How parenthood is changing the way I work

A member of the Idealist team offers a personal reflection for Mother’s Day.

I’m a new mom to a daughter named Hattie who has the most irresistible cheeks. During my three months of parental leave—yes, Idealist is an awesome place to work—I got to kiss, nibble, and lightly squeeze those cheeks all day long. As our twelve weeks drew to a close, I grappled with the internal conflict so many professional moms experience: How would my relationship with Hattie change once I returned to the office? Did I have it in me to not look at the pictures on her Facebook page (yes, we’re those parents) every second? How was I going to balance working, taking care of a baby, and maintaining a sense of self?

So I did what most people do these days when they need guidance: I Googled. The stories of working moms ran the gamut, but guilt was a central theme, as was the expectation that I was going to do neither job well. I had to shut my computer off. Ultimately, my manager and I agreed that it would make sense for me to return to work part-time. I figured I’d slip right back in and pick up where I’d left off a few months earlier.

Not so much. I’ve of course encountered challenges since returning:

  • I spend a lot of my day in a room by myself pumping breast milk. Just saying the word “pump” makes me cringe.
  • I get anxious knowing I need to rush home and relieve Hattie’s caregivers. This makes scheduling meetings difficult and Friday happy hour not-so-happy.
  • I’m not quite a stay-at-home mom or a full-time employee. At times, I feel alienated in both worlds. I don’t get all the inside jokes at the office, nor can I fully commiserate with parents at the playground.
  • I continually play hide and seek with sleep, and I’m spacy when I’ve spent the night pleading with Hattie to go back to bed. Thank goodness Portland is a coffee town.
  • I find myself checking my inbox from the rocking chair on my days off. Not fair to my coworkers, who receive half-baked emails, or to Hattie.

It’s not easy.


"What's an inbox, Mom?" (Family photo of Hattie)

But there are lots of benefits.  Here’s why I think being a mom has made me a better employee:

  • New perspective. A few months away was just the thing I needed for clarity on a huge project I’ve been working on. The distance allowed my ideas to simmer without other distractions, and I came back renewed and more enthusiastic than before.
  • More patience. I’ve learned to take calm breaths when Hattie fights her naps, when we’re out the door and she needs a diaper change, and when she’s uncomfortable in her car seat on a long ride. I notice I’m less antsy in the office now; so what if that person hasn’t emailed me back yet?
  • Time management mastery. Because I only have a few days a week to answer emails, write blog posts, and brainstorm a new website feature, I make sure every minute counts. This means limiting my time talking about weird celebrity trends at the lunch table and not allowing myself to read every single article, blog, tweet, etc. Some things I just don’t need to know about.
  • Ability to juggle roles. At home I’m a mom, wife, event planner, baby entertainer, (lousy) cook, and writer. At any moment I have a million different things to think about and do. So you need me to prepare an internship description and give colleagues their bus passes and choose blinds for our new office? You got it.
  • Deeper appreciation. Maybe it’s the hormones, but having a baby has made me more receptive to the world. I’m grateful for managers who are empathetic and gracious, for co-workers who are kind and witty, and for the understanding Idealist community on days when I’m not at my best.

All in all, it’s a daily balancing act. Some days Chaos and I bring out the best in each other; other days we’re enemies who can’t seem to find a compromise. I’m learning to make peace with the fact that there is no such thing as true balance, to accept that things shift all the time.

What about you? Has parenting changed the way you approach your work? How do you balance everything? Leave a comment below to share your story.

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Comments (13)

  1. Stacey Woodland writes:
    May 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks for this interesting perspective! I always feel like a voyeur as new parents share their challenges…I am a grandmother (albeit a young grandmother, my children are 28 and 25 and I started at 20) of two boys ages 5 and 2 1/2. My daughter moved back home not long after her first son was born and realized her second was on the way. I have struggled with allowing her to make her own parenting mistakes and decisions, juggling my career with all these old/new feelings of having responsibilities for little ones, and adjusting my household to manage “old” children and young ones.

  2. Jay writes:
    May 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Wonderful perspective. I was laid off last year and it has been interesting finding another position due to working differently being a mother of 2 and care for your children is not cheap! That is another blog in it’s self. But I am ready to go back to work at least contract or PT. I do not miss the morning get ready’s and commutes. But it’s time financially we can’t really afford for me to stay home. OOOHHH and you pumping in a room was sooo funny!! I would pump in my car! I got walked in on several times!

  3. Camille AE writes:
    May 15, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    Celeste, you’ve described my life in the last six months! I stayed home for the first three months and my husband stayed home for three months after that (he goes back to work in June). It’s very hard trying to find balance, because there is none! I just remember that my family is my priority and I will try my hardest to do the very best at work. I have had a really supportive work environment so that has made the transition easier. Good luck to you! Continue to post on mommy/work issues (highs and lows!)

  4. alegriagain writes:
    May 16, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Hi, reading this article I feel sorry that clearly intelligent and educated women have to make choices that are framed by the law of their country. This is an issue for everyone nevertheless, but reading from UK this story makes me sad for mother and baby and I wish Americans to demand their working rights, as three months is an incredibly short leave for the carer and the baby. I recommend ¨Why love matters¨, a great book about the brain-emotional development of our children during their first two years of life. Best wishes.

  5. alegriagain writes:
    May 16, 2012 at 10:33 am

    just in case, I have struggled with work and toddler, working at night, from home and without home help. So pls don´t think my perspective is in any way from someone that loves staying at home or that has enough money to choose not to work. We have decided to live with a small budget and some months it isn´t easy, as it´s not easy for me as an individual to stay at home and depend on the freelance contacts that can fit in with the family. It´s clear I´m paying my priorities in life with my career and it´s a choice I put to the test every few months. My daughter turned 4 and when I got a job opportunity that would have kept me away from home 12 hours a day we realised I´d barely see her. Apart from the maths of paying a carer for my time away, it was the issue of her reaction when I brought the possibility up. She started crying as if I had said I was ill and said: ¨NO! Who´s going to keep me safe?¨

  6. Celeste Hamilton Dennis writes:
    May 16, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, everyone!

    Stacey – It’s super interesting to read your perspective as an additional caregiver. My in-laws watch Hattie when I’m working, and it’s really helpful to hear how they might be thinking. I was really struck when you talked about “allowing her to make her own parenting mistakes and decisions.” I don’t think I consider nearly enough how hard that must be.

    Jay – Sorry to hear about you being laid off. I have no doubt that you can transfer some of your mommy skills to the workplace. And the pumping – yes, there definitely have been some sitcom-worthy moments!

    Camille – I really like what you say about family being the priority and trying your hardest at work. That’s all we can really do, right? I hope to explore this whole crazy working mom world more!

    Algeriagain – I, too, hope that one day America will catch up with Europe. I also hear you on how heartbreaking it can be for the child. (Hattie can’t speak yet, but when I leave the house, I swear she’s begging me not to go.) It’s hard to know sometimes which decisions are the right ones; some days it feels as if I’ll never get it right. But I’ve been trying to trust my instincts more and have confidence in my ability to choose what’s best for me and my family.

  7. Ellie writes:
    May 16, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Hello There,

    Interesting article. With all due respect, it is in my opinion that you ought to lighten up a bit. Your love for Hattie radiates, and it will be impossible for her to ever overlook that no matter how many hours you work. I’m on Google right now looking for answers, since my mother who raised my brother and I singly is absolutely miserable in her life. She had to work 40+ hrs each week to be able to raise us, and I can tell you, we realize much more that we were filled with love and always provided with shelter, clothes and food-we don’t pay attention to how much she had to work. You will have plenty of time to spend with Hattie, and just the fact that you work to support her along with your husband, and love her makes all the difference in Hattie’s life. I think you should stop being worried, and be grateful you have a husband to help support her, and a job that you are happy at. Before you know it, she’ll be a teen and she will look back at love, support and a comfortable life, not how you “weren’t there.” My mother has a respectable position as a nurse, and makes a nice income, but she is absolutely miserable, and other places do not pay as much as she is currently getting paid, so as I am on here looking for answers of another job or starting a business, I thought I’d share my point of view since I saw the opportunity…Take Care :)

  8. Serena W writes:
    May 17, 2012 at 9:43 am

    I thought it was just me when it was time to go back to work and like you I too went online and got more overwhelmed with all of the google stories. My son is 9 months old and I’m a part timer as well. I do have a lot more patience at work and don’t stress either. Some people are going crazy around me and I really just don’t have time to go that route and stress with them any more.

    My son has taught me in his short time here how to appreciate life more, have more patience (oh yes…brushing teeth and sometimes dinner is a challenge lol) and I’ve learned to do things with him that also brings me great enjoyment (that so called balance)! We go running together (I have an awesome running stroller), I still African dance and he watches and acts like a drummer on the side, take long walks, baby and me swim classes…life as a Mom has truly changed me and life has changed…for the better! If we fall off the schedule some days it’s fine…I don’t sweat it. I have friends that follow a very strict schedule and they seem even more stressed. I learned with parenting that you gotta go with the flow (hence sleepless nights). Great article!

  9. Adae writes:
    May 17, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Wow Celeste (and Camille) this sounds like I wrote it! After returning to work from maternity leave my manager and I thought part-time employment would be best for me. My son is five months now and even wih my reduced work hours leaving him hasn’t gotten any easier, pumping consistently has seemed to have gotten harder, and the balancing act continues. Here’s to doing it all ( at least trying to) and hoping for the best! Mommy’s rock.

  10. Charla N. Austin-Harris writes:
    May 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing your candid experience. After having my son, I went back to work when he was 3 months old. I only lasted 4 months and left. So from the time he was 7 months old to now, he is 21 months old, I have essentially been home with him. Now, he does go to daycare part time because he is extremely outgoing and social and so we figured he needed some social interaction. That being said, I am looking for contract, part time, or very flexible full time work all of which seem to be impossible to find these days. I LOVE being home with my son but it has been a huge financial strain on our family. The financial strain also limits the things I am able to do with him during the day. Bottom line, my son/our family comes first. Not sure what’s next for our family… I pray everyday that a feasible solution presents itself soon.

  11. Christopher W. writes:
    May 22, 2012 at 3:18 am

    Thanks for the article. One question: Where did you get that cute baby t-shirt?

  12. Celeste Hamilton Dennis writes:
    May 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Ellie – My husband is applauding you right now. I come from a long line of anxious women from New York; I need to remember to calm down sometimes. Thanks for sharing your story, challenging me, and encouraging me to appreciate what I have. Your mom sounds amazing. I hope one day she finds happiness.

    Serena – Thanks for sharing your mommy experiences! My favorite thing about your comment? That you do African dance and your son acts like a drummer on the side. That says so much about your relationship and your view on life. I’m inspired to go out and do the same!

    Adae – We do rock! I look at my mom now in such a different light, and wish I told her more along the way how much I appreciate her. Enjoy your son!

    Charla – Thank YOU for sharing your struggles. What I’ve loved most about publishing this entry is hearing from other women who remind us that we’re not alone. It seems as if you’ve made the right choices for your family so far, and I hope that you find your next step soon.

    Christopher – We made the shirt on Cafe Press using our logo: I think Idealist could break into the baby business, no?

  13. Carolyn writes:
    May 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    My daughter Phoebe is 4 years old going on 40. She is learning and growing at such an excelerated pace that I find it more difficult each and everyday to leave her with her Pre-K teacher. I go to work knowing that I can’t be there to pick her up at 2:20pm and her won’t be home until 6:00pm to play with her. Just one hour before she falls asleep. I struggle with this! I’m looking for ways to work from home and/or start my own business because I feel lousy leaving her with someone else at her age.

    Since I am the only one at the office with a small child no one understands what I am feeling. Thank you for this post! Having read your article I no longer feel that I am alone!!

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