Yes, that’s me: the mom with bags slung haphazardly over each shoulder, rushing into preschool with her daughter, trying to balance a coffee cup in one hand while holding her daughter’s hand with the other, as she skips, jumps, and teeters along the edge of every median. After a quick smoothing of hair (hers and mine!) and a kiss goodbye, she happily enters her classroom to begin a busy day as I turn down the hall to start mine.
Most parents walk out the same door they entered (most in the same frenzied manner), but fortunately I have a shorter trek. My office is just down the hall through another set of doors – a mere fifty yards from where my daughter learns, naps, and loves life as a 4-year-old with her friends and teachers. Working at the same place my daughter goes to preschool is immeasurably wonderful. And while the opportunity will continue for one more year – until she (sniff, sniff) boards the bus to kindergarten – I continue to relish every moment enjoyed with her throughout my day, some planned and many not. Having her close does help, but the amount of time that we working parents have to spend away from our kids can be overwhelming. It’s so easy to become a victim of that dreaded “G” word – guilt.
In 2011, while I was expecting the arrival of our little one, I was absorbed in reading and planning first-time parenting strategies – like what sleep strategy I was going to try, how the whole breastfeeding thing was going to work, and generally how to prepare for life as a mother. Out of all of the books, articles, and websites I pored over, the one thing I didn’t spend much time thinking about was how life would be as a working mom. I was planning ahead for maternity leave and all that goes into preparing to be away from the workplace for such an extended amount of time. But what I had not anticipated was the transition back to it.
That same year, the witty and talented mom du jour Tina Fey, wrote a piece for the New York Times titled “Confessions of a Juggler.” Along with her signature humor was searing insight into the sensitive issue of being a working mother. In the article, Fey wrote: “What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? ‘How old are you?’ or ‘What do you weigh?’ No, the worst question is ‘How do you juggle it all?’”
As a mom-to-be, I had heard this question asked but didn’t quite understand the implied guilt it might bring until a few months later when I found myself having to leave my little girl for the majority of my waking hours (as a wee one, she was not cared for just yards away from me). I soon found myself between my office and a hard place. No one understands the juggling act the way a working mom does. Balancing is an everyday reality, as are the controversial mommy wars between working moms and those who choose to stay at home with their children (a full-time, stressful non-paying job with its own set of challenges!). In these controversial discussions, everyone ends up feeling slightly, yep, guilty.
But the inherent struggle in the everyday life of the working mother – a struggle that really does happen moment to moment each and every day – is more than the simple to-work-or-not-to-work proposition. It’s about how to be the best possible parent and the best possible person, yet still have the best possible experience on the job. It’s about trying to have it all and not feeling like a failure when one of the many juggled balls we’ve got in the air comes crashing to the floor. It’s a struggle that takes its toll, and it’s a struggle that is very personal to me. I don’t consider myself an expert in motherhood. In fact, I’m much more confident discussing brand standards, marketing plans, and even hobby-related knowledge like camera settings and the best recipe for chicken pot pie, but here are a few parenting strategies I’ve learned along the way.
Share tips and ideas. Join up with other working moms to discuss challenges, as well as solutions. You’ll be surprised how many are dealing with the same ups and downs as you, and together you can figure it out!
Ask for help when you need it. Not everyone has family in town (most of mine are hours away!), so sometimes you just need a friend to help out. Shared babysitting is priceless.
Encourage one another. Candidly share your feelings, both frustrations and inspirations, and most of all, let go of the guilt. You simply don’t have time for it. Your time is better spent being positive for yourself, your family, and your work. And beware the trap of judging or comparing yourself with other parents.
Do your best at work and home. When at home, be at home, and unplug to give your kids the attention they need (I admittedly need help in the disconnect area!). When you are at work, take care of those responsibilities as wholeheartedly as you do with your family. Becoming a mom has been the most rewarding and fulfilling time of my life, but it’s coupled with satisfaction I receive from doing work I love. When I am able to detach and enjoy where I am at the moment, whether spending time with my family, hanging out with friends, going on a long run, or marketing a nonprofit community center’s amazing programs, I feel more at peace. I’m learning and always trying to be present – and striving to be the best person I can be in that space and time.
Follow your heart and laugh a lot. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself or your situation. Humor is a great tool for fighting stress, and as my husband always says, “You gotta laugh to keep from crying.” Plus, your children will not only enjoy being with a happier you, they will learn an important coping skill.
I don’t claim to be an expert parent, but let’s be real: Is anyone? I am still and surely will always be learning, but one thing I do know at this time in my life: Being a working mom is worth the struggle!