Even though it was over 8 years ago, I still remember that day vividly. That sinking feeling of dropping my 12-week-old son off for the first time at day care. So. Many. Questions. Would he drink from the bottle? Will he nap at his regular time? Will he have separation anxiety? Oh, and how am I possibly going to make it through the work day?! I cried – no, bawled – the entire drive to work.
Then there was getting settled into my new routine. Pumping throughout the day in a musty old shower room at the office. The racing out of the office to pick him up on time. The feared “witching hour” routine at night. The middle-of-the-night feedings and wake ups. The many, many cups of coffee.
Oh, and then there was this little thing called a full-time job. My brain was mush and I was beyond exhausted both physically and mentally. But I couldn’t let this slow me down in order to advance my marketing career. I was anxious and fearful that this could set me back. I was only 7 months into this job and I had to prove to my coworkers, the leadership team, and honestly myself that I could handle this.
Hindsight lets me look back on this memory with some levity. But I know there are a lot of new working moms out there who are struggling right now with this. They’re trying to “balance” it all.
So what advice can I give to new working moms? What helped me survive? I turned to my network and conducted an informal survey of working parents. Here’s what they said.
Make a mid-week return
The hardest part of returning to something is the first day, or first week, back. Returning to work after you’ve had a child is no exception. A mid-week start date makes the return a lot easier to get through. It’s a psychological hack that makes the transition into working parenthood feel less daunting.
Say hello to your new BFFs: online shopping and outsourcing
New parents are short on lots of things, but time is #1 on the list. When I had my first child, Amazon became my personal assistant that did all my shopping and dropped off everything I needed at my front door. (We remain tight to this day.) Outsource errands and tasks you don’t have time for – like grocery shopping and house cleaning – to the wonderful world of technology.
Carve out time for self care
Getting some exercise, a weekly date night, catching an episode of your favorite new show on Netflix. When you’re a new parent, it’s the little things that remind you that you’re you. These moments are everything. Whatever relaxes and recharges you, make it a priority to find time to do it.
Build your village
Lots of new parents think they can handle every curveball. Then reality sets in, and you begin to understand the true meaning of “it takes a village.” Things will go wrong. Your child will get sick. Your entire household will get sick. These are the times you’ll need to lean on others for help – friends, family, trusted backup caregivers. Line up your support system before you think you’ll need it. Because, inevitably, you will.
Keep open communication with your partner
This is a new routine for both parents so you need to be really clear with one another about each person’s roles and responsibilities. My husband and I determined early on who was responsible for drop off and who was responsible for pick up. This never left room for miscommunication or unclarity. We also split time evenly when a child was sick or had to go to a doctor’s appointment. By approaching dual working parenthood this way, we both knew that each other’s careers were important and we were in this together
Block your calendar for “pump time”
Pumping takes time. For me, the whole process took at least 30 minutes. Make sure nothing else gets in the way of that by literally scheduling a meeting with yourself. Hopefully, your workplace has designated rooms for nursing moms to pump in peace. If not, demand them because it’s the law. If only this law had been in place a few years earlier, I wouldn’t have had to pump in an old musty shower room!
Work for a company that supports working parents
I’m lucky in that I would have never made it through my time as a new working mom without the great benefits my company offered. Advocate for benefits at your workplace like paid or subsidized backup child care, assistance with finding care, and flexible work schedules. If your company already offers these benefits, spread the word to fellow co-workers; they might not be aware of them
Be honest with your manager and coworkers
Set expectations with your manager and coworkers around your new schedule. Assure them that you will continue to deliver the level of work you are capable of but you may need to do some work in the evening after the child(ren) go to sleep. If you are open and transparent about your new schedule and responsibilities, they will know what to expect.
Take it one day at a time
Despite all the picture-perfect families you see on Facebook and Instagram, being a working parent is messy and complicated. As one parent told me, “Know that ‘doing it all’ doesn’t necessarily mean doing it all WELL.’” Cut yourself some slack. Forgive your mistakes. Breathe. You’ve got this.
And, it took him a whole week to take that bottle.
What did I miss? If you have tips of your own to share, I’d love to hear them! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.