Moms Make It Work: Erin from Minnesota

Our first guest blogger for the series is Erin from It's All Happening. She is one of my internet-turned-real-life friends who is the perfect fit for this first post. She's just an awesome example of a mom who rocks it while working full time outside of the home. Love her insight and advice!


My name is Erin, and I am a 32 year old full-time working mom. I have lived in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota my entire life, and my claim to fame on Julia's blog was when she came to visit me this past summer :) I got married to my husband Ben in 2005, started my blog in 2008, and we had our first child, Annie, in January 2010, and our 2nd child, Luke, in March 2012.

I prefer to write posts with specific direction, so I am using Julia's questions that she asked as a guide. I also am aware that I accidentally wrote a novel, and not just on the subject of ME working and how I find balance - I guess it's a topic that I find interesting! I also tried to link within this post any other posts from my blog(s) that I think would be helpful.

Family hike on Burro Trail

What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And now where are you?

I am a career counselor for undergraduate liberal arts students at a very large public university, and have been in this position for the past year. There are 3 main parts of my job - working with students individually, teaching one (2 credit, graded, one day a week for 2 hours) class per semester, and coordinating a number of events large and small - anything from a panel of alumni to a huge job fair. A major part of the reason I find the topic of working and finding balance so fascinating is because I get to work with such a huge variety of individuals pursuing so many different careers.

University of Minnesota
I love working here a lot more in summer than right now ;)

My undergraduate education is from the university where I now work, and my degree was in journalism with an emphasis on strategic communication (advertising/PR) with a minor in psychology. I worked as a media planner in a large advertising agency for 3 years, and while I had a blast, it wasn't something that was personally fulfilling to me so I made a career change when I was about 25. I did a lot of networking and informational interviewing to learn more about the field of career counseling, and took a job as an administrative assistant at a university that offered tuition reimbursement so that I could work full time in higher education to get my start in the field, and go to school part time. While I was getting my master's degree in Counseling Psychology, I also volunteered at a crisis hotline, and was very involved in a professional association (which is how I met my current boss and a very huge reason I have the job I do now). Within the university where I worked, over the course of 3 years, I had some increases in responsibility and always kept connected with the career center there and after I finished my master's degree, got hired in the career center. When all was said and done, it took me about 3 years from the time I decided to change careers to when I actually accomplished it.

Storm coming into downtown
Worked in downtown Minneapolis for 9 years - really miss it some days!

Right after I got that job, I also got pregnant! (Literally - it was about 2 months later) And then got pregnant again! Just when things were starting to settle down after 2 rounds of pregnancy/nursing/sleep deprivation, I got an email that my current job was being posted and decided to apply on a whim - I wasn't looking for a new job, but it ended up being such a great fit for me - I get to teach, I get to work with traditional age college students in person (versus with older adults over the phone or email). I really did not realize it at the time because my life was so overwhelming with 2 kids under 3, but I was feeling very drained by my old job, and especially the organization as a whole. I did LIKE what I did at the time, but now I LOVE what I do AND where I work, and that has made a world of difference with my outlook about working in general. My situation really has shown me how much of an impact being satisfied at work can have on your life as a whole (also what helps is that my kids both sleep all night now. Really can't overstate that enough.)

Taken by Kate NG Sommers
December 2009, photo by Kate Sommers

January 2012 Family Photos
January 2012, photo by Kate Sommers

What are the best parts of your situation? What are the biggest challenges?

I work full time, and always have - approximately 40 hours a week, and so does my husband. Neither of us has ever considered anything else. The best part of my situation is that while I work full time, I ONLY work 40 hours a week and I don't have a set start/end time, and so does my husband (more or less) - I never HAVE to stay late, or work weekends. If I do that, it's my own decision, no one is forcing me. Ben and I carpool, so it makes it much easier doing drop off and pickup together most days. Both of our jobs are extremely flexible in that we have unlimited sick days and very generous vacation policies. We also can easily check in from home, especially my husband who is a software developer and often works at night after the kids go to bed - but it doesn't seem that bad to me - he's basically just sitting next to me on the couch writing code on his laptop, so we can still chat :) Basically, the best part is the flexibility and autonomy both of us have in our jobs. I do have appointments but I set the times, I teach a class, but I have a say in when it is, and I am in control of every part of it. I love that part of my job, even if at first it was very strange and overwhelming.

The biggest challenge for me has been adjusting to the constantly changing pattern of working at a university - it can be COMPLETELY dead (summer) or just insanely busy (September-November, February-April). What this means is that I have all the flexibility in the world... when school isn't in session. But because I teach, and do events, and have appointments with students, while I do HAVE unlimited sick days, and I know I CAN use them, it almost always falls to Ben because he just doesn't have as much to rearrange as I do. I wish we could more evenly split it but it's hard if you have to reschedule 5 appointments to stay home, especially when those 5 appointments had to wait a month to even GET an appointment (fund more career counselors, university!!).

When we are in a busy time with our jobs, it does get hard on weeknights - often we can leave on the early side and get home around 5, but when we can't even leave work until closer to 5, it gets crazy trying to cram everything into a really short timeframe. It was especially hard when we had little babies (under 1) who still needed to nurse, and were often fussy all night. However, I recognize that we have it pretty good in that we ALWAYS can be home by 5:30, except for maybe a few later things once or twice every semester. I also know this will get both easier and harder as the kids can stay up later, but then have more weeknight activities that are REALLY hard to manage right now so we basically just don't do them.

Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?

I'm not sure I really thought too deeply about what life would be like with kids. My mom always worked full time, so I guess I expected my life to look something like my childhood did, which it does in many ways.

I literally never for even one moment considered NOT working when I had kids, so this is just how it is for me. I think having very few expectations of life in general is a good policy - expectations typically force disappointment when things inevitably don't look the way you pictured in your mind. Or, do what I do - expect the worst, and be pleasantly surprised when things go okay ;)

Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?

Yes, it is. I am satisfied with the amount of time that I see my kids, and I do not waste energy counting the hours that I see them, and the hours that they are in daycare because I just don't think it matters in the long run. Both of us are doing great things while we are apart - me working in a job I love, and them getting to learn and play at daycare. Sometimes I think I'd like to work 4 days a week, which would be close to the perfect balance for me. However, I also know that in order to do my exact job, I need to work full time and right now I'd far, far prefer to be doing what I'm doing versus doing something I like less to work 4 days instead of 5. Also? My salary is pretty pitiful as it is, so working part time would not be feasible financially.

When the kids are in school, I would love to figure out a way where we don't need additional child care before and after school - with Ben's and my current jobs, it seems like that is very feasible.

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?

This is it for the long haul for me - a career change is a lot of work, and I wouldn't ever say never (after all, I'll probably be working for 30 more years, and I've only been working for 10 so who knows??) but right now, I am completely happy with what I'm doing right now, and there are potential opportunities for growth even within my current position. One of the major reasons I wanted my current job is because of all the opportunities that are available at the university - it is one of the largest employers in the entire state, so even if I do decide I want to do something else, there are a lot of great things to do within the university system. Right now, I absolutely love working in higher education, but could see it getting old because you just keep having variations of the same situation over and over again each school year. I might want to rejoin the "real world" and get out of the university bubble at some point, but not for a long time.

Tips on how you make this work for you?

I'm not sure if this is a "tip" exactly, but the only way this works for me is by having an equal partner. Ben does so, so, so much for our family, and we truly do have an equal partnership in parenting, managing the household, and life in general. There is NEVER a time where I feel bad for going out for a night, or needing to stay late at work, or basically just needing him to pick up the slack for me. He absolutely never makes me feel guilty about it either - no underhanded comments, no "keeping score". I think that last part is key - keeping score in any way in a partnership just fosters resentment. It's really hard to not, especially if your partner does it often, but getting out of the mindset of "if I get a night out, you get a night out" was helpful for our relationship. (Not saying it never happens - after his 4th guys weekend of the year, I'm usually feeling like I deserve a spa day at LEAST :)

Dad and Children, reunited

Other tips - meal planning!! SO key to our survival - dinners are a source of stress for so many, but Ben and I have gotten into a great system of meal planning, and really do a great job of planning easy/crockpot meals on weeknights. We have about 5-10 of our family favorite meals (we have a specific food blog to keep track) that we rotate regularly (carrot-broccoli orzo, white bean chicken chili, spaghetti, lasagna, 4 bean chili, vegetable soup, black bean soup just to name a few) but also are fine just saying screw it, giving the kids PBandJ for dinner and getting takeout for ourselves after bedtime. They eat very well most of the time, so we don't sweat the times they don't. It also helps that we both actually enjoy cooking, and cleaning up the kitchen immediately after dinner helps for our sanity as well.

Annie eating burrito soup

Another sanity saving measure for us is being close to our family and friends - we have a lot of friends with kids the same ages as ours and most of them also work, so we frequently have last minute "pizza and playtime" nights with them. Our families both live close, so we have a lot of very willing babysitters when we want a date night. We've never had to have a non-family member watch our kids, and I know how lucky we are for that. We absolutely do not take it for granted, but we DO take advantage of that help regularly and go out on dates!

Eating dinner

Dan and Erin's wedding

How do you handle mommy guilt that comes with each role?

I have written about this before, as a guest post on my friend Laura's blog (not my best work, as this was written during the first trimester of pregnancy, sorry Laura :) Over the past few years, I truly have managed to eliminate the standard mommy guilt. I feel literally no guilt about the choices I make. I think about them, make decisions that are right for my family, and move on. End of story. It also helps immensely that nearly all of my good friends in real life work, and like I said, my mom also worked full time - so that is what is normal to me.

I DO feel guilt when I do things that are ACTUALLY wrong, like yelling at or snapping at my kids. That guilt I deal with by attempting to change my behavior the next time. It really rarely works, because I still yell and snap sometimes, but hopefully with time I will learn more patience and get better about that. That isn't really related to working or staying home, but that is really the only time that guilt is a helpful or useful emotion to dwell on - when it can cause you to make a change for the better.

I really tend to take the long view regarding parenting - if there is a week that goes by where I am busy with work, have a dinner out with friends, and I just don't see my kids that much - yes, I miss them. But I do not feel guilty about it. I know that there will be other weeks or seasons where I see them a lot, and it all evens out. This crazy time of toddlerhood with 7:30pm bedtimes is short in the grand scheme of things, and yes it is hard to cram everything in in those 2.5 hours between getting home and them going to bed - so we just don't do it. It's just going to be a whirlwind of dinner-prep, eating, a bit of play and bed - there is no need to become obsessive with making that "quality time" - most of our weeknights are just a complete sh!t show, to be honest, and that is fine. That's what the weekends are for :) Reading back on some of the day in the life posts I've done, it really is striking just how hard that first year is with a new baby - as my youngest approaches 2, our lives aren't necessarily easier, but balancing work and family life definitely is (sleep helps).

Peaceful dinner making!
Typical weeknight, just trying to make dinner!!

Oh and another thing - I love going to work on Mondays - I love sitting in my silent office for an hour before I have appointments, drinking my coffee, catching up on emails. It is BECAUSE of the time I get to "recharge" at work that I am able to be an effective and sane parent. By Friday, I am READY for some solid family time, but I also truly love what I do at work and am very happy I get to do both.

It is very easy to get frustrated working with college students, especially during this busy time of year. And then I get this from a student, and suddenly, it's all worth it!
The highlight of my job is the students I get to work with! ESPECIALLY when they bake me brownies (only happened once so far but she is DEFINITELY my favorite ;)

For @cleverkate, #whereiwork - inside my office and the view out my office door!
And my view isn't too shabby :)

Advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home? Or struggling to decide if staying home is the right choice?

Like I said above, staying home was never an option for me. I really cannot speak very eloquently about struggling to decide because it was always very obvious for me, for personal and logistical reasons. Personally being that I knew I was not cut out to stay at home, and that I'd feel like something was missing from my life if I didn't work. Logistically simply because we do need my income to live the way we do. We could make some tough sacrifices and make it work without my income, but because I actually WANT to work, it was a non-issue. I would honestly work even if my salary wouldn't cover daycare, just for my sanity alone. Thankfully our daycare is VERY affordable, so that isn't an issue. When Annie was about 7 months old, I wrote this post which more accurately sums up my thoughts on the initial transition back to work, which was a bit more emotional than the way I feel about it almost 4 years (!!!) later. (reading that is semi-cringe worthy to me now but oh well, there you have it)

Mom and Annie before the first day of work/daycare
First day back at work when Annie was 12 weeks old

So tired after his first day of daycare
Luke passed out after nursing after his first day of daycare

I'm not even sure how to give advice to anyone else - everyone's situation is so very personal. I will say that working can look so very different for everyone, and to not get locked into the idea that the absolute only way to work is to work 8am-5pm in an office every day. There are so many part-time, work from home, alternate schedule opportunities in a variety of fields that a lot of people simply just don't know about. "Working" or "staying at home" looks SO different family by family, and your family will always be different from everyone else's. If you don't like your situation right now, try not to get down thinking that this is the way it will be forever - it might take a conversation (or several) with other people to help you get some perspective or new ideas, but there are a lot of options out there to have satisfaction both with your family life, and also professionally. Even if you think you want to stay at home while your kids are young, there are ways to keep yourself active professionally while staying at home to try to make your re-entry into the professional world a little bit easier later.

In any life situation, focusing on what is important to you, and trying to find the positives are very important. There is no "perfect". There will ALWAYS be pros and cons to any job, to staying at home, part-time, etc. If you do have to work, and you have to work at a job that you really do not like because you need the income, that is going to be hard. From my perspective, there are a few ways to manage that situation: 1 - Focus on what you DO like - there has to be SOMETHING. Maybe you like the coffee. Maybe you have a great friend at the office. Maybe you like your 30 minute lunch break because you can take a walk outside alone. Even if your job is mind-numbing and you hate it, focusing on that will only make it seem even worse. 2 - Make an action plan to get yourself out of the negative situation. Even if that plan will take several years to accomplish. It absolutely is possible to find a career/life situation that you love - it does take work and perseverance to figure out what you want to do and to actually get there. The best way to start doing that is by talking to people who do work that you think you would enjoy. 3 - Focus on the positives of you working, of which there are many - your ability to afford the house you live in, your children building social skills and immunity through exposure to other kids at daycare, and showing your children that YOU know how to make the best of an imperfect situation. I really do believe there are a ton of positives from daycare that I can elaborate on but I fear I've lost most people by this point anyway :)

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to do a guest post, Julia, and thanks everyone else for reading! Any questions, I am happy to answer in the comments!


  1. Nice post Erin. I was hoping you would be one of the mommy bloggers because even though I know a lot of this, it was good to read it all in print. You are truly an awesome example of someone succeeding while working and having young kids. I think having a helpful partner is SO key, without Andy, our lives truly would not work. He does as much at home as I do and we couldn't function any other way. And, your points about finding SOMETHING about work that you like are so true. I'm not the greatest example of someone who balances work/home life well but remembering that there is some reason why I'm in the job I'm in does help. Thanks for the awesome post!

  2. Love it!! If only we could all eliminate our mommy guilt, gosh she's so level headed!! Great series, looking forward to more!

  3. Great work, Erin! I knew most of this, too, of course, but nice to see it all in one place and part of a great series to come.

    Julia, if you decide to extend the series, or if a blogger drops out, let me know. I'd love to write one up - Erin can vouch for me! - as I work FT with two kids and have a police officer husband who works a tricky schedule (nights, weekends, etc.)

    Love this - great idea!

  4. Loved this, Erin! You were a good person to start this off since you have such a positive and healthy outlook on your role as a mom and as a working mom. You know I feel the same about a lot of this - and I hope my post in a couple of weeks doesn't sound too identical to yours. ;)

    We all read so much about how hard it is to be a two-parent working family - and I don't doubt it'll get harder, as you said, as the kids get older and into more activities - but millions of people make it work and are pretty happy doing so, as crazy as life can be. Flexibility, a job you enjoy, an equal partner and a positive, realistic outlook are all key! Great insights. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for letting me post, Julia! This was fun to write, and I can't wait to read the others! And yes, A. is awesome :)

  6. Just commenting again so I get these comments emailed, ignore :)

  7. Great post! I agree that having a husband/ partner who shares responsibilities equally is so important! I have quite a few friends who are always complaining about how their husbands do not help, it makes me so thankful that my husband and I have such a great and strong partnership.

    Can't wait to see more of these posts!!!

  8. Julia, love the idea for this series! Erin, great job getting it started!

    I think a lot of what you wrote about having a good partner is really important, especially the piece about not keeping score. I think that would cause so much tension and resentment.

    I also love that your job has so much flexibility (and I'm a little jealous). I'm a teacher, so I do get a lot of time off in the summer, around holidays and other times, but my daily schedule is not flexible at all.

  9. Thank you thank you thank you for this! So many bloggers I read are SAHMs or work part time. Both my husband and I work FT and I always knew I would be returning to work. My parents did it and it was just assumed I would too. But I like going to work, being a part of a team. I love the time I get with my child as well. He has a ball at daycare and we appreciate the time we have with each other even more.

    My husband and I are a great team and I'm SO thankful for it. The only thing I would change is I work 9-6 which means I only get about an hour with the baby before he goes to bed. Maybe I should talk to my boss about flexible hours, huh? Thank you Erin!

  10. Great post Erin! I loved so much of your post, especially when you said "we just don't" in reference to trying to fit it all in before bedtime. I don't work full-time, but we (I) still feel that pressure sometimes when Justin gets home to make sure that we have "quality" time instead of rushing through dinner/bath/bedtime or such. I laughed out loud when I read "we just don't" because I really had never considered it as an option, but there is SO MUCH wisdom there in what you said. I'm going to try to worry about that a whole lot less!

  11. Loving this series, Julia! I really enjoyed reading such a positive take on this topic.

    I have to totally agree on how important it is to have a supportive partner. I travel for work and I have enough mommy guilt for myself without having my husband comment on how inconvenient it may be for him (he never does!).

    I've certainly struggled (and will continue to) with finding some kind of balance since I do travel and work long hours alot, but it helps to hear how others have worked through some of these feelings!

  12. I loved that you were willing to come out and say what others think but likely won't admit publicly (you would work even if it wouldn't fully cover daycare costs). I am right there with you. Full time working mom (some weeks upwards of 60 hours), travel once and a while for both my husband and I & two kids (4 and 7 months). Husband works full time and for a while there was working Saturday's while on a big project. The final piece of the puzzle is my husband recently had surgery on his shoulder. We finally admitted to ourselves that we needed help around the house and recently hired a housekeeper once a week. We have also hired out our lawn care and snow removal. With all of the above going on, we realized that we work hard and we'd rather spend our time with the family than doing all of these house chores on top of it all. We all make decisions that work for our family, life situation, budget and needs. Long story short - loved your post and love the idea Julia to have others share their experiences on here.

  13. I loved this!! I truly could have written this post word for word, it is so exactly like the way I feel about our two working parent household. With a four year old and a six month old there was a bit of an adjustment period after not having a baby in the house for a while. I keep telling myself that the first year is the hardest and if we can't get to something one night then it just doesn't get done! Thanks, Erin, for such a refreshing post!

  14. Love love love the last big paragraph. Knowing and embracing that no situation is "perfect" is the biggest key to appreciating the situation you are in, I think!

  15. Loved this, Erin! Especially loved the inclusion of the career counselor advice. :)

  16. Thanks for a nice take on the positives of both FT and motherhood. I, too, follow mostly stay at home or work from home mama blogs so its refreshing to see something different. One thing I miss about being a "mom" is how rarely my friends talk about work any more. I love to hear bout other people's jobs! Great idea, Julia,for a series. Look forward to reading more.

  17. This is such a great post and great perspective. I love the honesty about the wanting to go to work and having that time to recharge. I feel the same way and I really do think it makes me a better parent and our time together that much better!!

  18. What I really liked about this post is how solid and comfortable and happy you are with your decisions/life. That, to me, is what it's all about. High five to you and Ben!

  19. Love this. Thank you for your perspective. I really could use a positive outlook in working while parenting.

  20. Oh, I have so much I want to say in regards to you comments about your previous work, but since I still work there I will keep my mouth shut. :)

    Also, I agree about work allowing me to recharge. I don't really get any down time in my position, but it's a time I get to use my brain in a different way. Jealous that you get a little time before your appointments start for the day, but I guess when I worked in the office I got that during my bus ride.

    I love that you love your job and one day I hope to feel passionate about what I am doing. There are parts of my job I do love, but so much that zaps me. I once had a student tell me "I want to feed my spirit and my soul". I wrote that down and posted it so I could see it everyday to be reminded that my job wasn't just about getting a paycheck to pay the bills. Little did she know that she played a big part in me evaluating where I was at. While I didn't end up in a different job I was able to make some changes in my current position that made me happier overall.

    Thanks for sharing this. I love hearing about why people have made the choices they have when it comes to careers and parenting.


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