Whether you’re returning from maternity leave or your SAHM days are coming to an end, leaving your child is hard. Visions of your kid hating you or mistaking the nanny for Mommy and worries about missing milestones can make your first day back exhausting – and that’s before you even step foot into your office.
But here are five tales of back-to-work survival; hopefully they’ll help you find your own life-work balance.
- “I Found the Right Daycare”
Mom: Lorneth Fahie-Peters, 30
Child: Elijah Peters, 6 months
Location: Clarksville, TN (outside of Nashville)
I have a 6-month-old, and I returned to work when he was just over three months. The main challenge I faced was finding childcare. One of my in-the-know friends told me to visit daycares between the hours of 10-2. My visitation experience during those odd times was eye-opening. Out of the three daycares I visited, one allowed an infant to cry the entire time I was present. No one took the time to check on the infant. Visiting daycares at odd times can show you the actual environment your child will be exposed to on a weekly basis. It was important for me to find the right daycare because my infant would be spending more time there than he would with me. [At the one I picked], I knew that the workers showed genuine concern for the infants. The first day was the most difficult day of my life. My parents and husband were surprised at the way I reacted. I have always been an independent woman, with goals of climbing the corporate ladder. Since having my son, my goals have changed. I am now more focused on being a great mom over being the best employee. To help me through my first day, I bought Starbucks coffee and drank it for the first time since giving birth. I also listened to my favorite CD throughout the day and counted down the hours, minutes and seconds left before I saw my son again.
- “I Asked for a Flexible Schedule”
Mom: Carly Fauth, 32
Children: Ryker, 17 months
Location: Milford, MA
After having my son, Ryker, I spent just a few blissful months as a SAHM (and yes, I use the term “blissful” with just a hint of sarcasm). I started job hunting because for me personally and financially it was important to rejoin the workforce. My two biggest challenges included finding something I was truly passionate about and convincing employers that I was still relevant (something many employers doubt of moms that have been out of the workforce for a while). I also had to prove myself as a committed potential employee. “[For example, I’d have to say] ‘Can I leave early four days a week and have Fridays off? That’s Ryker’s daycare schedule – you understand, right?’ Alas, after much searching, I reconnected with an old friend who was launching an online kids clothing swap company called thredUP.com, and they needed a “Chief Mom”! Luckily, my friend/boss was really understanding and flexible with my schedule. He worked with me to find a compromise between what thredUP needed and what I could do. He was also open to the option of me working from home if need be. I think it helped that he and his wife were expecting their first child, so he was probably more sympathetic than the average boss.
- “I Went Back to School to Get Current”
Mom: Judith Rohatiner, 48
Children: Layla, 15 and Zoey, 11
Location: Shorecrest, FL
I worked part-time for my ex while I raised my kids. In 2004, when I got divorced, I ended up with a ten-year gap in my resume [which focused on marketing]. [I spent time at] five different jobs in marketing and web management. For my current job as marketing manager for a dermatology company, I had to metamorphose into a web designer (adobe CS5 and more), programmer and SEO director. To catch up on all the stuff I missed in a decade, I taught myself and took classes, both in person and online. I participated in a Dade County Public Schools program. Even though I already had a masters degree, I felt like the industry progressed tremendously while I was gone. It was now about social media and search engine optimization, and I was competing with 25-year-olds. I saw that I needed to learn programming, coding and designing. The course gave me exposure to the new equipment and software, and I combined that with what I already knew about public relations. I now do a mixture of SEO, programming, web management and internet growth strategy. My masters degree helps me because because I have the global thinking to stay ahead of the game.
- “I Scheduled My Life to the Minute”
Mom: Elizabeth Ackerman, 37
Children: James, 2 years and Kepler, 5 months
After my first child was born two years ago, I was loathe to return to work. I got insanely jealous of my husband’s stories of our child’s firsts and new developments. I worried that my son wouldn’t know who I was or be bonded with me as much as with my husband. But over time I discovered that my older son very much wants both his parents. Whenever one of us is gone, he asks the other one about him or her constantly. So when I go to work, he asks my husband,”Mama? Mama?” And when my husband is out, my son asks, “Dada? Dada?” The best part of my day is coming home and hearing my son say “MAMA, MAMA!!” and come running to give me a kiss and a hug and hold up his stuffed monkey so I can kiss him, too. With my second baby, the return to work has been infinitely easier. I know this time around that my baby will know who I am and still love me. [Before my first] my mother had told me horror stories that a woman’s mental powers don’t return for a full year after a baby (she was a lawyer). [With my first and now my second], I took to writing absolutely everything down and relying completely on Entourage’s scheduling feature to remind me when to do everything I need to do – even eat, pump, and go home! That has been a huge blessing. Here is [a typical] schedule:
9:00 – 10:00
– send revised nonfiction book manuscript to writer
– send vocabulary list for the unit to contract editor
– email sales presentation to the sales staff
– deal with emails from writers and customer service
10:00 – 10:45 – one-on-one with an employee
10:45 – 11:00 – pump
11:30 – 12:00 – phone/webinar with vendor
12:15 – 1:15 – (gym twice a week – or I take colleagues to lunch, or eat at my desk)
1:45 – 2:00 – pump
2:30 – 2:45 – prep for 2:45 meeting
2:45 – 3:45 – team meeting
4:00 – 4:30 – prep for tomorrow’s 9:00 meeting with SVP
4:30 – 5:00 – write specs for new guides
5:00 – 5:20 – pump
5:30 – 6:00 – write/review outlines for next 4 units, make assignments
6:00 – go home
If something isn’t in a folder on my desk or in my calendar, it doesn’t happen.
- “I Planned, Let Go of Perfectionism and Stayed Positive”
Mom: Carrie Peters, 38
Children: Quinn, 5 and Tess, 20 months
Location: Seattle, Washington
Finding great childcare was probably the most frustrating and difficult part. But once that was figured out, the next biggest challenge has been dealing with all the little stuff that is difficult to do when you’re in an office all day. My greatest fear is that our weekends would turn in to Costco and Trader Joe runs and we’d never have much time for relaxing and having fun together (as anyone with young children knows, going to Costco with the under-6 set is a lesson in extreme patience). So I do a lot more planning now than I did before. I spend Sunday late afternoons cooking meals for the week; I also try to stockpile essentials, and I use a grocery delivery service. I spend about 45 minutes on Sunday morning going through recipes and deciding what meals to prepare. In the late afternoon, I’ll cook a few things (usually a large serving of noodles, washing and cutting up veggies and fruit, etc.) and I’ll have my husband grill chicken which I’ll then cut up to use during the week. I still haven’t figured out how to pick up dry cleaning in a more timely manner (we always forget on Saturdays), and the house is a bit messier, but we don’t feel like we’re spending all our weekends at the store or running errands. It’s hard for me to have the house be in more disarray. I find myself shoveling piles of papers into closets or shutting doors more so the junk isn’t as visible. I have the girls help me at the end of the day run around the house and try to pick up whatever is lying around. We play kid music and it’s become part of their nighttime routine, so it makes it kind of fun. I also have a cleaning service come in once every two weeks. It’s expensive, but it makes me feel a little better.
The transition for my girls has actually gone much more smoothly than I expected. My husband and I talked quite a bit about mommy being really excited about going back to work more and using positive phrases like “mommy gets to go to work today,” and “Quinn gets to go to preschool.” Every day I share with them what I “got” to do. I’m director of PR and Marketing for a digital media agency who builds websites, games, iPhone and iPad apps for children, so I’m lucky that I get to talk to my oldest daughter about things she’s familiar with and really likes. I also try to focus all my attention on them when I get home; I leave my phone in my car so I’m not tempted to text or check email [before their bedtime]. My office is pretty family-friendly. They know I leave work around 5 or 5:30 and then am available again after 7:30. I want to set a positive role model for both my girls, and working outside the home makes me happy.