Chicago mom balances parenthood and her career in the most unlikely place

Every June thousands of advertising, PR and marketing professionals descend on Cannes in the south of France. They’re there to attend the Cannes International Festival of Creativity and vie for one of the coveted Lion awards given to the world’s best creatives. Packed full of inspiring panels, seminars, classes and speeches from the great and the good in the creative industries, it is the hottest ticket in town! But Cannes also has a reputation for being one big, lavish party, with flowing rosé, yachts, and party-hard behavior. 

Doesn’t sound like the ideal place for a toddler, right? Sarah Latz, senior copywriter at Chicago advertising agency FCB, chose to break the mold when she challenged her employer to choose a parent as this year’s Cannes correspondent. They rose to the challenge, and sent Sarah and her son Henry to Cannes as FCB’s first working parent correspondent. We spoke to her about how to make a work trip with a toddler a success when you’re 4,000 miles from home.

What made you enter the competition to attend Cannes on behalf of your company. Did you consider traveling without Henry?

Having kids shouldn’t hold parents back. So many women are leaving advertising once they have families because the work is sometimes unnecessarily demanding. With just a little acceptance and support from managers and policy makers we could integrate our family lives into our work lives. That idea sparked #ParentsCannesToo. I turned my entry video into a challenge to FCB to support working parents, and send both Henry and me to Cannes. Not only did they say yes, but they’ve committed to sending a working parent correspondent to Cannes every year in the future — it’s so uplifting to be part of change.  

What did you hope to achieve through attending the week-long event?

Mostly, I hoped to bring awareness to the challenges parents face in this industry with its all-in, all-the-time mentality. Although I value my work and love what I do, my family comes first, and since having Henry I’ve often had to pretend that he came second to my job. Taking him around Cannes was a stunt that, although not really practical, showed he is my No. 1, and parents can be all in, some of the time. 

How did people react to seeing Henry at events that are usually reserved for adults only?

I was so happy how positive everyone’s reaction was — people even recognized us in the streets from our video! I tried to be strategic with the sessions I took him to: mostly women-empowerment and working-parent sessions. His favorite part was clapping along with the audiences. It was something he knew how to do well and he LOVED that he was participating with all the grown-ups. Creative directors from around the world complimented his good behavior and said they thought I was setting a great example by bringing him along. I am incredibly proud of how well he did.  

How did Henry take to French food?

He loved escargot. We taught him Frere Jacques while he kept asking for more escargot, and it was a very French lunch — one of the highlights of my week. But he mostly wanted all the delicious Italian food that was available in Cannes. We ate some of the best pizza and spaghetti we’ve had. 

Did you miss out on anything by traveling with Henry, or did he open doors for you?

I think the biggest frustration I’ve felt since becoming a parent is never really being able to complete a project in one sitting: even painting a wall becomes a week-long project. And that carried over to my experience at Cannes. There were so many sessions and talks I would have loved to attend, but when Henry was hot and tired, I had to force myself to slow down, go back to the apartment, and let him rest. I didn’t want to push him to the point of being miserable: he was the inspiration for the trip and I wanted him to enjoy his time in Cannes, too. But I did feel there was an expectation — and a desire on my part — to go to as many things as I possibly could which wasn’t always feasible. 

But we accomplished more together than I would have alone. He 100 percent opened more doors for me. I was able to meet more parents, more creative directors, and actually be a speaker myself at one event. It’s easy for people to come up and make conversation with you when you have a cute baby, especially since it’s an uncommon sight at Cannes. And I really do think we inspired a lot of other working parents. That means a lot to me. 

How do you manage your work/life balance at home in Chicago?

I’m very happy to have a husband who shares work and home duties with me equally. Neither of us is the primary ‘breadwinner’ or ‘homemaker.’ If I do have to work late, it’s understood he’s there to take over at home because I did the same the previous week when he was traveling. 

I think we all need to start looking at our careers as more of long-term marathon, not a sprint, while still being confident in the talent we bring to the table now. Having kids, a second business, or caring for aging parents will definitely slow down traditional career progression in the short term, because you have to give those things a lot of time and energy. But taking some time away from work to focus on something else you love actually opens up your brain space to stay more creative, and do better work overall in the long run. 

What advice would you give to someone who is considering work travel with a child?

I think it’s absolutely necessary to have support. Whether it’s your partner who comes, a nanny, or just a really amazing coworker on the trip who probably has kids themselves, you need an extra set of hands you can count on, because there will be, and should be, times that you can dedicate your whole brain to work without also trying to keep a little person happy. Work/life balance isn’t about balancing both at the same time every second, of every day. 

But it’s so amazing to bring your child along when you travel for work. Not only do you get to experience bathtimes and bedtimes you would have missed, you also get to make memories that might not have been possible otherwise. We swam with him in the Mediterranean, rode an adorable French carousel, and taught Henry a few French words. Like in life, it will be harder to have your child there, and there will be less “you time,” but in the end, it’ll be worth it. 

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