When I was in middle school, I received a horoscope (of sorts) that said in past lives, I had been a stay-at-home mom. It suggested I would be happier in this life by working and not having kids. Growing up, I didn’t have an overwhelming desire to raise a big family. I wanted to have a big career. This message struck a chord with me. Not because I necessarily believed it, but because it aligned with what was already my plan.
When I met my husband, my interests slowly began to change. One day, we decided that having a child was important to us. But I knew, no matter what, I would still want to work.
I had never been great with maintaining a work-life balance. But I had never needed to—without a child, my free time was entirely mine.
When I was pregnant with my son, I worried how having a child might impact my professional trajectory, and quite frankly, my paycheck. Statistics show that women earn less than men. According to the National Women’s Law Center, “Women working full time, year round typically make only 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.” That’s a national average, but the disparity varies based on where you live and your race/ethnicity. “Black women working full time, year round typically make only 60.8 cents for every dollar white non-Hispanic men make” and Latinas fare even worse, “Making only 53 cents for every dollar.” That wage divide deepens further after children. The New York Times states, “Immediately after the first birth, the pay gap between spouses doubles, according to a recent study — entirely driven by a drop in the mother’s pay. Men’s wages keep rising.”
Let’s all just take a moment to feel some outrage at this data. (I’ll save my inherent misogyny argument for another time).
When I revealed the news of my pregnancy to my bosses, they wanted to know my plan. I indicated that I fully intended to return to work after my maternity leave. They said, “Well, some people have their baby and decide to just never go back.” I assured them that wouldn’t be the case with me. Regardless of my desire, I need to work for financial reasons, so I was 100% certain I would be returning. I knew part-time wasn’t an option in my line of work either (which is client-centric,) so I would be back to full-time work, without any question. I lined up the daycare for my son. I was set to go.
My maternity leave went by at once impossibly slowly, and also way too fast. It felt like we had three months of mostly sleepless nights and boring couch-bound days. It seemed like my son was just starting to engage with me when I had to return to work, a forced break in what seemed like pivotal bonding time. This was heartbreaking.
I was torn. I wanted to go back. I missed my work. I missed adult conversations. I missed people. But I also found it ridiculous that I should be expected to leave this tiny human at such an important time of his life.
Ultimately, I couldn’t afford to continue unpaid, and my 12 weeks were up. I had to go back to work, like it or not.
The first couple of weeks were okay. My family had to develop a new routine. Pumping at work was unpleasant. Preparing for daycare each day was anxiety-inducing. But all-in-all, it was good to be back to work, and I was optimistic.
As my workloadkl;'[ ramped up to its pre-baby levels, my anxiety surged. How was I supposed to do all of this? I was lucky to get 3-4 hours of sleep a night, but I needed normal brain functions to execute my job. I had to pump through the day. Prep for daycare the next day. Make lunches and dinner (not to mention the daily wardrobe struggle, as most of my pre-baby clothes still didn’t fit me). And there was the normal maintenance of my home (something you’re advised to just “let go” during this postpartum period, despite the reality that no one is coming to magically clean your home).
Sometimes, you just gotta cry. And I did. I didn’t feel great about myself physically, and mentally I was drained with the full load of all my responsibilities. Subsisting on just a few hours of sleep wasn’t working for me.
In my first review after returning to work after the birth of my son, my boss said he was proud of me for not working late anymore. I told him I couldn’t (I had to leave for daycare pick up). I actually felt proud of myself for at least seeming to have a semblance of work-life balance.
As my workload continued to increase, I felt added pressure. I needed more hours in my day to do everything that was assigned to me at work and still contribute at home.
I wanted to be fully present with my son when I was home, but I had so much work that I found myself answering emails in the evening. My work-life balance was dwindling. My husband and I rearranged our schedules so he could handle daycare drop off and pick up, to give me at least another hour at work each day. It took me some time to realize that in the competing pulls for my attention, work was winning, and I wasn’t proud of myself anymore.
The truth is, this working mom wants it all. I recognize that means different things for different people. For me, it means being a successful career woman and an entrepreneur, a supportive partner, a loving and doting mom, and a tidy homemaker. Wanting all of these things isn’t terrible. It keeps me motivated. But trying to have everything I want sure isn’t realistic.
In my constant pursuit for the elusive work-life balance, something’s gotta give.
Maybe having it all means giving up something different each day, balancing what I take and what I give up each day based on the highest priorities, and re-prioritizing every moment to make it all work. Some days, work-life balance means I succeed in some areas, and fail in others. Sometimes, I take the easy road on lunches, or I miss a load of laundry. Some days, we ask family if they can help so that we can take a small break (even though we know they have lives and jobs of their own). I’m trying not to beat myself up over these hard choices though, because that’s my life now, and for the foreseeable future.I’m two years into this parenthood thing, and still doing my best to figure it all out (now with an impressive 6 hours of sleep each night). Looking back at that silly middle-school horoscope, I realize I didn’t choose one path — to be a mom or to be a career woman — I chose both. That is just what felt right for me, even if I haven’t quite figured how to balance both. I’ll keep trying, and I’ll let you know how it goes.
What are your tips and tricks for balancing work and home life?