After the birth of my son, a family member asked if I planned to return to my job as a communications manager. “Oh yeah!” I replied excitedly. “I can’t wait.” Apparently surprised by my response, the loaded questions kept coming: “But where will the baby go?” “Won’t you miss him?” “Won’t it be hard to be without him all day?” That first week after maternity leave, I kept waiting: to cry in the office, to feel devastated at daycare drop-off, to be unmoored without a tiny baby by my side. But… it was fine. Great, even. Turns out I was right — I could love my career and be a good mom all at once. So for those of you wondering what it’s like to be a new parent and work a 9-5, here’s what I’ve learned.
There’s no such thing as balance, y’all.
I’ll be honest: I’m “balanced” like, once in a blue moon. On the regular? I’m slamming a protein bar for breakfast in my car, fitting rushed lunchtime workouts in between meetings, going full steam ahead at the office and then getting home just in time to play with my kid and eat frozen pizza on the couch with my husband while we Netflix and fold laundry.
If you can’t tell, I don’t try to be a Super Mom/Woman who “has it all.” I multitask. I embrace what’s good enough. Some days I can juggle every single ball in the air, flawlessly; other days, those figurative balls crash into the ground and I put myself to bed early until I can start over in the morning. But I’m proud of myself. Working full-time is no joke, and neither is parenthood. I feel accomplished and secure in the knowledge that I’m doing my best, and so is every other working mom out there. I have my moments, of course, but balance is kind of boring on the regular. Facing the reality that nothing is perfect (definitely not me!) allows me to be both confident and humble at the same time. I can do anything, but I can’t do everything, and that’s okay.
Family priorities and career growth can go hand-in-hand.
I’m lucky enough to work for a company who values family life in conjunction with career growth, which means I’ve never been afraid to put my kid first when necessary. I know when I have to step it up at work, and sometimes that results in early mornings, late nights, and stolen hours on the weekends. (It also helps that I really like my job, a luxury not every woman has!) In some work environments, the vibe is different: you’re supposed to leave your mom-hat at home and turn it on as an employee, and draw a stark line between the two. But as more organizations see the value in supporting women through professional growth and parenthood, I’m willing to bet more women will feel comfortable prioritizing the two in the same breath.
The thing about being a working mom, in my opinion, is the fact that you’re never going to be able to give 100% percent to both at once. The sooner I accepted this, the more peace I felt. For me, I enjoy the major satisfaction of writing a killer speech in the same way that I’m filled with joy at watching my kid take his first steps. I’ve woken up at 5 am to respond to emails, and I’ve left at 3 pm for a doctor’s appointment. I try to be as present as possible wherever I’m at, and my ability to invest attention and energy into either one alternates on any given day. My work, and my son, has not suffered.
And slowly but surely, society is catching up. In the 1970s, one study said that only 53% of 12th graders thought working mothers could have warm relationships with their kids, but in the 2010s, 70% of them believed this — which means acceptance is climbing. For me, there’s no either-or when it comes to career and family. It’s both, and it’s nice to know others are starting to feel the same way.
Making it work is a privilege, and often a necessity.
I have a fantastic, flexible job, supportive co-workers, and a husband with a flourishing career of his own. We have friends and family to lean on, a home to live in, access to health care, and enough income to buy whatever we need, including quality childcare. #Blessed, but seriously, privilege matters. I appreciate that I can work full-time as a mother and actually enjoy it, because that isn’t the case for many, many women.
Like the single mamas raising multiple kiddos and handling three part-time gigs. The moms who literally have NO choice but to work to afford daycare. The parents who desperately wish they could stay at home with their babies all day but instead are chained to a desk in a job they hate. Often, working full-time is the furthest thing from a low-key decision. I happen to feel pride in providing for my family, but at the same time, I also gotta pay my student loan bills, so not working isn’t exactly an option.
You can be passionate about more than one thing.
When people ask me “what it’s like” to be a working mom, there tends to be a passive-aggressive element of: “OH SO YOU LIKE YOUR JOB MORE THAN YOUR BABY HUH?!” Um, yeah, some days. Work is easier than parenting, a lot of times! At work, I usually know what to expect, and there’s a lot of shit in my control; I feel productive and useful and competent. At home, I can literally be doing all of the right things (You have a full tummy! A clean diaper! A cozy bed! A cup of milk!), and my kid will freak the fuck out and we both end up crying.
“I’m glad I work — I love my job, and giving it up would’ve felt like giving up a part of myself,” says Lexie Reiling, a librarian in Davenport, Iowa. “The mom guilt sucks sometimes, and I miss my kid during the day, but I wouldn’t change it. I love sharing my passion with people.”
I’m the same way. I am passionate about being a mom and being a writer. Having passion involves strong feelings that aren’t always sunshine and rainbows. Neither of these roles is easy, but there’s great reward in going after your dreams while shaping a little human at the same time.
It’s taught me to share responsibility and ask for help.
Turns out the title of “mom” is fairly similar to “manager” — you just have two different teams. Doing both jobs is a key reminder that running a household isn’t very different than overseeing a team. Which means the whole storyline that moms are supposed to be 100% in charge of the cooking, cleaning, organizing, planning, feeding, everything, is not only unfair, but false. Imagine if your boss did ALL the work, or if you coworker wanted to lead every single project. At work, you need other people to be creative, meet deadlines, and execute on strategy; you’re not supposed to go it alone. So why do we constantly think moms should?
Working full-time has been an opportunity to level the playing field a bit. Instead of my husband playing the traditional gender role of “go to work, come home, make baby laugh, and pour a drink while wife puts dinner on the table,” he does as much as I do. He’s not “babysitting” when he’s with our son, and he doesn’t get a gold star for diaper runs (though the old ladies in Target think he is just THE BEST for “helping” me run errands, ha).
I don’t expect my direct reports at work to read my mind, so I try to not expect the same of my partner. He appreciates when his teammates offer to help, and the same goes for me at home. We both do our part, and that makes working and parenting a little bit easier. Besides, a Harvard study claims that sons of working moms pitch in more at home, clocking almost twice as many hours on family and childcare as men with stay-at-home moms, so I feel good about the example we’re setting.
There are lots of ways to model your values.
The thing is, no matter your choice as a mother — work, don’t work, work part-time, work from home, whatever — you can choose to model your values for your children in many different ways. Also, parenthood is a job in its own right; one with zero days off, no “boss” to tell you if you’re doing it right, and unpredictable assignments. I don’t have insecurities about working full-time, and I know I’m fully present for the hours I’m with my son. As he grows, I want him to witness first-hand what it looks like to devote your heart to personal goals and a solid family life. But if I didn’t work full-time, I would still care deeply about teaching him the importance of diligence, dedication, and heart.
“Working makes me the best mom I can be,” says MaryBeth Belmonte Kordik, a teacher in the Chicagoland area. “My son has his little life at daycare, his routine and friends. And because we spend so much of our days away from each other, the hours we do spend together are that much more meaningful. I want my kids to know that devoting one’s life to others is admirable, that finding your greatest passion and making it a career is possible, and that nurturing the pieces that make you a complex, unique individual is meaningful.”