I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Going back to work for me 3 months postpartum was HARD. It was like someone grabbed my heart, laughed at it, and threw it against the wall. I’m not even trying to be dramatic. I was heartbroken. I just wasn’t ready, but it was the max amount of time I could be on leave so I didn’t really have a choice.
I say “choice” because I knew one day I’d be back at work as a career-oriented woman and – to be really frank – we needed the income. Living in California has its perks, but it comes with a high cost of living so we really couldn’t afford to have me home much longer. I mean, it wasn’t necessarily the work, but it was just the pain of leaving my baby when he was still so tiny and just starting to make a greater connection with me. I know some moms go back to work ready to go and some even go back earlier, but even though I thought that perhaps I would be like those moms, I just wasn’t.
Dominic is now 3-years-old (wow, when did that happen?), and I can confidently say that I’ve found a steady balance between work and life. I’m so happy about where I’m at now, but it didn’t come about without setting some intentions. If you’re a working mom struggling to find the balance between work and motherhood, aside from the usual suggestions of “leave work on time” and “leave work at work,” here’s some things I’ve adopted and wanted to share in hopes that they might help you find the right work/life balance for you.
1. Use All of Your Vacation Days Each Year and Get Out of Town
You don’t have to get on a plane. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the state. All you need to do is get out of the house. I’ve learned that “staycations” at home aren’t as worth it to bond with your kid as much as leaving the house is because this way you’re leaving all of the daily distractions behind. Go somewhere so that all you have to do is bond as a family – just parent and watch them grow. See new things, try new foods, make new memories. If you stay home, you’ll easily get distracted by all of the things that need to be cleaned, organized, cooked, or washed. Walk away from that. Use up those vacations days. Americans have a reputation for not using them. Use them now that you’re a mom so you can do just that – be a mom. I’ve loved every vacation we’ve taken with Dominic mostly because of this.
2. Have One-on-One Days
Luckily with our work schedules, it just worked out that my husband and I have separate one-on-one days with our son. We didn’t intentionally plan for it to be this way, but after some time, we realized how valuable that time was. Going on “dates” together helps you bond more and helps you feel more like you’re catching up on lost time vs. finding the next thing to do as a family. Whether it’s a day or a date, it’s worth it just to have that time together. Do something fun. Go out to a park or stay home and do a new craft. Learn new things about each other.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Do “Boring” Things Together
I think a lot of us have the habit of letting our children entertain themselves while we get some chores done. Instead, every now and then, consciously decide to have them do some chores with you. When they’re tiny, baby wear them and do some chores. Talk to them. Explain what you’re doing. When I would go and water the plants, I often talked nonsense plant-related stuff with him, and I really believe it helped grow our bond. Once they’re up and walking, try to teach them how to do stuff with you while explaining it too. My husband will let Dominic bring the wet laundry and throw it in the dryer, and he gets a kick out of it. We could do all of these things easily (and more quickly) if we did it ourselves, but when you’re a working parent, it’s worth it to use these as bonding moments. They want to learn from you. This also helps since you can get some chores done throughout the week instead of dedicating an entire day to chores.
4. Learn to Love Leftovers
When I first went back to work, I convinced myself that I could be that supermom that comes home and cooks a fresh dinner every day. Well, at some point, that got a little depressing because it took away from the small chunk of time I had with my son before bedtime. I gave up on the daily, fresh-cooked meals and decided to embrace leftovers. When I cook, it would be enough for a few days so during those leftover days, we could play and hang out before and after dinner with little fuss. It has made such a difference in my sense of balance with work and home.
5. Keep Things On a Schedule
This is for you and for your child. We all know that with work, sometimes you just need some time to unwind. You need to drain yourself of the day’s stressors so you can start the next day with a clean slate. If you carry on work stress day after day, you’re just going to feel depleted. With the same bedtime routine each night, kids learn that that’s what to expect, and this also helps you because you know that there’s going to be a moment when you can just Netflix the night away. It doesn’t always work this perfectly, but I know that if I let my son go to bed whenever he wanted to and there was no routine in my days after work, sooner than later I would feel defeated.
6. Be Kind to Yourself
As I mentioned, it doesn’t always work out perfectly. Sometimes you can’t keep the schedule together quite well enough, some days you can’t manage to cook, sometimes work will eat you alive. Be kind to yourself. Yes, you are important to a lot of people, but the person you’re most important to is you. You’re doing the best you can, and there are going to be days that aren’t quite as seamless. In fact, some days will feel like an absolute disaster. We ALL drop the ball sometimes. Remind yourself of that, and take a deep breath. It’s okay. This is life; it’s not meant to be perfect and tomorrow is a new day.
Last but not least…
7. Take Some Time for You
Although some moms would consider work to be “me time,” for me, it’s not. It’s work time. The hours where I’m working are dedicated to my employer and not to me, so I’ve come to understand how important it is to truly take some “me time.” This is the time that you can fully dedicate to yourself to help to get things you personally need done or even just to unwind for a bit. If it’s a few hours where your partner watches your kids so you can get a pedicure or a massage, do it. If it means brunch with some girlfriends, go for it. If it means declining lunch with your coworkers so you can wander aimlessly around Target by yourself for an hour, make it happen (totally guilty of this). Find your balance of how often you need it, and, trust me. If you feel guilt the minute you leave the house to do something for you, the minute you walk back into the house, you’ll feel like it was worth it.
As we anticipate another child in the household this year, I have to remember the importance of balance when it comes to all aspects of what makes me me. Aside from the learnings above, I’m thankful for little things too with something as simple as my clothes. Thankful for some professional and comfortable clothing – and specifically this black top – from Pink Blush as it gives me one less thing to worry about as it’ll help me transition seamlessly from professional maternity to professional post-partum looks. You can find many of their other transition-friendly maternity pieces here.
Whatever makes your days a little easier, celebrate it.
What do you do that helps you manage work/life balance as a mom?