The Working Mom Diaries: 6 Months & Counting.
The last six months have been all about striking a balance between getting back into career mode and making the most of family life. Dive in to see how it is going!
In May 2022, I had my third opportunity to take time off work to head on maternity leave. I also had the opportunity in 2018 and 2022 to do the same. While the system is far from perfect, Canada does have a pretty incredible support system for parents as they welcome new or adopted children into their family. Right now, in Canada, most parents have the option of splitting up to 18-months of job-protected and partially paid maternity and parental leave. This is in addition to 5-weeks of partially paid leave for the secondary caregiver to support the mother and baby. Some European countries offer a similar model with Denmark offering 4 weeks of pre-partum leave and 52 paid weeks of full pay leave, the UK offering 52 weeks with 39 weeks paid at 90% and 13 weeks unpaid, and Germany offering 6-weeks of pre-partum leave, 8 weeks of post-partum leave and an option for job-protected but partially paid leave until the child is three years old.
But, our neighbour to the south is much different. In the US, there is no federally-regulated maternity or parental leave and only an option to take FMLA (family medical leave act) for 12-weeks of unpaid but job protected leave (if you qualify!). Since many of my peers work in the US, I see new parents headed back to work after only a few months and this is only thanks to Amazon having one of the country’s most generous leave offers.
So, I feel grateful for the time because even though it can be really hard (more on that later!), the time to just focus on being a mom has meant I have been able to recover from my deliveries, focus on breastfeeding (something that has been really important to me!), learn all about baby development milestones, manage the sleep deprivation (as best as one can!) and that is irreplaceable.
Third times a charm!
With my last maternity leave, I really enjoyed the time off. And I cannot always say that was the case. With my first child, I found the transition into motherhood – from labour, to recovery, to breastfeeding, to adjusting to a new routine, to feeling lost in my identify – just really tough! And then with my second child, my world was thrown upside down when Covid arrived and I found myself balancing two kids under two years old at home 24/7. Suffice to say that entire experience was incredibly difficult for many people, including me, and I ended up heading back to work after 7 months. So, this last maternity leave felt different. I felt like I could soak in time with my baby while my other two kids were in pre-school. I made more homemade muffins, I went grocery shopping during the day, I folded laundry in between naps, I spent more time outside and headed up to the cottage for more extended trips. My little one was also just such a wonderful sleeper and that made the biggest impact on being able to have some balance and predictability this time around - it meant I could head to hot yoga for an hour, or book a dentist appointment without totally ruining my day (if you have a baby who is a tough sleeper, then you know how real this can be!).
I only did maternity photos with my last pregnancy but it was a really fun process to capture such a special time in my life.
Here is how it is going
I have always looked forward to going back to work because it feels like a core part of my identify. I also love working on challenging problems and working with smart people. But, I have been back to work for six months now, so I am taking the opportunity to share how life is going.
Work can feel like a break
Monday mornings can feel like such a treat. My weekends are busy with the family (even when we have nothing in particular planned). On weekends, it feels like I do not stop moving from 6am to 8pm between meals, activities and lots of clean up. This is the time that we make so many little memories as a family – we go to the Fall fair, we host dinner, we make a big breakfast, we build elaborate blanket forts, we have a play date, we run in the sprinkler, we walk/run to the park and we learn to ride a bike. I love these moments, but I also fully appreciate when Monday rolls around, I can drop the kids off at school and enjoy my matcha latte while checking my emails in silence. This is not a true break, but it can feel like one!
Planning feels crucial
I am a planner, there I said it! I like to have things in the calendar, I like to have routines and being organized reduces my stress level. Since heading back to work, planning feels even more crucial because ‘family tasks’ like laundry, grocery shopping, dinner prep and everything else that we do, does not really have a designated window of time to complete that makes sense.
Have you even been grocery shopping with three kids? Walmart grocery pick-up feels way easier (and it is!), but that requires me to plan out our meals, order from the app and figure out the best time for pick-up. My husband and I have a shared calendar and this really helps us to ensure our schedules align between extended work days, activities and trips. Counter intuitively, I also try to plan for downtime where things are not planned and the family and I can ‘go with the flow’ and embrace the moment. The planning can feel like a huge mental load that never ends and I am still working on ways to make this work better for the family.
And then the school calls...
When you have three kids, this means that there is a lot going on between scheduled appointments for you and the kids (like the dentist or vaccines) and unscheduled appointments (like sick calls from the school). For me, this has meant that I really need to be proactive in getting my work done because adding in last minutes things to my calendar just does not work anymore. So, I carve out time on Fridays to review my schedule for the following week and make any adjustments. I also look to book meetings a few weeks out when I know a follow-up on a topic will be needed (it is always easier to cancel something vs. add it later). It also means saying "Sorry, I am not available" way more than before. Because there were so many sick calls during the pandemic and it was so incredibly disruptive to our lives, I feel a lot of anxiety when I see the school's name on caller ID and it is hard not to immediately jump into planning mode for the worst case scenario (E.g. clear all meetings and pick up the child in the next 10 minutes). I feel so grateful I work in a wonderful team that is completely understanding, but yes, I have had a sick kid in the background of my conference call waving and saying hello to the team (more than once!).
Evenings feel more precious.
Rather than doing laundry during nap time, I try to fold and put away laundry during the half an hour the boys are watching TV before bed. Rather than watching TV with lunch, I try to prep for dinner. Rather than taking a stroller walk listening to a podcast, I race down the street with one kid on a bike, one on a scooter and one in a wagon and no one wearing shoes… (true story!). So, the time between 4pm to bedtime (usually 9:30 for me) feels even more precious. Precious in a way to get a few things done but also precious in a way to decompress before I do it all again tomorrow. Evenings feel like a work in progress where there is not quite enough time to wrap it all up.
I am so passionate about the demands placed on families these days without the system infrastructure to set everyone up for success and while there is so much more to say, but I will save that for another day (the We Can Do Hard Things podcast has a great episode (#246) on this if you want to get into it!). I am grateful to be back at work, leading a team and feeling like an adult and person as much as a mom but I am also incredible grateful for the time I had at home with all my children in their first crucial months into this world.
As always, if you are looking for support through a challenging talent situation at work and want a fresh perspective or someone to talk to, reach out! I would LOVE to chat! Connect with me here, shoot me a DM on Instagram or check me out on LinkedIn!