week ultrasound that our baby would be born with a heart defect that could be fatal, we were devastated. My bosses supported me taking time off to process the news, consult with specialists, and meet with therapists through CIA’s Employee Assistance Program. It was so reassuring to know that the Agency had my back at that vulnerable moment in life. After my daughter was born, it became clear that she would have to stay in the NICU for months. When my daughter encountered a number of life-threatening complications, prolonging her hospital stay, dozens of my colleagues donated their hard-earned vacation days so I could be with her and keep my job. I looked around at the other long-term families in the hospital—many of whom had lost their jobs while caring for their kids or were trying to scrape in a few hours of work through tears—and I felt so lucky to be part of the Agency family.
- My son has special needs, which can make things tricky trying to juggle being a single mom and work. There have been days when I have had to come in two hours late for work because I couldn’t get my son out of the house. I’ve had to take time off for his individualized education meetings and leave early to take him to his therapy appointments three days a week. Through it all, my Agency managers and coworkers have been supportive and understanding. My colleagues have bent over backwards to help me – from covering meetings for me to being a sympathetic ear. My Agency family has supported me, and I’m deeply grateful for their support.