One of my favorite bloggers, Julia over at My Life in Transition (the first blog I ever officially "followed"), asked a few of her mommy blogger friends to write a post about how we "make it work" in our families, being either working moms or stay at home moms. I was excited to be part of such an awesome opportunity, and have loved reading the other contributors' posts. What a cool concept - moms coming together to share their story on what works for them and their family. Coming together - can you imagine?!
I first found Julia's blog while I was sitting at this very desk over 4 years ago, pregnant with our first baby, Blueberry. I wanted to find a blog that chronicled pregnancy, like I had hoped to with my own, and found hers. I love how honest she is, her awesome pictures and her incredible organization - ugh her organization! How does one organize a blog so well, have time to do it, and keep up with posting?! She is truly a "super mom," in my eyes, and has baby #3 on the way - amazing. After we lost our first baby I wanted to stop blogging, but kept going (took my husband's advice), and now my blog is what it is today. A place where I chronicle our lives, mostly my pregnancies and our daughter Lemon, connect with other moms and have some reviews/product promotion mixed in. I have laughed at Julia's posts, cried along with her (read about Wren), and we even had our daughters around the same time so it was fun to read about what Cecelia was up to knowing that Lemon wouldn't be too far behind. I would love to meet Julia one day, she is such an inspiration to so many women. Seriously Julia, my blog friend (as I call you), love you girl.
So, about this - coming together. Us moms, even in the beginning, have a hard time coming together. When you're pregnant you find that it's other moms who make the "wow you're big" comments and also moms who rattle off a list of what you should and shouldn't have for your baby or who share a terrible birth story, instilling fear in you for that fateful moment when you have to do it yourself. Why are moms like this? I have experienced it myself, as I'm sure all of you moms have, where other moms judge your decisions regarding your family. In turn, I have tried not to judge others, offering advice maybe but always trying to preface it by saying, "This is what worked for us but may not work for you . . ." The constant advice also feels like judgement/criticism when you're a new mom and it's just so damn overwhelming (especially after you've already googled the "problem" to death). Yes, of course, many have supported me too, but the opinions, judgement and advice from other moms (even from your own family or in-laws) are what stick to you and it's so hard to shake them off.
I haven't had the easiest time on this journey into/of motherhood so I think that all of the extra stuff that people have said has really affected me and made it even tougher. I find that I am extremely hard on myself to begin with (I'm kind of a perfectionist), so it just weighs me down when others say things that I should be or could be doing differently, instead of just telling me that I'm doing a good job. We need to just say "good job" and that's it. We are all doing a good job.
Moms Make it Work - huh. I have had the toughest time writing this post because I do not feel like I am "making it work" at all. It's kind of funny because most of the time I feel like I am not making it work but instead am just hanging by a slowly unraveling thread. Juggling a full time job, where I am responsible for 175 teenagers (papers/meetings/colleagues/parents), a side business with my husband, a new business venture with my bestie, reviewing products on Instagram and keeping up with my blog are all a bit too much. I think I've finally taken on more than I can handle (which has led me to this week-long cold that I can't seem to get rid of) but I guess I am kinda making it work. Everyone is happy, fairly healthy (we all have colds), kind of frazzled but still chugging along - we are hanging in there and taking it day by day. That's all you can do, right?!
(We used to get a lunch visitor every Friday before we changed Lemon's nap schedule. I miss it.)
Enough rambling, on to Julia's questions (or I would ramble forever) . . .
What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And now where are you?
I graduated from high school when I was 17 and headed straight to Arizona State University to become a high school teacher. I had a student teacher as a junior in high school (the same grade I teach now), whom I loved, and I wanted to be just like him. After realizing that ASU was just too big for my 17 year old self (and failing a class), I was off to a couple of community colleges before returning to ASU for my last two years and student teaching. I student taught with that same teacher who made me want to become a teacher, and it was so much fun. I just knew that what I wanted to do was also something I was really good at so it just clicked. I come from a long line of teachers (my mom, my grandma) and have a theory that teachers just breed teachers, it's true. Teaching was it for me, this was going to be my career for the long run.
I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Secondary Education in 2000 with a specialization in English. I got my Master's in Curriculum and Instruction in 2004 and haven't been back to school (besides a random class or two) since. I taught at a bunch of different high schools before landing at the one I've been at for the past 10 years and have put almost 14 years into this career. I teach the grade I want to teach, have Honors classes, work for the highest paying district, have the best health insurance (as a teacher in the state), work with my husband (a Special Education teacher) and get to go in an hour late because I teach a later afternoon class. It just doesn't get much better.
(First day of school this year.)
(The varsity football players each gave their favorite teacher a jersey to wear to homecoming, of course I got one!)
What are the best parts of your situation? What are the biggest challenges?
The best part about being a teacher is that I only work 180 days a year. The rest of the time I'm a stay at home mom and I love that. I think that my situation has left me with an understanding of what it's like to be a stay at home mom, because I am one, for almost half of the year. I'm not sure that if I worked a 9-5 job year round that I would be a working mom, and that's the truth. The time off is what makes it for me. I leave at 8am and am home by 4pm (Monday through Friday), I don't bring work home with me and I have nothing to do, regarding work, any time that I'm at home or on the weekends. The hours/days I'm home with my babe I just get to be her mom. It's the best.
Working with my husband is also awesome because we carpool, I have an automatic "friend" at work (and someone to complain to) and we get the same time off (holidays/breaks/weekends). But, sometimes that's a challenge too because we never get alone time with the baby; those days that I randomly take off during the year, our mommy/daughter days (usually because she's sick or I am), are so special to me. That dang husband of mine, he's just always around! But, we are so lucky to have time off together, an extra set of hands is awesome and being able to travel together is a definite perk too.
(A sick day at home with my babe.)
I love alone time as well, without the babe (shocking I know, but we all do, admit it). When I was on maternity leave, during breaks, and even now the only time I/we get alone is at night after Lemon goes to bed. But, while I'm at work I get alone time, at my desk, for two hours a day to do whatever I want. This is definitely one of the perks of being a working mom. Stay at home moms don't get to have this break and I feel lucky that I do, even though I miss my girl terribly (and may spend some of that two hours looking at pictures of her!).
The biggest challenge for me is, of course, missing things. We had a great nanny before the one we have now, but we were like two ships passing - she'd come over, I'd leave, I'd come home, she'd leave - I never got to hear what Lemon did during the day. The nanny we have now is a friend of ours so we actually get to spend some more time together, and she tells me if Lemon did something funny or said something new. There are still times where she learns things and I know I'm missing it, or lately she has started fake snoring when she lays on something and it's just the funniest - but I missed the first time she ever did it and have no idea where she learned it. I hate not being able to go to Gymboree with her or Mommy and Me yoga - these are days I wish I was at home.
Leaving in the morning is hard. Some days Lemon acts like she couldn't care less (and actually shuts the door for me) and some days she cries if I just leave to take the trash out before I actually go. It was harder when she was younger, but now I think it's the being away all day that's tough, just because I know how fast it goes and I don't want to miss anything. Plus, she can talk, walk and only takes one nap - perfect for so many adventures. I think moms should get time off around this age, in addition to when their babes are newborns, THIS is the fun time (in my opinion). In Australia they get over a year of maternity leave - I would have loved that.
(I have to get up from cuddling this baby every morning to get ready, it sucks!)
I also miss dressing her every day. She has so many clothes, so many hair accessories and she outgrows all of them before she can wear them. I have so many outfits planned in my head and when the weekend comes I just forget, or only have two days to put them on her. This one is so silly but is one of the perks of having a girl, I miss getting her dressed. But, I love getting myself dressed up for school some days so I guess I trade one for the other. If I stayed home I'm sure I'd live in yoga pants, tank tops and never wear makeup again (and it would be lovely too)!
Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?
I am not sure what I expected but I knew that I was going to work after having a baby. I didn't want to give up a career that I had built, time I had put in to make it what I wanted, or to leave a job that I actually liked to stay at home. Now that I am in it, though, I often wonder - would I stay home if I could? I really get the best of both worlds so it's hard to say. If money weren't an issue, sure I'd stay home, but I would miss working too. I really do love my job, it's something different every day and it challenges me. I remember when I was on maternity leave I longed for adult conversation, and I do like that - alone time and also time for me to interact with adults/colleagues and challenge my brain a bit when it comes to strange, teenage questions. I have always been someone that was learning, whether I was in school or teaching school, so even if I stayed home I'd have to be doing something.
I guess what is surprising is that I never expected to want to be a stay at home mom, but sometimes I do. It is a strange thought to me, very unlike me (if you know me), but there's something that happens when you're a mom. Even a successful mom that went to school to do what she is doing and likes her job; you still kind of wish you didn't have to be away or miss anything. I am envious of moms who can make it work and stay home, and work from home. I don't know if it would make me happy, but there are times that I would like to see if it would.
Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?
This is hard question because I have no idea what my ideal situation would be. If you asked me this on May 21st I'd say this is my ideal situation and that I love being a working mom/teacher. But here I am, on a school night, not wanting to go to bed, not wanting to wake up, pick up the house and rush out the door; instead wanting to cuddle my muffin all morning and make her breakfast myself. Is working anyone's ideal situation? I'd love to be independently wealthy, not work at all and live in Hawaii, doing yoga every day on the beach - now that would be my ideal situation!
I would love to be able to work from home, I suppose, or make this blog or my side businesses my actual job. I'd love for my husband to be home with us too, making rings (our biz), and being able to spend more time with our babe than we do now. But, if I have to work a "real job" I'm happy I have the one I do because it allows me to be home more often than most.
Do you see yourself making a career change in the next 5-10 years, or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?
I'm wondering if I had trouble answering the question above because of the way my job has changed over the years. I became a teacher to teach literature and inspire students, not to test them to death and spend weeks planning to be evaluated (yep, we plan for someone to come in and evaluate us). I think that this would have been my ideal job, and something for the "long haul," 5 years ago but now I just don't know.
Education has changed, and will continue to change, and I'm not sure I want to be a part of it - whatever it turns out to be. I'd love to move to the Community College or University level, be a Professional Development Specialist (someone at a schools who helps teachers) or a Technology Educator - something out of the classroom. But it is the kids that keep me going so I'm not sure that would suit me either, sometimes the adults are what make teaching tough. Maybe an online, charter school would be my thing - something with even more freedom and less control over testing/curriculum? I don't know. Was this supposed to be about being a working mom and now I'm just boring you with the truth about education? Oh no, sorry!
Tips on how you make this work for you?
Find great childcare. You have to like who you are leaving your baby with every day and trust them. If you are dropping your kid off at a place you feel weird about, don't do it. We took Lemon to a daycare that is actually part of a nearby school district, the best I could find in our area (that wasn't super expensive or a private school), and I didn't like that she was stuck in a room all day and never got to do anything else. I wanted a place with stories/music/outside time and was frustrated that they didn't do any of this, even with the tiny babies. So, my mom and a friend watched her for awhile, until we found our first nanny and then our friend took over in January and we couldn't be happier.
Brittany comes to our house in the morning, so I don't have to drop Lemon off anywhere or pack anything up for her, and then goes home when we get home. She brings her to Gymboree, the zoo, the park, the movies or anywhere else we/she wants to and drives our car. We pay her bi-weekly, help pay for gas/groceries and pay for her and Lemon to do whatever they want. We are so incredibly lucky and I know that some don't have this luxury, but it is out there. Find someone you like to watch your babe.
(Brittany gets to snuggle when I'm not there, so jealous of their cuddles!)
Make it easy for you. Being a working mom is tough - first because you have to leave your baby and second because you have to plan ahead. I used to bring Lemon to three different places every week and it was so tough. I packed 3 different bags and had to coordinate food/bottles/clothes/diapers/etc. for 3 different people/places. Lemon was a terrible sleeper/napper so I had to coach 3 different people on what to do for naps. It was stressful and crazy and I'm not sure how we did it. But, I am so happy I don't have to do it anymore.
My mom has also volunteered (many times) to take Lemon for a couple of days a week but we haven't taken her up on it since that first year. It was a drive after work to go and get the baby, even though she would come get her in the mornings from us. It is worth it, to us, to spend the extra money to just come home right after work and maximize our time with Lemon during the day. Do what is easiest for you, even if it costs more, it's worth it.
Have a schedule and be organized. Working moms have schedules and I've found that most stay at home moms (or the ones I am friends with) don't. I think this is one of the biggest differences between the two and that's ok, it just makes it tough to plan things with other mom friends! Working moms on breaks/weekends/days off have schedules too. Don't you think I'd like for Lemon to sleep in until 9am on weekends? Of course! But does she? Nope. She's still up at 6am and I'm fine with that because during the week, when I do have to go to work, I get more time with her.
I also try to do a menu every week for breakfast/lunch so that Brittany (our nanny) doesn't have to guess, or put together on her own, what Lemon is eating. I also know that Lemon goes down between 11-12 every day for a nap and know that she will be tired at bedtime because she's on such a regular nap schedule. (Harder when they are younger so don't stress.) Lemon has to be home to nap at this time ever day, has gotta eat dinner at this time and that's it - and it's like that because we work. Lemon wakes up early because we do (during the week) and goes to bed early because we do, and this is a schedule that works for us.
Having someone come to our house also means that we have to keep it semi-clean so a schedule is good for this too. Laundry has to be done, dishes have to be cleaned, diapers have to be washed, toys picked up and so on. I usually do laundry on certain days, grocery shopping on a certain day and diapers on other days - being organized totally helps. I also wouldn't want to spend all day at someone's house if it was a mess so it keeps me motivated knowing that Brittany will always be over on Monday. Brittany is amazing though and helps with all of this too, we are so very, very lucky to have her.
(Grocery stores make the best sensory play for your little one, I always bring Lemon shopping with me!)
Make your schedule make YOU happy. If you don't mind putting your baby down at 7pm and her waking up at 6am, do it. If someone else has something to say, oh well. I could put Lemon down later, and she would wake up later, but then I would leave in the mornings without seeing her. I also have some mom friends who leave without seeing their babes and come home to them asleep - that would kill me. Find a schedule that works for you and do that, who cares what anyone else does/says.
Do fun things with your babe when you are home. We don't come home and just sit on the couch, we take Lemon for walks, to the mall or out to eat. Spend quality time with your muffin, even if you're tired, because that's all the time you have if you work all day. On the weekends we are also out and about, after a morning of cuddling of course. Make the time you have together count.
(Movie dates to see Frozen with a chance to play in the snow after!)
Save one baby activity for you to do as a family. For us it's swimming. Ian swims with the babe but I go to help and take pictures and I love it. It's the one thing we get to do with the baby each week, every week and something we never have to miss. It means so much to me even if we have to rush there or take time out of our weekend to go.
Plan things with other moms when you can. Since Lemon has a nanny that comes to our house every week, the only time she's around other kids is at her activities like Gymboree or swimming. On the weekends I love making plans with other moms/babies because it gives you an outlet to talk about what's going on, with moms who can relate, and also for your babe to be around other kids her age. It takes some work because all moms don't have the same schedule, and it's hard finding time (remember those two precious weekend days I mentioned above) but it is worth it to make the effort. Spending time with my girl doing things she normally doesn't do, or seeing babies she normally doesn't see, is fun for me. Make it fun for you too.
Take off work if you need to. If you wake up one day and decide that you just can't bring yourself to go in to work that day, maybe because you just had the best weekend at home, or work is just particularly crazy - don't go. Just don't go. Mental health days with my girl are the best, or if she's sick and I want to snuggle her all day. It's ok to take off work once in awhile, we all need days like this.
Have girl time. I know, I know there is no time. One of the perks of Lemon going to bed so early is that I can go out with my friends and she doesn't even know I'm gone. Or, if there's something fun going on one weekend, I can bring Lemon and see my friends. Living close to all of them helps too but I kind of can't wait until I have more time (Spring Break!) so I can do even more of this! Everyone needs some girl time once in a while, make it a point to take it. If I want to go out, Ian stays home with the babe and vice-versa. I always feel recharged after having some lady time, so good for the soul.
Do something just for you. Every night, one night a week, I don't have to put the baby to bed. I don't have to go around saying "night, night" to everything in her room, read her stories we've read hundreds of times or watch another episode of Bubble Guppies. One night a week I go to yoga and it's my one night off from being a mom. Take a night for yourself, it definitely makes me a better mom.
Have "date" time with your husband. We are lucky that with Lemon's new sleeping schedule (see my Sleep Training post) we get a couple of hours at night alone after she goes to bed. This is time I missed for 15 months of Lemon not being a good sleeper and time I would do anything to hold on to. Make some time where it's just the two of you, it is so good for your relationship. We don't often go on dates, just the two of us (even though my mom offers, I just don't want to leave the babe!) but we do get this precious time at night. Even more precious when you didn't have it for so long - get it, you will love it. It makes you better parents and reminds you of a time, long ago, when it was just the two of you.
How do you handle mommy guilt that comes with each role?
This is something that is always in the back of my head, but something I try not to think about. I wish Lemon was a bit older so she'd know the days we had to work and the days we don't; so she'd know when vacations are over or when summer is coming. It is so hard to be home for two days and then leave again, or home for two weeks and then leave, she doesn't even know why.
I hope that I am making Lemon into a strong, independent lady by her seeing me leave for work each day. I hope that she is becoming comfortable around other people, besides just us, and that she knows there are other people in her life that love and care about her. (Although I think us leaving every day has done the opposite so far, she wants only us in a group and thinks we are leaving every time someone comes over!) I hope that when she does go to school, it will be an easier transition for her because she knows that even though we are gone, we are always coming back.
I think I have the "mommy guilt" and just try to push it aside. So many moms work, so many moms work longer/more than I do and so many babies turn out just fine. My mom worked and I turned out ok, Lemon will too. I just hope this doesn't affect her later in life, in whatever way, and that she becomes a confident, goal-oriented, career woman herself because of it. I hope.
Any advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home?
You can do it. Yep, you can do it! It seems like you can't, you may cry when you go back to work, but then you get there and you remember what it's like and you do it. One day at a time, one week at a time. You just keep doing it, over and over again, and then it becomes the norm. It will be ok.
When I first had Lemon I felt like so much of me was lost, the me before I got pregnant, the me I knew for 33 years. First, your body goes (it becomes this strange, other, much larger thing), then your mind slowly goes (yep, mom brain) and things are so new and confusing. You spend your days getting spit up on, changing diapers, figuring out nursing and trying to get this nutty, new animal to sleep - it is truly crazy. But then, you slowly get pieces of you back, over time. Like when I returned to yoga - a piece of me came back. When I left for work that day I was so sad, even though I was leaving Lemon with my husband for 6 weeks, I just didn't want to be away. But I got in the car, got to work, and became a teacher again - I got another little piece of me back. All of these parts that work themselves back into your life, pieces of you from before, they just become the new normal. The anticipation of going back to work is so much worse than actually doing it, and once you get there it's easy.
It's all an adjustment and it takes time. Don't be too hard on yourself and don't stress, we've all been there, you aren't alone. Find a balance. Don't listen to anyone else, do what is best for you and your family. All that I've written here are merely suggestions and what works for us, do what works for you. We are all different, all our babes are different - remember that. Don't listen to family, friends, the internet or even any of us writing these posts - trust your gut and follow your instincts. Only you know what is best for you and your family. It's simple, really.
You can do it, we've all done it and so many women who have come before us have done it too. You've got this mama and I will be there to support you, encourage you and tell you this - YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB!
(Read the rest of the Moms Make it Work series here).