I’m writing this post right at the beginning of the school year after I’ve been back at work for about three months. Three months. Really? Only three months? In truth, I’ve been avoiding this topic because I don’t really know what to say or offer as guidance. In many ways I feel that I’ve integrated myself back into work really well – I’ve been able to re-establish myself as a leader to my teams and a trusted partner to my department leadership. I’ve been able to work on some very innovative and cutting-edge technology across industries. I’ve been able to help some of my direct reports define pathways for promotion. The flip side to that is how much I miss Hudson throughout the day but know that I cannot do my job with him at home without help. I find myself going 100 miles per hour at all times, exhausted at the end of the day literally wondering how I got here.
Returning to work has been a reminder of how much I enjoy what I do and how grateful I am to be working and be employed, but has been coupled with so many questions for me as a parent and a wife. These questions are not actually questioning if I want to work, because I do. These questions are related to time. Do I spend enough time with Hudson? Did I take time to actually talk to my husband? Have I carved out any time for myself? How will I manage my next promotion if I already feel like this?
There are no right or wrong ways to go about returning to work after maternity leave. If someone tells you that certain things are required or that you should set specific goals, just walk away. Like all things related to this topic, this journey is also about you. So put you at the center of it.
My things and ways of making this come together may not be for you. Adapt them! Make them your own. Take these things – my advice and my mistakes – and mold them into your world.
Advice: Things That Have Worked
This is a pretty short and concise list of four key things that have helped me return to work successfully and find some balance. It’s a work in progress, but I believe they can benefit you, or anyone in this situation equally.
- Routine: I returned to work in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when daycares were not open. My husband and I operated off of a Google Calendar called, “Two Working Parents and A Baby” for just over a month. One day, I received a call from Hudson’s daycare that they were open. I cried so hard thinking about sending him; I was terrified. However, I gave it a shot. It was horrible. I cried by myself sitting at my desk for 10 days straight. But, do you know what resulted? A routine! This routine created structure and reliability in our days for both me and my husband. With Hudson at daycare, I was able to consistently start my work day at 7:30am and have a solid 9 or 10 hours of availability. It was liberating. It also meant that we each had our roles. I get Hudson’s things ready in the morning and drop him off while my husband kicks-off his day and conversely, my husband picks him up while I wrap up my day.
- Me Time: Relentless is a word (not the only word) I’d use to describe being a parent. It is 24/7. Carving out time for myself every day is critical to my well-being and quite frankly my family’s. My husband and I get up at 5am daily. From 5am – 7am we spend our time separately. Three days a week I workout and sometimes wash my hair. The other two I use to read a book and enjoy every sip of coffee or catch up on work. It gives me a moment to feel human and independent.
- Calendar Management: I don’t know about your work environment, but at mine any free time starting at 7am and ending at 6pm is fair game for meetings. So managing my calendar transparently and accurately is critical. I’ve blocked out time that I need to spend dedicated to family and regularly send schedule updates to “must-know” team members as things ebb and flow. This has created my own support network at work and has allowed me to push back when things conflict.
- Delegation: This is a skill I’m honing at work and in my personal life. At work it looks like enablement and empowerment; creating opportunities for me to mentor and others to own. This enhances my leadership skills and develops critical advancement skills in more junior team members. In my personal life this means outsourcing grocery shopping, house cleaning, and leveraging Amazon Prime delivery to the fullest extent possible. This ensures that my free time is truly free time.
Mistakes: Things that haven’t worked well
Unlike the Advice section above, this list could probably be endless. I’ve narrowed it down to some key items.
- Lack of Meal Planning: Prior to having Hudson and prior to COVID-19 I was on the road traveling around the US for work 3 out of 4 weeks a month for at least two days per week. We rarely had food in our house and if we did it was usually questionable. Fast forward to “Two Working Parents and A Baby” in the middle of a pandemic and it turns out this method for feeding ourselves didn’t work well. We found ourselves gumpy, hungry, and living off of middle-priced, somewhat healthy UberEats orders. Not only did this take a hit on our budget, but it also didn’t feel good. Once we started thinking ahead for the week – what we’d want to eat, sides, lunches, etc. we got much more organized. We also decided that we’d treat ourselves to one “dining out” experience a week on Fridays.
- Eliminating Exercise when Time is Tight: For my husband and I, exercise is a really important part of our lives. While neither one of us is trying to be the best at fitness, we also care about the health of our bodies. We love long walks on the weekends and push ourselves during the week with at home HIIT and circuit-style workouts. When time would get tight, it was easy for us to cut exercise. That would often lead to eating less healthy, which would lead to less-sound sleep, and being less productive at work. Basically, a downward spiral. So keep your mind right with exercise, and put yourself first. If you need to create pockets of time, look to delegate something.
- Not Talking: Since having Hudson and especially since I’ve been back at work, one of the first things that goes between my husband and I is actually talking to each other. I don’t mean, “how was your day?” or “what do you want to do this weekend?” I mean actually talking to each other. Having a conversation about life, our family, an upcoming trip, etc. Really talking to each other. Finding ways to support each other. It is too easy for us to turn on the TV at night and stare at a show while simultaneously scrolling Instagram and it’s much harder to have conversation so it’s easy to stop talking. The result is two people who get frustrated easily and are not on the same page. Don’t stop talking to each other and supporting each other. “Two Working Parents and A Baby” is hard enough when you are talking and being supportive of each other. Don’t make it harder on yourself by not doing this.
The bottom line is that I assumed this whole “return to work thing” would be pretty easy because I felt like I was prepared. It’s turned out to not really be the case. Yet another motherhood curveball! There are a lot of growing pains and challenges. I believe that three months into working, parenting, and wife-ing my (and our family’s) ultimate balance is still being worked out. I believe that I am managing the day-to-day well and that I am being successful in both my career and my family. I believe that I will continue to be flexible and adjust as my needs and my family’s needs grow and change. Most of all I believe that this is a really special balance to be in. So while I don’t have this figured out (yet, or at all), it will always be a work in progress. As long as I give myself grace and continue to drive toward my goals I know I’ll be successful in my role as a working mother, a wife, and a career builder.