By Eden McCleskey
Greetings all! Since I haven’t posted in a while, I’ll share a quick update. My first child, Jess, is 18 months old and doing great. His little sister, Austen Elizabeth, is 4 months old. Yep, I had another one already! Getting pregnant the second time happened FAST, but it all worked out. She arrived one day past her due date – healthy and beautiful at 8 lbs. 10 ounces and 22.25 inches long. Since we’ve been blessed with a boy and a girl, we feel like our family is complete, and now I can focus on raising these babies and getting back to normal.
For me and millions of other moms out there, that means heading back to work. It’s an intensely personal and variable experience for everyone – and it’s impossible to predict how you will feel about it until it happens. Here’s a few tips to help ease the transition back to work, which helped me a lot.
1) Focus on the benefits of going back to work
Most people work because they need and/or want money. Earning a paycheck is the trade-off for not being able to do whatever we want 100% of the time. So, don’t be shy; show yourself the money. Log in to your bank account, 403(b), cash balance pension and social security. Google a retirement savings calculator and imagine how much money you will have when you retire at 65. Total up your current financial commitments and think about how you’d pay them without your paycheck. Don’t forget about other benefits like health, dental, etc. Imagine what your life would be like 20 years from now if you never went back to work. What kind of savings would you have? What kind of house, car, vacation or college would you be able to afford?
Think about your current job, coworkers and whether you like them. If you quit your job now, even if it’s just for one year while the baby is young, it’s unlikely that you will get it back. You will eventually find a job somewhere, but there is no guarantee it will pay as well or provide the type of environment that you want. The longer you’re out of the job market, the harder it will be to get a commensurate position.
2) Weigh the pros and cons of being a stay-at-home parent
As a child/teenager, I assumed that I’d eventually become a stay-at-home mom and I’d make spectacular dinners and crafts, and Martha Stewart herself would envy my home. What was I thinking?!?! I don’t like house cleaning. I have the urge to cook a fancy dinner about once a year. Even though I love my children with every ounce of my being, I don’t want to be with them all day, every day. By the end of a weekend (especially a long weekend), I’m exhausted and depleted. It’s haaaaard. Yes, I know I had mine very close together and they’re still very young. It probably will get easier as they get older. But, then again, it might get easier in some ways and harder in others. If I stayed home with them all day, there would be more fights, more power struggles and more TV, no doubt. No one can be a “Fully Engaged Parent” ALL. THE. TIME. The dynamics of my marriage would change. I would be needier of my husband’s time, help and conversation. Also, I would probably have tunnel vision on my kids and struggle with my identity outside of them.
Besides, I really like daycare and so do my kids! At 3 months old, I could tell my babies were bored hanging around the house all day. They like being around people. While I could get a nanny for the same price I’m paying to put two kids in daycare, we still prefer daycare. Jess is more social, empathetic and patient than some kids his age who aren’t in daycare. I realize there are amazing benefits to being a stay-at-home mom too, and I’m not putting that down by any means. But it makes me feel better about being a working mom to realize that staying at home isn’t necessarily the one-and-only “gold standard.” Both arrangements have pros and cons; it’s just a matter of what works best for your family.
3) Be happy with your child care arrangements
It is impossible to go back to work if you don’t feel comfortable about where you are leaving your child. Research child care options. Use trusted, first person recommendations, yelp reviews and this site. Think about the vibe you get from the teachers, the facility and the administration. If you’re choosing a nanny, have detailed conversations with their references (meet the families in person, if possible), or go through a service (like The Motherhood Center) that does background checks and extensive vetting.
Do not “make do” with something that feels “OK.” If you found a place that is awesome, convenient and right in your price range, but you are on the wait list, don’t despair. You will eventually get in, but in the meantime, you need to find somewhere that feels just as good. It might be a little further or pricier or it might not have the playground or facilities you want. As long as their care is top-notch, sign up and move to your ideal place when the spot opens up.
4) Establish a routine
Life works better with a system. In my family, my husband usually drops off the kids in the morning and I pick them up in the afternoon. We follow the same bedtime routine every night, which starts at 6:30 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m., with both kids asleep.
I used to be fairly lax about chores, but with two kids, that just does not fly. Every night, the kitchen, family and play rooms are cleaned and everything the kids will need for the next day is washed and ready to go. Even if (like me) you’re not a naturally ordered and routined person, you’ll need to become one eventually to keep yourself and your family sane. Do yourself a favor and establish a routine early. It can always be tweaked as necessary.
5) Communicate (A LOT)
When you reflect on the enormous parental responsibilities of raising a tiny infant from “scratch” all the way to adulthood, it can be overwhelming. Even if you are an amazing parent or part of an amazing parent team, you’ll somehow feel guilty and alone much of the time and second guess your choices. Don’t bottle it up! Communicate with your partner – all the time – about everything. Clear up any budding mutual resentments. Talk about how amazing your kid is. Talk about the Baby Center article you just read. Talk about other parents you know and what you think they’re doing wrong and doing right. It’s not just an interesting, “adult” form of gossip (that can help long car rides fly by in a jiff), it also helps you form an identity as a parenting unit and make decisions about how you want to handle certain things before you actually get there.
Talk to your friends, family and coworkers, too. Most parents love talking about being parents, whether their kids are itty bitty or long grown. In the old days, it took a village to raise a child. Today’s “village” is more virtual (friends, family, books, internet) than “hands on,” but talking with them and using their advice is helpful and makes you feel much less alone and afraid of messing up.