Lest You Think I Have My Sh*t Together

I feel like the theme of last week was the emotional version of what it feels like to walk on ice. You start out gingerly, slowly gaining a bit of speed…then BAM! Feet fly out from under you and you’re flat on your tush. Every time. Disoriented, you get up and start moving again – with a little more knowledge of the process – but still sore from the learning.

Last week wasn’t a bad week but it was a hard one. Lila switched daycare rooms, and while day one went off without a hitch (yes, she slept on the magical baby cots), days two through five were less good. Each day started with her losing her mind screaming as I tried to leave. The kind of screams where I furtively duck out of her room because the entire building can hear “that baby.” It’s a natural phase and it won’t last forever, but it kind of makes me feel like garbage to walk away from my screaming child. I choose to work, and I like to work. Some days I feel like Super Mom; others I want to cry under my desk and eat Rolos because it all feels terrible.

It was just a week of small struggles. Getting to daycare and realizing Lila has one shoe on. Getting to work and realizing my lunch is on the kichen counter and there’s somehow black grease all over my skirt. Driving across town for meetings before learning they were cancelled. Leaving extra early to get the baby’s medicine, only to realize your local Walgreen’s doesn’t open until 8, because of course. Small stuff, just stuff.

shoe

Sometimes I think about the different views people get into my life, based on the snippets that are visible to them. Not in the sense that I’m censoring things, but purely as a matter of timing. In the midst of last week I got a few messages from friends with unexpected compliments or kind words. And I kind of felt like a fraud accepting them. And wanted to respond, “Heyyyy if you saw what was actually happening in my life at this very moment, you’d eat those words.” Says the mom who just watched her child fingerpaint the kitchen floor with vomit.

I almost felt defensive about not wanting people to think I had my act together, or that it ever feels easy for me. Not in a self-deprecating way – I just don’t think it’s fair to let anyone else think that my life is easier or better. We all struggle with our own stuff everyday. No one’s doing it better than anyone else.

I was exchanging messages with a friend about some of this and the other things we struggle with as women. Little things and big things. Body image, messy houses, time management (there really aren’t enough hours in the day, we know this). Nothing extraordinary, but things I think a lot of us worry we’re battling alone. And it’s not that misery loves company, but there’s something amazing in knowing that whatever you’re struggling with has happened to others. It makes you realize that: a) you’re not alone, or unusual for what you’re experiencing, and b) it gets better.

I was wowed again at how often the most reassuring words in the world are some variation of “me too.”

My friend explained her son went through the exact same stage with daycare, and that he’s fine now. And that I’m doing ok. She also reminded me that behind every challenge we pass, there’s usually another waiting in the wings, but just knowing others are making it is so powerful.

If you’ve ever run a race and wanted to quit toward the end, but then saw the folks who finished before you on the sidelines cheering you on – it’s that kind of goosebump feeling. We’re all in this together.

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When you grow up…

Dear Lila,

I often wonder what things will be like in 20+ years when you’re an adult. Such a funny thing to ponder. The world’s changing quickly and it’s a little overwhelming to imagine what you’ll encounter. Regardless, I want to say right now – for the whole world to read – that I don’t care what vocation you pursue when you grow up. Whether you become a banker or a painter or a music teacher, I will honor your choices and help guide you however I can. I don’t ever want your work to define you or your sense of self worth, and rather, I hope it serves as an extension of who you are and what you value.

Your character will always be more important to me than any acronyms following your name. I only want what every parent wants – for you to be happy and fulfilled. And of course, things like health insurance and a 401(k) are nice too.

I hope you find a path where your own satisfaction helps measure your success, and you learn firsthand the value of hard work, strong relationships and good judgement.

I want you to follow your passions and use your head and heart to guide your decisions. I want you to recognize that sometimes, work sucks, and is really boring or even demeaning, but that the good days can and should outweigh the bad. If not, you should find something new.

You’re going to have good and bad bosses, and strong and weak teams. You will quickly see what leadership really means. You’ll learn, frustratingly, that some people are led by the wrong motivations, and rewarded for it, but this is beyond your control.

I hope you learn the importance of establishing your own financial independence, so you are never trapped in a bad situation of any sort because of finances.

I hope you don’t spend too much time weighing when to start a family against where you are on the career ladder, because there’s no perfect time and it will always work out. If you do choose to start a family, I hope no one asks you if you are coming back to work, and instead lets you and your partner decide what’s best for your family privately. I hope you are given a lengthy, paid maternity leave and that your partner receives the same. I hope your healthcare covers all your hospital bills.

You will succeed whether you choose to work fulltime or part time or not at all outside of your family. If you do work outside the home, I hope your employer is flexible and supportive. If you choose to stay home, I hope you stay engaged in the community and important causes.

No matter what, please be gentle on yourself and know that life is short and unpredictable, and whatever you’re doing is perfectly enough.

courage-quote

5 Things to Say to the Working Moms in your Life

1. “I’ll drive.” This is music to my ears because my car is full of stuffed animals and tupperware and you might find yourself akwardly siting on a pacifier.

2. You’re doing a great job.” I often feel my life is a tornado, and that I’m failing at everything rather than balancing anything. There’s no such thing as too much  reassurance.

3. “We can do this meeting by phone,” or, “You can work from home.” Please and thank you. It means I can save precious time and spend more time with my offspring.

4. “Remember, your family comes first.” It seems so natural to assume we know this, but work — particularly leadership roles — come with a lot of pressure and expectations. Reminders of what really matters are a good thing.

5. “I know it’s hard.” I don’t want sympathy or special favors, but at a very basic human level it’s nice to know someone else recognizes the things you are juggling. If you’ve never worked while parenting a small human, I don’t know that there’s any way to fully explain the way things are sometimes just HARD, despite flexibility and support and good childcare. There’s an emotional tax on even the best situations, that sometimes just needs a pat on the back.

tina

working moms: the only perfect solution is whatever works for you

Over the past few weeks, a few friends have asked for tips on transitioning back to work after maternity leave. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this (that’s a comical idea, actually), but having gone through it so recently I figured I could share what I’ve learned.

Truthfully, I dreaded going back to work before Lila was even born. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go back; I did. I love my career. But all the unknowns scared the pants off of me.

Don’t get me wrong–there were plenty of days where sitting in meetings seemed like a luxurious alternative to enduring the screams of a colicky baby–but it’s really tough to part with this precious extension of yourself that’s so tiny and vulnerable.

Around three months was when I finally got into a bit of a routine and started getting some sleep (read: I could leave the house with the baby and neither of us wound up sobbing). My new normal centered around spending my days and my nights with an infant, and as the countdown kicked in, I doubted my ability to even have an adult conversation — let alone make business decisions.

All that being said, the transition has been a smooth one. Not a walk in the park, but it’s been good. Really. There’s this societal expectation that all women secretly hate leaving their babies and only work out of necessity, and that just isn’t true.

I know that right now this is what I am supposed to be doing. I’m also open to whatever might feel right and make sense down the road.

There are days that I feel like crap for working and am jealous of her teachers, and I’ll question what I’m doing. But that’s ok, and it’s not the norm. Most days I genuinely value the opportunity to be a role model for her and show her what women can achieve. I’m thankful for a job that lets me grow and learn, surrounded by good people, and for the ways my income supports our family. I appreciate that she’s gaining early socialization, a toughened immune system and loving attention and activities I would never attempt at home (hats off to the brave souls who supervise infant painting).

I don’t have all the answers and I’m convinced there’s no perfect solution to being a working mom, at least not until America decides to get with the times and give moms appropriate support. So don’t strive for perfection, because it’s only an illusion. Just work on figuring out whatever solution is perfect for YOU. Whether you work in a cubicle, on the road or from your kitchen table, there will always be struggles and questioning, this I can promise you, but it can be great. And if you choose not to work outside of the labors of motherhood, which is a 24/7+ gig in itself, that’s wonderful too. Your babies are blessed to have you full time. But never go into a situation expecting to be miserable. Always give yourself a chance to adjust and to like the way things are.

Here are a few tips, mostly courtesy of sweet friends who walked this road before I did:

1. Choose childcare you LOVE. Not one that you like, or that is a better price, but one you think is the damn cat’s meow. Our daycare is pretty amazing and I credit this as the single biggest factor in having a pleasant transition back to work. Considering these folks see my child more than I do and charge us a second mortgage payment, I knew I had to love it there. They send photos all day, are flexible to each baby’s needs and schedule and genuinely love them. There’s crazy-intense security and amazing support for parents. Total win.

2. Don’t start daycare cold turkey. If you can, start taking your baby in for a few half days or every other day for a week or two before your official return to work. This lets you both adjust to spending time apart and makes the process so much less stressful. Also, see if your first day back at work can be a Wednesday or Thursday so you don’t spend a whole week apart at the get-go.

3. Divide and conquer baby tasks. Until Jim and I worked out who made bottles, who washed bottles, who packed diapers, who set aside clothes, etc., I tended to get resentful and overwhelmed. Once we figured out what tasks needed to be done each night and each morning, and what made the most sense for each of us to tackle, things were way easier. Pro tip: do as much the night before as possible, even just putting things in the car. I put my work laptop bag back in the car every night because it means one less trip in the morning when we’re inevitably running late.

4. Find working mom friends. Let me be specific here: wherever you work, find other moms who choose to work, and enjoy it. They will be an incredible support and give the best advice. They’ll get it when you have a bad day, feel mom-guilt or have to tend to a sick kiddo. They will let you vent about being t-i-r-e-d. I really value having working mom buds both in the office and all across the country via email to keep me sane and support me.

5. Give yourself grace. Please, just yes. Because no one is perfect and no situation is perfect, but you will do the best you can and it will be enough. You will be awesome and your baby will be great and it will all be ok, I PROMISE.

6. Accept that it sucks when your baby is sick. You will feel torn and guilty about not being everything to everyone and it’s normal. It also passes before you know it, so hang in there.

7. Learn to smile and discreetly zone out when people offer unsolicited advice. They mean well. I use these opportunities to nap with my eyes open.

8. Keep extra clothes in your car or office because you will, without a shadow of a doubt, end up with poop or puke on you.

9. Set clear expectations with your boss and team about your parenting priorities. Don’t let it distract from your role, but if you have to leave at 4:45 to get to daycare on time every day, then make that clear, don’t apologize and go on with your bad self. It’s like going to a new class at the gym…we’re so paranoid about what we look like in front of everyone, but everybody else is more focused on themselves than on your departure.

10. Make sure you like what you do. This is a biggie. I was told 100 times not to make “any big decisions” the first year after having a baby, but I sometimes struggle following instructions, so I promptly quit my job to take a new one when Lila was six months old. Here’s why: being a working mom is a-o-k, but it ups the ante on job satisfaction. If you don’t enjoy what you do, it’s a LOT harder to be away from your little one. So if you’re not digging the daily grind, make every effort to find something that’s a better fit.

rosie