Melinda Gates, co-founder of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

There are plenty of challenging jobs in America. But as anyone with a child will tell you, the hardest one of all is being a parent – and it is not even a close call.

At least some recognition for those Herculean efforts is approaching, with Mother’s Day on May 13.

For the latest in Reuters’ “First Jobs” series, we talked to a few famous moms about the jobs that got them started on their career paths, which they successfully juggled while raising families on the side.

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN


Founder, Starfish Media Group

First job: Mucking horse stalls

I have always been obsessed with horses, but riding was an expensive hobby that my parents were just not going to fund. So when I was 13, I was allowed to get a job mucking stalls at a little stable in my hometown on Long Island. I got paid something like $35 a week and used that money to pay for riding lessons. I never even saw any actual cash.

To this day, I still love riding. As a busy person with four kids, I have a pretty crazy lifestyle. It is nice to be able to go somewhere and only focus on one thing. I find horses very relaxing because they are very sensitive animals and you have to really be there in the moment with them.

The woman I worked for at the stable was very demanding and set a high standard for quality. That is a good lesson to learn when you are 13 years old and in a workplace for the first time. She took things so seriously. There was never any half-assing it, even if you were just shoveling manure.

MELINDA GATES

Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

First job: Handling rental properties

In high school, I spent most of my weekends working alongside my siblings at my parents’ rental property business. During the week, my dad worked full time as an engineer, and my mom worked full time taking care of us. But because it was so important to them for all four of us to attend college, they started a business on the side to help save for tuitions.

My duties included mowing lawns, scrubbing floors, cleaning ovens, painting walls, and whatever else it took to get those rental houses in shape. (I’m still pretty handy with a scrub brush and some Easy-Off.)

But my favorite part of the job was keeping the books, because that’s how I got into computers. When I was 16, my dad brought home an Apple III and taught me how to use VisiCalc to keep their accounts. This was long before most families had personal computers.

I don’t think it’s overstating it to say it changed my life. I knew right away that I wanted to work in tech when I grew up.

In fact, my first real job, as in, not for my parents was teaching kids how to code, which turned into a lifelong passion for computer science. And I’m grateful to them every day for leading me to it.

JAIME PRESSLY

Actress

First job: Selling clothes

When I first moved to California, I worked at a Limited Express clothing store in Costa Mesa. Moms would come in wanting to buy clothes for their daughters, and so I would try the clothes on to help make the sale. That was my tactic, and it always worked. I could get them to buy anything.

I got the job by walking in and applying at the age of 14. I had courage like that from the time I came out of the womb. I was always a tough cookie, and I loved making my own money so I didn’t have to ask my parents for any. I’m still a hustler like that.

For me, that job was all about learning how to reel in the customer and make a sale. You are playing a role, and you figure out how to sell yourself. That’s what we do in the acting business, too. So everything I have gone through in life has been a stepping stone, and I’m better for it.

I’m certainly grateful that I’m not making minimum wage anymore. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for my success.

REUTERS