Last week, it was after 9 PM, way past my four-year-old’s bedtime, and we’d had a late dinner because both mommy and daddy were working late… again. I was in bed, on the computer, revising a leadership presentation that I was giving at 9 AM the next day. My little one begged for a princess story, but I just could not fit it into my schedule (#regret), so she asked if she could cuddle in bed with me while I rubbed her tummy, and gave her a foot massage with coconut oil. I agreed. It was getting increasingly difficult to type with one hand and massage her little foot with the other, so as she drifted off to sleep, I typed with both hands and got greasy fingerprints all over my keyboard.
Every working parent knows this scenario all too well. It’s challenging being a working parent — yes, it’s incredibly fulfilling, but it’s also insanely difficult sometimes. I have been with my company for almost 10 years, I have a four-year-old daughter, and another little girl due in November. And I have a wonderful husband who quit his great-paycheck-zero-quality-of-life job to join his parents in their real estate business. We have no nannies or a cleaning lady, but we do have both of our parents in town, and they are a great help when we need them. Being a working mom is one of the hardest things I’ve done, but I never regret my decision. I am not the stay-at-home mom type. I have great respect for those who are, but my child would divorce me if I stayed at home with her 24/7.
I am fortunate to have some tenure in my company. I’ve been through many ups and downs with them, and have updated my resumé and my resignation letter a few times. I will admit that, when I hit some of those low points, it was either a pregnancy or a promotion that kept me tied to my job. But other times, I’ve stayed at my job because it gives me the ability to work with leaders, use my creativity, influence others, and grow professionally. Working outside the home comes with its challenges, but I find it truly rewarding to learn to manage both of my callings — as a mother and a career woman.
There are too many pieces of advice I have to offer other working parents, but here are a few nuggets of wisdom that I wish someone had told me when I first became a working mother.
You need to set realistic expectations.
Several times per day I am fully aware that I am failing at something. I wonder why my friend has not texted me back, and then I realize I typed out the text to her, but had to go make sure dinner wasn’t burning or get on a conference call, and never pressed send. I realize that it is almost bedtime, and I’ve let my daughter watch television since she got home, so I could work. I make a blatant mistake on a presentation only to have our VP be the one to catch it and, once again, I wonder if THIS stupid mistake will be my last. Shit happens. To all of us, in all areas of our lives.
Give yourself a break and be realistic with your goals. I know that on days my four-year-old has soccer at school and dance after school, I should lay out her dance clothes and talk to her about what she wants as a snack on the way home, but it doesn’t always happen. I also know Wednesdays are not for play dates because I will just end up canceling because of work. Setting realistic expectations with your boss also allows you to not get pulled into something that could wait. I always feel like I am dealing with mommy guilt or working mommy guilt. I’ve learned to block time on my calendar and schedule the time I need to make it to doctor’s appointments, dance, gymnastics, etc. with the same respect as I would any other meeting.
Be honest with yourself and those around you, even when you are stressed, sad, or overwhelmed. While I am not one to be telling my boss sob stories, I recently had a week where I had to be home to take care of my daughter on Monday (school holiday), had to work from home on Wednesday because of a four hour ultrasound appointment, and found out that I needed to accompany my daughter on a field trip that Friday. I did not want my daughter to miss a field trip because I couldn’t go with her, so I talked to my boss and told him what was going on in a very logical manner. I acknowledged that I’d been in and out that week, and said that if my boss let me go on my daughter’s field trip, I would complete several action items, even if it meant working on the weekend. Surprisingly, it was a very easy conversation. My boss is also a family man and, not only does he understand my situation, but he knows I will be able to get my work done on time.
Work your ass off.
During one of my highly stressful periods at work, I shared with my boss that I was torn between my role as a mom and a professional. We had recently moved which made my commute even longer, and my daughter was at a daycare with shorter hours. My boss and I talked about flexibility and he shared with me that he was on board with whatever I needed to do. Then he proceeded to say that he chose me for the role because he knew how conscientious I was. I know a lot of people that do not have the flexibility I get, and I’m very lucky to work at such an accommodating company. But part of the reason I have so much flexibility is that I’ve been working hard, and showing that I wouldn’t take advantage of flexibility, for 10 years.
Pick your battles.
Obviously this is critical with children, your spouse, or your family, but it is also true in the workplace. Picking your battles is not just about arguing with your four-year-old about whether or not she should have organic milk with her cereal. Picking your battles also has to do with how you interact at work. If you are a control freak (which I’ve been called), you have to learn when and how to let go and delegate. You need to understand that you can’t be at the regional meeting, a charity event, and meeting vendors all at the same time. Understand what you are fighting for, and make your sanity a priority.
When I was in corporate HR, I always told employees that they are just as, if not more, important than every appointment and meeting on their calendar. I wholeheartedly believe that you must take care of all aspects of your life to be the best employee you can be. From experience, I can also say that working and being recognized for it makes me a better wife and mother. Being a working mom is stressful, but I value every minute of it. I recognize that it is not for everyone, and that is completely okay. As a working mom, it is hard to not envy the situations of others around me, but I remember that everyone is fighting their own battles, and I am just trying to be the best employee, and the best parent, I can be.
Tania is a compensation and HR professional, mother, wife, and cupcake lover. She’s getting the hang of Twitter, and loves traveling and writing.
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