Audra with her daughter Penelope and husband Ben
Two years ago, Audra Miller was a burnt-out educator. After 14 years of teaching early childhood, both in the U.S. and abroad, COVID had pushed her over the edge.
“I loved teaching, and the children are what brought me back year after year,” she says. “However, the lack of support and endless demands were wreaking havoc on my mental health.”
Audra didn’t want to “give up” when so many children needed her. “I felt like a failure,” she says. “After all, my entire college career reflected my love for the education field. This was what I was meant to do, but I struggled because I wasn’t able to teach the way I knew was best for the kids. I was also neglecting myself over and over again because, as a teacher, taking the time you need is usually not an option, but instead an inconvenience.”
Luckily, fate stepped in at the right time. Audra met someone who worked for 2U and knew several former educators at the company who were quick to share how much happier and fulfilled they are in their careers. After reviewing 2U’s mission in-depth and discussing the company’s culture with her friend, Audra decided to apply.
“I knew there’d still be opportunities for me to utilize my coaching and mentoring skills I had cultivated as a tenured educator,” Audra says. “I had nothing to lose and everything to gain—most of all, my happiness!”
But one week after she accepted a position at 2U as a senior admissions counselor, fate stepped in again. That’s when Audra and her husband unexpectedly found themselves in the midst of the adoption process.
“With everything that’s happened over the last two years, it’s still surreal to me that I’m able to prioritize my marriage, family, and mental and emotional health at 2U and know I won’t be scrutinized or penalized for doing so. That’s what I love most about this company: They value the people who make up their workforce. As a result, we thrive, and so does 2U.”
Now the inaugural global chair of PCNet, 2U’s new Business Resource Network (BRN) for parents and caregivers, Audra recently shared how she’s been able to strike a better work-life balance at 2U, the “super power” she’s discovered in herself as a working parent, and advice she has for other parents and caregivers considering 2U for their next career.
Everyone in the family beams bright on the day Penelope's adoption became official
Wow, Audra, you’ve had quite the personal and professional journey these last two years. We’re so glad you found your way to us and are thriving! How would you describe your journey so far as the newly adoptive parent of your now-six-year-old cousin—and how are you able to strike the work-life balance you need at 2U?
The beginning was so hard. Our lives literally changed overnight. We struggled with infertility for eight years and had pretty much given up on the idea of becoming parents. When Penelope came into our lives, my husband Ben was working as an overnight supervisor at Whole Foods, and I was working all day at 2U. We were like ships in the night, round-the-clock taking care of our precious little girl who was working through some intense trauma. Our daughter was waking up five to six times a night, and our days were filled with navigating tantrums. I utilized my early childhood education skills to help her catch up to where she should have been as a four-year-old by designing a preschool curriculum to meet her needs. Yes—this was in addition to working all day long as an admissions counselor. I was exhausted!
I’ve always struggled with anxiety, but the drastic changes in our lives was more loss of control than I could handle. While I’ve found positive changes through counseling and medication, I still put a lot of pressure on myself to excel at everything, including being a mom. But I plan time for myself each day and that helps me be the best version of myself for everyone—most importantly, my daughter.
Oh yes, self-care is so important when raising a child. So, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve personally overcome as a working parent—and what “super power” have you discovered for yourself in working through them?
Personally, I’ve learned to ask for help. I’m very Type A and I didn’t have a lot of people who helped me growing up. I learned to manage by depending on myself. Asking for help is a very hard thing for me to do, and overcoming that personal apprehension is a huge accomplishment. I’m beyond grateful to have a manager who truly cares about the well-being of me and my family. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child. But I’ve come to realize it also takes a village to support the caregiver.
Audra with her kindergarten class in Shenzhen, China, where she taught from 2017-2019
That’s such an enlightened statement, Audra—and so accurate! You were clearly meant for the role of global chair for PCNet. From your perspective and experience, what changes should companies be making in the working world to better support all kinds of working parents and caregivers?
I’ve been reading a lot of articles and talking with many others within 2U and from other companies. I realize how fortunate I am to work for a company that values work-home balance and taking the time you need. Working parents are a really integral part of the workforce; caregivers bring so many wonderful skills and qualities to the table. More companies should be prioritizing how to retain this community of employees through support and resources. There should be more options for employees to have flexible working times to accommodate specific caregiving needs.
Mental health should also be prioritized for employees. I’ve never felt more empowered to care for my own well-being than at 2U. Through our Employee Assistance Program, I’m able to find the help I need to ensure I have coping mechanisms in place. In turn, I’m able to focus on my job and be my best self at work. If more companies had provisions such as this, I think that could change the culture of a workplace.
When employers put their people’s mental health first, truly great things can happen. What other aspects of PCNet’s mission are you personally passionate about?
When I first joined the Student Engagement team’s Caregiver Committee—the precursor to PCNet—I was desperate to find a community that understood what I was going through. Now, we’ve created this amazing company-wide BRN wherein everyone within the global 2U universe has an opportunity to find that same support that brought me such comfort during a challenging time.
As we move forward, I’m excited to see this community gain information and resources to help them learn to balance work and home. We want all types of parents and caregivers to feel represented—we want them to know their needs are heard and that we are doing our best to advocate for them within the broader 2U landscape.
Penelope's kindergarten graduation
We love that sense of “paying it forward,” Audra! So, what’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far as a parent?
The greatest lesson, and challenge, is to go with the flow. I rarely have a day where things go exactly as I’ve planned. In fact, the more planned out my day is, the more it doesn’t go as planned. Relax, take a deep breath, and just enjoy the moment. Time goes so fast, and the plans won’t matter so much in the end. It’s the moments that are precious.
Speaking of those everyday moments, what would you say are some of the best ways that allies can support parents and caregivers in their daily interactions and professional relationships?
That’s a great question! I’ve been asked that a lot, and I think my number one answer is to simply check in. Earnestly ask how a parent or caregiver’s day is going. Get to know these individuals so that you can recognize when they may not be themselves, and offer a listening ear. Be supportive and ask how you can help them. And from a management perspective, the best way to be an ally is to have an open line of communication and try to be empathetic of a caregiver’s needs.
Such simple yet powerful actions, right? As we wrap up here Audra, let’s turn to other parents and caregivers considering a career at 2U. What advice might you have for them?
My advice is something I’m still trying to exercise in my own life: Give yourself grace. I’m learning that parenting and caregiving is basically just winging it. There’s no “one size fits all” approach, and what works for some doesn’t work for all. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to not get it all done. It’s okay if your house looks like people actually live and play there. No one is perfect, and in trying to achieve perfection, you’ll drain yourself of the energy you need to focus on providing for those in your care. Don’t feel bad when you need a few moments for yourself instead of being “SUPERMXN/WOMXN.” It’s in those precious moments you’ll realize just how awesome and deserving you are of that grace.
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