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.

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"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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