Having a kid made me question a lot of things about myself. I was now looking at my choices through the eyes of this new baby who completely depended on me and her father to see her through every minute of the day. Worried about all my decisions as a mom, there were times I wanted to quit my job to be with my kids. And while my “mom” lenses did affect how I navigated my professional life, I ultimately have decided that I will always want to have a job, and not just for financial reasons.
There is no such thing as “work-life balance,” though. “Work-life fit” is a better term, because I’ve found that’s what I’m trying to do: make it all fit within the confines of time, patience, and enthusiasm. Sometimes work wins, especially when I have to dedicate evening hours to follow-up emails or calls. But life wins too, because I refuse to be on call for my job 24 hours a day. That may work for some people, and it’s certainly a necessity with some professions, but I do not have live-in help to support that kind of demand from a job.
So there are some career paths I knew I couldn’t pursue if I also wanted to have a family at the same time. But I can follow them later, when my kids are out of the house, and I can truly have more time, and focus, to put towards myself.
When they were little, though, there were definitely times I wanted to quit work to be with them. Moments like, for example, the following:
When I Had To Re-Re-Re-Send An Email Someone Lost In Their Inbox
I really questioned not only my job but my existence when I found myself forwarding, for the umpteenth time, some document to a colleague who just couldn’t manage to save files. I was annoyed that I had to do this little bit of extra work, which was not significant, but felt like a huge drain on my energy when I was already running on fumes from new mom sleep deprivation.
Having a kid made me more attuned to all the time I felt like I was wasting. I could be with my baby, instead of combing my outbox for that one email, again.
But, then again, performing mundane work tasks was also a good way to get my professional mojo back after being on leave for 12 weeks. Hitting “send” was a lot easier than attempting to soothe a fussy infant, and both brought me a feeling of accomplishment.
When A Meeting Request Conflicted With My Pumping Time Again
There was a Mother’s Room built in my office building after I had my first baby, but before I had my second. It had to be booked in advance, like a conference room, and I blocked out my pumping time on my calendar to avoid co-workers from inviting me to meetings at those times.
While that method mostly worked, I found myself getting meeting requests that butted right up against my pumping times. Since I couldn’t extend those pumping times in the Mother’s Room, as there were other nursing moms who had booked the room, I was also stressed trying to finish pumping, clean the pump parts, and dash off to a meeting feeling prepared to participate. It was some sort of mental gymnastics, toggling between my breast pumping self and my writer/producer self.
But it taught me to be even more efficient, and what a precious commodity time was. Now that I had a kid, I was literally milking every second of my day for productivity so I never had to stay later than necessary and could get back home to my baby.
When I Was Totally Over Commuting
I never enjoyed commuting on the packed subways. I hated it even more once I was lugging a cumbersome breast pump bag. And I was that much more aware of the threat of germs, squished into a tin can with coughing, sneezing New Yorkers.
But my commute offered me the rare reprieve. It wasn’t work, and it wasn’t home. Somewhere in limbo I found some “me time” where I read, listened to music, or just slept on my feet for the 30 minutes it took to get to or from work.
When My Kid Went Through Bad Periods Of Separation Anxiety
Nothing tugged at my heartstrings harder than leaving a sobbing child at daycare in the morning before heading in to work. I would cry on the subway ride in. I was sure neither of us would recover from the trauma of being apart.
But my kid was at a totally fun place with other kids and tons of art supplies which she loved, and books, and toys, and caring adults. She was learning how to socialize in ways that I couldn’t offer her if I was a stay-at-home mom in a one-income household.
(Obviously this is all stuff I told myself to try to rid myself of the guilt.)
When Transportation Issues Threatened To Make Me Late For Daycare Pick-Up
My stress levels would rise as the subway would stall in the tunnel on the ride back to Queens from my office. While I knew the daycare center wouldn’t just leave my child unattended if I got there past closing time, I did not want to fall out of their good graces. I wanted to be a cooperative parent so they would have nothing but good feelings about my kid and our family.
Then I realized, I was just going to have to leave work earlier if I wanted to avoid cutting it so close in picking up my daughter. I explained to my supervisor that I needed to leave by a certain time but I would get back on my email once home and make sure nothing fell through the cracks. He trusted my abilities to have that flexibility and, as a result, I was less stressed when I came through those daycare doors at the end of my child’s day. She’s see a smiling mom, instead of an anxious one.
When My Sitter Would Tell Me How Wonderful My Child Was
Before my daughter turned 2 she had a nanny. And while I loved hearing all the amazing things my child did in the sitter’s care, I was practically traumatized that an almost-stranger was getting to witness all these milestones firsthand and while I had to be downloaded about them at the day’s end. I was missing huge chunks of my child’s life because I had a job.
But it wasn’t just a job. It was the career I had been building since long before she was born. I had a professional identity and a desire to develop my career before I was a mother. And while it sucked that I didn’t hear my kid say certain words for the first time, it wasn’t going to ruin motherhood for me. I still got time with my child on the morning and the evenings and on weekends, and in ways that no one else could have. I was her mother, after all.
When I Let Myself Admit My Job Wasn’t Saving Lives
I work in TV writing and producing commercials and other video content for advertisers. I was not saving the world with my work. I started to wonder after I had my first baby if I was correctly spending my time. Was it worth it to be away from my child all day to do… advertising?
Eventually, I realized it didn’t matter if I wasn’t saving lives with my work. As long as I was getting something out of my job, for me, I feel it justified working (beyond the justification of the income, which, we depended on). So that’s been the bar I set with every job I’ve had since becoming a mom: making sure at least part of the work fulfills me beyond a paycheck. I realize not everyone is privileged to choose work based on that criteria, though. As long as I can afford to, though, I will work at jobs that feed at least some of my needs outside being someone’s mom.
When I Had To Figure Out Childcare For Yet Another School Closure
My kids attended daycare when they were babies and it was always a mad scramble to map out coverage when their school was closed for holidays and such and our offices weren’t. While my husband and I would each take off here and there, there were times when we just couldn’t do so. So on top of having to do my job well, and parent my children as best as I could, I also had to spend time and energy organizing itineraries and paying more money for sitters and other childcare solutions. If it was that much work, just to go to work, why bother?
After a couple of years, though, we just fell into the rhythm of building a patchwork of childcare for these school closures. We didn’t have a choice, so we just rolled with it. And it has gotten easier as my kids have gotten older. There are more options for them, including hanging with friends, going to a holiday soccer camp, or, for my 10-year-old, hanging out at home for a couple of hours alone. Kids gaining independence is a magical thing.
When I Had To Travel For Work
My mom guilt really kicked in at those times I had to travel for my job. The longest I was gone was a week, and it was difficult to feel like I was doing the right thing. I was convinced this business trip was going to have long-lasting, potentially damaging effects on my family.
While it was challenging for my husband, and my parents who were helping us out, it was actually an overall positive experience. My kids have to learn to adapt, and it turns out I do, too. Everyone survived without me. And being without them, I was able to reconnect to parts of me that were put on hold once I became a mom. I ate what I wanted. I owned my sleep schedule. And I interacted only with adults. As much as I miss my children, occasional trips are totally worth it.
When I Thought Being A Mom Threatened My Career
Being a mom was something I felt like I had to hide at work. Early in my professional life, I noticed no one at the office talked about their families. They all had pictures of their kids on their desk, and artwork on their bulletin boards, but I never heard about how being a parent affected their work lives. The signal I got was that I should leave my personal life, including my kids, at home.
But once I became a parent, it was as if I joined some kind of underground, super secret working parents club. We whispered about strep tests and pre-school applications in the margins of our day, between meetings, or on the way out to grab lunch. Over time, though, I stopped feeling like my status as a mother was something I should be ashamed of or dismiss.
I became a better employee because I had a kid. Learning how to communicate to a toddler made me a better communicator at work (we’re all 3-year-old toddlers at heart, it seems). I was able to focus on tasks in the interest of time, since time had become so dear to me with me being at the office, away from my kid. I didn’t sweat the small stuff at work anymore. There were bigger things, my kid, that needed my energy. That’s not to say I blew off my job; I just was able to reframe obstacles to see them as less dire, now that I was tasked with the safety and health of a new little person.
I am grateful for this perspective shift on having a job, once I became a mom. I have grown in ways I don’t think would be possible if I wasn’t a working parent.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.