Being a working mom is hard.
I got a crash course in lessons learned, and frankly, knowing these things are how I manage to get by from day to day.
I often times work with difficult personalities; I’m typically up against some type of deadline. My patience is tested each day at work. But, the hardest part of my day is saying goodbye to my baby when I drop him off at daycare. Sometimes, he sheds tears because I’m leaving; sometimes he doesn’t even acknowledge that I’m still standing there as he runs to eat (his second) breakfast with his buddies. And sometimes, on really, really hard mornings, I cry.
I joined the ranks of working moms about a year and a half ago. It has been an emotional journey for sure, but I have learned more in the past year and a half about myself and what I am capable of BECAUSE I am a working mom than I have in my previous 30+ years of life.
Lessons for Every Working Mom
Here are my lessons learned:
- Use a shared schedule with your partner. Pre-kids, my husband and I ran 2 businesses together at the same time. We got into the practice of using a shared Google calendar. Now, we live and breathe by our shared Google calendars to keep up with work events, doctor appointments and family commitments.
- Know that you may be judged by your co-workers. I say this not necessarily having been judged by my co-workers, but because before I had kids, I judged other working moms without even really understanding that I was passing judgement. I never understood how kids could be sick literally every other week … until I had my own and visited our doctor’s office every 2 weeks for a whole year. Shake off the judgement and realize that we working mamas have a complicated situation that only other working parents truly understand.
- Find support in other working moms. We need to support each other because, again, we’re the only ones who truly understand the complexity of our situation and feelings. Align yourself with working moms that you look up to or resonate with.
- Treat Yourself. You have been up for 3 hours already, witnessed 2 tantrums on the way out the door to school / work, and then realized the car was on EMPTY as soon as you got into it this morning — and it’s only 8:30am. Somehow, you still manage to make it to work on time. You owe it to yourself to get that $3.80 frozen blended coffee you feel like you need.
- Take a lunch break. Burnout is no fun. It is an important mental health practice to step away from your desk for a break. Taking a break actually improves productivity throughout the day.
- Take a mental health day. Or a few. Tacking onto #5, mental health days are important. Go get a massage or a mani/pedi, or read that book you’ve been trying to get through, or have a long lunch with a friend. You need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. As I mentioned, burn out is no fun. Take time to pause and recenter.
- Raise your hand. Speak up for yourself in the workplace. No one else is going to do it for you.
- Stop apologizing. I had a terrible habit of always saying “I’m sorry…” in situations where I wasn’t actually sorry and/or I did nothing wrong and had nothing to be sorry about. Women in general often try to keep the peace and end up being over-apologetic. I now think hard before I say “I’m sorry” — both at work and at home.
- Pull up a seat at the table. Women are still not equal in the workplace. We typically aren’t offered a seat at the table. We need to pull up our own metaphorical chair. On the flip side, at home, try to eat a few meals a week at the table with your family sans television and electronic devices. Connect with each other.
- Address splitting the mental load of family with your partner. We’ve probably all, by now, seen the mental load cartoon expressing that even though women are now staying in the workforce post-kids, we still bear the brunt of the heavy-lifting when it comes to family matters. Talk with your partner. Have an open dialogue about expectations and develop a compromise you both agree on.
- You are setting an example. No doubt, what we as working moms deal with is a special kind of hard. But, know that you and all of the other women, moms and childless, who are a part of the workforce are setting an example for children. You are an example of responsibility, accountability, efficiency and time management. You are teaching children to aspire to be and do what they choose to do. These are invaluable lessons to your children.
- Juggling. Even though working moms sometimes feel like we’re in a giant circus act, that’s not the kind of juggling I mean. We juggle multiple schedules, problems and happy times all at once – at work and at home. Learning to be strategic about what you are juggling at the same time is so, so very key.
- Let her speak. In meetings, I get constantly interrupted; other women I work with are constantly talked over. It is becoming a practice to say “Let her finish” or “Let her speak” to politely point out an interruption. This is a recent tactic that I became aware of – give it a try. We practice a similar tactic at home because interruption is just plain rude.
- Do not feel guilty. You’re going to miss out on things – whether that be on the home front or at work. Choose wisely (whatever wisely may mean to you) when you have a choice. Though, sometimes, the choice isn’t always up to us. We may need to travel for work and miss out on a school play. But, make it up when you get home and know that you are doing your best. And you are providing for your family.
- Be fully present. At home and at work. Separately, because you can’t be fully present at work if you’re still thinking about the piles of laundry you need to do. Likewise, you can’t be fully present at home if you don’t allow yourself to disconnect from work.
- Know your company’s view point on family and work / life balance. If it doesn’t fit with your views, figure out a new plan. Plain and simple.
- DGAF. I reached a new level of cares to be given once I had a child and went back to work. And the number of cares I have are minimal and are typically focused on my nuclear family. I can’t do everything. We can’t see everyone all the time. I need to do laundry. Working after standard business hours are an exception, not an expectation of me. And sometimes on a rare occasion, I enjoy sitting on my couch not doing a damn thing. I don’t let people make me feel bad about any of this.
- Go with the ebb and flow. Having a child – a toddler, to be more precise – has taught me that sometimes I can push for what I want; but also, sometimes, I need to learn to let things go. My kid won’t eat the Moroccan chicken and rice with veggies that we have for dinner. My choices are to hold my position on only cooking 1 meal a night or offer him fruit, avocado or a scrambled egg so I know that he has a full belly and will sleep through the night (which means I sleep through the night). Spoiler alert: I always go with the latter because mama ain’t got time for mid-day naps. The same goes for work – I pick and choose my battles. I have learned to go with the flow … at least a little more than I was able to before! (I’m a type A personality.)
I am teaching my son that women, working moms specifically, hold an important role in our society by showing him what it means to play an equal part in financially contributing to our family. Working moms are examples of showing that we can have it all—to an extent and if that is what we choose.
My favorite part of my work day is picking up my son from daycare. He runs up and gives me the biggest hug. I know that working all day allowed him to spend time with kids his own age that day, playing, singing, dancing, making art. And I can’t wait until he can talk to tell me about the lessons he has learned each day.