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!