Becoming a stepparent: How to carve out space for both caregiving and career

Jenna Vassallo
Mar 20, 2024
Parent and child work together at a desk

There are many paths to parenthood; regardless of how one gets there, bringing kids into our world is life-changing. One path often overlooked in the workplace is becoming a stepparent since it doesn’t involve parental leave.

We interviewed Jen Allen-Knuth, a former sales leader at Gartner and Challenger, newlywed and new stepparent to four kids, about how expanding her family has helped her gain clarity and confidence about her career.

Cultivating a new sense of self-worth as a mom

For the first 20 years of her career, Jen tied her personal success to where she was in her career:

“My job was how I assigned my self-worth. My job was how I felt about myself. If I was performing well, I would feel great about myself. If I was performing poorly, I was a mess.”

But a lot changed for Jen when she met her now husband, who has four kids ages 9-15 and she became a stepparent.  

It can still be difficult, but she intentionally tries not to fall into the same routine with work because time with her family is important to her. She still wants to set a great example for her children with work; but she no longer lets work be the definition of her self worth.

After decades spent raising the bar for herself and chasing the next thing as a career-obsessed woman, she realized two important things. She learned that continuing with that mindset would leave her unfulfilled and she simply wanted to spend more time with her kids:

“It's 3:30pm, your kids bust through the door, they want to see you, they're excited to tell you about their day…And so as stupid and silly as it sounds, it's like that door kicking open was a really good alert for me,” she said. “Like I've been staring at a computer screen for six hours and haven't left the house.”

Advice for other career-driven parents

As a working stepparent who has given both 100% to her job and 100% to her kids, what has Jen learned about striking the balance? Here are some of the top learnings from our conversation:

On letting work define you: “I try to be intentional about not falling into that same trap now because I have something else that matters to me so much. It's not to say I don't care about working. It's not to say I don't wanna set a great example for my children of working. I just don't want work to be the defining thing of how I assign myself worth.”

On how parenting helped her find career clarity: “Is this me conceding to motherhood and like motherhood takes all the things away that are important to you? And then I realized it really wasn't that. This is really what I want to spend time doing. When you feel two things pulling apart from each other, I think you naturally go where you want to spend more time.”

On raising teenagers: “I think teenagers are really cool because you start to see them showing who their future selves will be…It’s super, super cool - particularly with girls.”

On setting boundaries and taking time for herself: “I would say I'm terrible with boundaries. I tend to have this really critical point of view about myself, like, well, I should be doing this instead of that. That's where I think the partnership has really been helpful between my husband and me; it reminds me of things that I probably should be telling myself to begin with.”

On growing the next generation of female sales experts: “Eventually, I'm gonna get really old and crusty and dusty, and I'm not gonna write on LinkedIn anymore, and I'm not gonna do podcasts. And I want there to be a massive line of people ready to take that over.”

Working parenthood
Podcast recap
Work discussion

Want to hear more about Jen’s experience in sales, entrepreneurship and life as a stepparent?

Tune in to the full episode of The False Tradeoff!