Having babies at the same time of some of our closest friends has been the biggest blessing. Because when you are in those early parenting trenches, you want as many people dug in there with you as possible. Leslie had her daughter just over a month before Henry was born, and we have talked about the joys and difficulties of balancing family and career so much over the past year. When I asked Leslie to share some thoughts about why and how she returned to work, she gave me an actual memorandum complete with numbered points. Because the decision to pursue both motherhood and career involves more planning and structure than we like to think, but also allows a fullness that can be beautiful. Thanks Les for sharing how you are balancing working motherhood!My name is Leslie, married to Stephen and we have a little one-year-old daughter, Ava. We live in Alexandria, Virginia, and I work in policy in Washington, D.C.. I work away from home about 40 hours a week. Most of that is in the office four days a week—Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, I work from home. When I am at work, I am in meetings and briefings most of the day. And I absolutely love it. I spend most of my free time and date nights (poor husband) talking about the ins and outs of this issue or that one.
Sometimes I don’t know how we came to the decision for me to work outside the home. It was a process of one small decision at a time. I’ve been conflicted about what path I would take since high school. Ever since I started working, I’ve been incredibly passionate about what I do.
I’ve swung back and forth between thinking that I would definitely stay-at-home or definitely return back to work. My mom decided to stay-at-home and many of my friends have chosen to either stay-at-home or work part time from home. I admire their decisions so much!
For the past few years, and especially since we got married, the question began to loom over us. Stephen and I eventually came up with a game plan to make the choice as easy as possible (though it never is!):
- We would keep both options on the table. For us, this meant that we would attempt to be in a place when we had our first so that we would have the financial option for me to stay home. It also meant that I would be in a family-friendly office. I never wanted to feel “stuck” in a decision or situation that just didn’t work.
- We wouldn’t view the choice as an “all or nothing.” I can work full time for a season, work part time, work from home, or stay home as needs change. What might make sense and feel right now for our family doesn’t have to in a year or even a few months.
Eventually, the decision boiled down to wanting to do both. I wanted to be Ava’s mom and to continue in my career. After we realized the what, we figured out the how.From my husband, to family, to friends, to our child care partners, I have so many people in the trenches with me to help me through the difficulties:
- Husband: Throughout this process, my husband has been my greatest advocate. He has always been right there to encourage me. There are definitely times when I feel like I am at the end of my rope or not spending enough time with this or that. Stephen reminds me that I love what I do and how fulfilled I am at my job. Plus, he does at least half of the house and yard work.
- Child care: Finding trustworthy child care was a huge part of returning to the office. I spent most of my second month of maternity leave figuring it out. Child care is one of the many areas where a community of moms was essential. A friend of a friend who lived in Chicago walked me through the “nanny share” process. DC has one of the most expensive child care markets in the nation, so whatever we did was going to be expensive. I had our name on several day care centers waiting lists, but as I ventured down the nanny share path, it just felt right, emotionally and financially. How it works (because I had no idea before I was pregnant): you and another family who have similar hours/days/location needs hire a nanny together. The nanny can come to one or both houses and cares for both children together. First we found the other family by posting our logistical needs online and meeting up at a local coffee house. It felt like blind dating! We interviewed nannies together with the other family. I am so thankful for the wonderful woman we hired. She is loving and caring–Ava smiles every time she comes in the door!
- Friends: I am so thankful that we were able to have kids around the same time that some of our closest friends have had kids. It’s the simple things, like knowing on Friday night that we can see great friends and put our baby to sleep at their house or go for a walk together. It’s also clutch to be able to text someone, “why has my 4-month old regressed to taking 45 minute naps!?”
Here are some tools that help me “balance”:
- Schedules: Like Hannah, I love me some Baby Wise , though I totally recognize that it’s not for everyone. I am generally a scheduled person (this is the 3rd list so far…). When I leave in the morning, it’s so comforting to know that Ava is going to sleep, eat, and play at certain times and will be (mostly) happy doing so. It was also a godsend that she was sleeping through the night when I started working again.
- Meal planning. During every Sunday afternoon nap, Stephen and I divide and conquer. He does the laundry and I prep all of Ava’s breakfasts, lunches, and most dinners throughout the week so that it’s a 5-minute task in the morning
- Work hours: Keeping my hours relatively stable and working at home on Fridays are essential for me. My office is unbelievably understanding and family-friendly. In fact, watching one of my female bosses gracefully balance working full time and mom-life that helped me take the plunge.
The choice to work in or out of the home is so incredibly personal and dependent on each family’s needs and each mom’s desire. For us, the blessing is how much I love my job and I love being a mom. I wake up every morning—Monday to Sunday—excited about the day to come. I count myself unbelievably lucky to be able to do both.