I’m currently sitting on my balcony at the Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas, listening to the sounds of construction and watching the sun rise on the Bellagio hotel. I am here to speak at a conference for work, and it’s the longest time I will be away from my daughter since she’s been born. I have about an hour before I have to be anywhere so I thought it fitting to write a little about working motherhood, as it’s very much on my mind this trip.
First, a little context: When I first got pregnant last year I knew I always knew I would go back to work. J was was planning to quit his job and go to school full-time in the spring and we had no idea whether or not he would be able to find a job after finishing his program, so there was no question — I needed to go back to work. L was born in April, J finished his program a couple weeks after, and then less than a month later he found himself in a new job that he loves.
Once he got a job a lot of people asked me whether I would still go back, and when my answer was still yes I felt myself defending my decision as if everyone was judging me, even though I really do know they were just questions. Both of us working made much more sense than living off one of our salaries. Sure we could probably live off J’s new salary — but we had some debt to pay, savings to rebuild and a lot of new expenses with a baby that is much easier when you have two incomes.
So – if you are a working mom or thinking of going back to work and need some encouragement, here are some tips I’ve found useful in the four months I’ve done it.
9 Tips on How to Survive as a Working Mom
1. Remember: It gets better
The worst part of going back to work, for me at least, was the anticipation of it. I went back to work July 5th, which made for the most miserable July 4th I’ve ever experienced. I was a mess that week leading up to going back to work, mourning the loss of spending every waking moment with my baby. (And maybe also mourning the end of wearing yoga pants and doing whatever we wanted during the days).
All the unknowns were scary: How many ounces of milk does she need? How will she do? When will she sleep? What do I need to wear to pump three times a day? How in the world do I get out of the door at 7:30 in the morning and have to be fully present at work with all of things I need for her and myself on just a few short hours of sleep?!
It was so overwhelming.
But once I went back to work, I found my new normal and got into a routine. And I realized the anticipation is really the worst of it and it’s always easier than you think it’s going to be.
2. Being organized and planning is essential
That being said, planning is pretty essential to make sure you and your baby get out the door on time. When I went back to work I put a post-it note next to the door to the garage with all I needed to remember:
- 3 bottles, labeled with date and her initials
- L’s daycare bag with a change of clothes
- My laptop
- My lunch
- My purse
- Carseat + baby!
This is not including the diapers, wipes and change of clothes that stay at school. We started routines in the evenings and on the weekends that would help us get out the door in time. Whenever she goes to bed, we will wash her bottles from that day and prepare them for the next. When she started eating solids I would make batches of baby food and freeze them in ice cubes and always pull them out the night before and put them in tupperware containers.
None of this is groundbreaking, but setting aside enough time in the evenings and on the weekends to prepare definitely helps the mornings out the door a lot less stressful.
3. Get your baby used to taking the bottle within their first three weeks
L has always been okay taking the bottle, and I think it is because we introduced it very early in her life and alternated between bottle-feeding and breastfeeding. When she was about a week old I pumped and gave her a bottle to get her used to it, and it actually gave me a LOT of freedom in being able to sleep a little bit in the mornings while J would feed her the bottle if she was hungry. I know some babies are a lot more particular than others, but I think alternating options early on gives them more of a chance to be flexible.
4. Figure out a bottle-washing system
Speaking of bottles — there are SO MANY to wash when you are a working mom. My advice is to figure out a system on when to wash and prepare the bottles for the next day and don’t let them pile up. We always hand-wash the bottles after she goes down for the night and then sanitize them using this microwaver steamer.
Make sure to get two days worth of bottles. For example, she takes three bottles at daycare, so we have at least six so we can wash today’s set and prepare tomorrow’s at the same time. Also, make note that babies drink more milk as they get older, so you may need two sets of four-ounce bottles and another set of eight-ounce bottles.
5. Acknowledge that pumping is the WORST
A lot of my anxiety about going back to work was trying to figure out when and how I would pump as much milk as she needs for the next day. When I came back I went ahead and blocked off time on my shared calendar as “Desk Time” so my colleagues would see I am unavailable for meetings at 9 am, 12 noon and 3 pm. It was helpful to have a calendar reminder to pump in the beginning when I was establishing a routine, and now it’s second nature to me. I think it’s good to have a goal of when the end is in sight and then you have something to work towards. My goal was to give her breastmilk until she’s 6 months, although it’s not exclusively as my supply has gone down and I have to supplement with formula. But my personal goal is to do as much as possible to make sure she has breastmilk until she’s one, and then I plan to ween.
6. Find childcare you love
If you feel comfortable with the child care you have, then you will feel comfortable at work. I absolutely love the church preschool / daycare where L is and love her teachers dearly. Her teachers have been caring for children for decades and definitely know they have her best interests at heart. It makes going to work so much easier knowing she’s in good hands when I drop her off in the morning.
7. It’s okay to get takeout (and other short cuts)
I just don’t have time to everything really well, so I had to prioritize what is important to me vs what is merely good enough. Since my time with L is limited, I try to maximize it as much as possible and try to do as little chores while she is awake. I don’t want to be in the kitchen cooking ever week night, so I normally make big meals on the weekend that can lend itself to leftovers and at least one night a week we will end up picking up food on our way home. We ended up buying a roomba because the dog hair was out of control and I didn’t have time to clean. Our weekends and evenings are sacred, and it’s not that our lives revolve solely around her’s, but I feel very protective of that time and occasionally will say not to something if it means I can’t see L all day.
8. Mom guilt is a real (and self-induced) thing
I didn’t realize how much mom-guilt I would feel telling people that my baby is in daycare. And that judgment I feel from people? It’s exclusively self-induced.
The best way to combat mom guilt is to stay focused on what you’ve been called to and not comparing yourself to others. Proverbs 4:27 says “Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” When we start to look to the left and see how she is doing it and the right and see how she is doing it we forget that all of our circumstances are unique and God has called us all differently with our own set of unique gifts. At the end of the day, does anyone really know what they are doing? We are all just doing the best we can. Let’s give some grace, sisters.
9. It’s okay to love your baby AND your job
Would I rather be in yoga pants on my sofa while a baby naps? Sure. But I also love working and talking to adults and going to meetings and being part of a team that is trying to make a difference in the world. And I love the time that I am with L — I don’t feel like the lack of quantity of time has severed the quality by any means. I’m not sure what my future holds for my career and my motherhood journey, but for now it is working and it is good.
Okay Working Moms: Do you have any other tips you would add?