Priorities

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When I started writing this blog I imagined that it would mostly feature tales of my struggles in work-life balance.  There certainly have been posts that highlight this issue, as it is one that most working moms face, but lately it hasn’t felt like much of a struggle.  Early on as a Chief Resident, I wrote about how precious being home for the bedtime routine was, as it was often my only contact with my son during the day.  I looked to some of my mentors for advice about how they had found balance in their careers, which was one of my most controversial posts.  As I said then, you should talk to lots of women about how they do it and then find the way that works for you– you can’t expect someone else to give you the answers that will work for your family and your career, but you can use them as inspiration.  Once I became an attending, my work hours became better and not only was I there for bedtime, but for breakfast and even some after-school parties.  Also, I am lucky enough to have flexibility in my scheduling that allows me to spend some Tuesdays with my kids, which I wrote about a few times (here).  There are still some times when work interferes with family time, but fortunately those are rare and typically are for events that I enjoy, which my family understands.

Beyond the scheduling issues though, my work has been so supportive of my family life that it makes working there even more enjoyable.  When I first started my new job, one of my bosses said, “family comes first with us,” which was a great way to start out.  Throughout this pregnancy I have been overwhelmed by the love and support that they provided me.  I feel their collective well wishes for myself and my children on a daily basis.  All of this makes it even more pleasurable to work there and makes me better able to do my job.

I recently saw an episode of TLC’s The Little Couple, where neonatologist Jen Arnold struggled with feeling like her son was more bonded with his father due to her long work hours.  I painfully remembered feeling that way in the first months after my maternity leave as well.  I am thankful that it improved, as my work hours were adjusted but also as I found ways to succeed in both arenas and let go of the guilt whenever I felt like one area wasn’t receiving my full attention.  As I prepare to start over with another infant, maternity leave, and year of breastfeeding and pumping, I am hopeful that the lessons I learned the first time will make it easier the second time around.  I know though that when I do meet struggles ahead that I have many role models around me who will not only give me advice but the support that I need.

So I have been thinking about what changed over the past two years, besides my job, and came up with these strategies:

1)  Work hard when I’m at work and then leave it at the office.  Those who have seen me in the office know that I value efficiency.  I like to make the most of my time there, focusing 100% on work, so that I can finish on time and get home to fulfill my family obligations.  I try to detach from my cell phone and email, I minimize chit-chat, and I often work through lunch.  This may impact my work relationships to some degree, but it has become a survival mechanism for me.  It allows me to feel that I am giving everything I have to my job while there, so that when I am at home I can feel good about what I accomplished during the daytime.

2)  Prioritize what events I need to be at and what events I want to be at.  As a working mom, I know I won’t be able to make it to every school trip, fair, or party.  At the beginning of the year though, I look at all the events on the school calendar and figure out which ones seem most important and make sure that I can fit that into my work schedule.  I do my best to get to the remainder of the events, but I know that when I can’t be there, his dad is.  I have learned to let go of my guilt about this and know that he enjoys this daddy time and doesn’t always need me there too.

3)  Teach my son that I value my career.  Someday I know that he will be proud of the work that I do and I hope that he sees how happy it makes me.  I hope that he will also find a career that he is passionate about and proud of and that I can be a role model for him.  This has started early in that I don’t apologize for working– it’s just a fact.  We talk about how mommy goes to work, just like he goes to school.  We discuss that some mommies work at home and some mommies work in big buildings (courtesy of Todd Parr’s The Mommy Book).  There is no value placed on one of these activities over the other, they are simply descriptors of what we all do.

4)  Put family first.  While I love my career and am happy working full-time at this stage of my life, my family will always come first.  As I described above, I looked for a job that would support me in this and understand that there will be times that I need to be off to support my family.  I was fortunate to find a place that would give me that flexibility and I am hopeful that more women will be able to find similarly supportive environments to nurture their career and families.

I know that my strategies won’t work for everyone and some of you may disagree with my choices, so please share how you handle your work-life balance!

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10 Comments

  1. When I was debating returning to the workforce after my youngest went to Kindergarten, my wisest child told me, “Go back to work. Having a working mother was a good role model for me and I never felt neglected. I was more inspired.”

  2. You’re doing well, I’d say! You have a lovely family, you’re in a career you love, and seem to be doing a good job balancing both.

  3. As my maternity leave is coming to an end and I think about leaving my baby behind while I trudge back into NYC to go to work, I get so sad. I really thought that I’d be excited to go back, or at least ready. I am going to try to follow your lead and remind myself that the quality of the time really matters more than the quantity (both at home AND at work! I’ve spent too many hours at work wasting time- it did help create friendships, but I do think my priorities have now changed). I will do my best at work, but family will come first.
    And one day I hope to find a job that I love the way you love yours!

    1. Molly,
      I feel your pain as your maternity leave is ending. My baby girl isn’t even born yet and I am sad about having to leave her in a few months. That initial transition back-to-work is very difficult, but it does get easier. There will certainly be ups and downs at different ages. In some ways, the early infant months can be easier because your baby doesn’t really know you are gone, whereas your older infant/toddler starts to cry and ask where you are going. So there are different challenges at each stage, but I know you will be able to tackle them. Every working mom finds her own strategies. The other thing that I didn’t mention in this post is that a lot of moms find ways to shift some of the work… either finding a job that allows them to start later so they can do the AM routine or bringing work home to finish in the late evenings after bedtime. Sometimes it just takes some creativity and flexibility. Your long commute may also lend itself to some productivity, if you use your computer/wifi to work remotely. Make the most of any time you have away from your little guy.

      I wish you the best in finding a job you love when the times comes. I know you will.

  4. Great post! I agree with so many point you make here, namely items #3 and #4 on your list. I am defined by many things: motherhood and work on a couple of those things. And if parents are lucky enough to be able to choose their jobs, make them count. I say that to myself all the time, and it was the reason I left my last job (which was well-paying and made for decent provisions for working parents) – if I’m going to be away from my kids all day, I need to be doing so for a good reason. Namely, work I am proud of. I have a harder, lower-paying job now, but I’m doing what I want to do, and I’m a happier person – and mom – because of it.

    1. Thanks, Liza! Glad that you are enjoying your new job and the family time it affords you. Sounds like you made a good move!

  5. Love that u quoted Todd Parr:) I agree that it’s so important that work understands how important family life is to you. I just started working for a family (as an architect’s assistant) and they have three kids of their own, plus they are full of compassion and understand if I ever get a school phone call I’m there in five minutes! We are blessed!

  6. Very well written. I will be going back to work in about 4 weeks when my baby girl will be almost 15 weeks old . I am very anxious to leave her and start working. I hope the environment at work is supportive as I transition through this phase . Reading this post makes me feel better . I have a new perspective in my mind now about going back to work . Thanks for this post. Just what I needed at the very right time.
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