When I was pregnant with my daughter, I worked to have everything ready for her arrival. I had her tiny socks tucked away in a drawer, washcloths and bath soap stocked in the bathroom, the carseat base was properly installed and I even cleaned the oven for the first time in years.
But I did not have a plan for daycare.
As a freelancer who works from a home office, or, more accurately, a home kitchen table, childcare was something that had been on my mind, but didn’t seem as urgent to me as it was to my friends who had to go back to work within the 12 or so week post-partum time period. I had yet to meet my baby, yet to understand what it was really going to take to care for that baby and yet to discover how absolutely fragmented, messy and distracted my work life was about to become.
But I figured I would work it all out as I went along, settle in and see where we landed.
Maybe I would flee to an office.
Maybe I would want to quit work all together.
Maybe I could figure out a balance and carry on the way I’ve been carrying on.
After all, isn’t that why I chose this career path to begin with, so that I could be flexible for my family?
Balance. Flexibility. I could just laugh at the words now and how much they come up in every discussion I have with parenting friends as a sort of parental utopian existence we all strive for but can never achieve, because, NEWS FLASH: Unless you’re talking about gymnastics prodigies, never has their existed a balanced and flexible child.
A year and a half later and here’s what I’ve learned about being a work-from-home momma.
- Every time you think you’re in the clear to make a phone call, think again. From infant to toddler, they have a sixth sense about these important conversations and it is a guarantee that as soon as you dial into that conference call you will be handed a diaper-blowout, urgent demand for juice, spontaneous nap awakening or some random toilet emergency. Unless you call in reinforcements (AKA, Granny Nanny) that’s just how it is.
- The high chair will become your greatest tool. AKA: Immobilization. Throw some sliced apples on that thing, turn on Sesame Street and you’ve gained yourself a good twenty minutes to finish that email and update that website.
- I have two jobs going simultaneously, but my number one priority is my child, and so my daily schedule reflects it. There’s no such thing as off the clock. My workday is all day, every day, and many times in the early hours before she wakes up or in the evenings after she goes to bed. The rest of my work is done in whatever little bursts I can get between play time, reading books, settling her in with an independent activity (like not coloring on the walls) and her recent obsession with outfit changes. So much of my work communication is done in fragmented time on my iPhone and the important things are accomplished when she’s sleeping or when her dad gets home. And there are some things we just won’t compromise in the name of work, like morning snuggles and our outside play-time.
- You can’t do it all. Nope. It’s just simply impossible to meet all the deadlines and make all the meetings and still be an attentive caregiver. And that’s why you need a team to make it work. Whether that’s part-time, two days a week daycare, like we’ve chosen to do, an in home nanny for some of the time, or a trip to the grandparent’s or neighbor’s for a couple hours a day, you are going to need backup. And it’s good for your child as well to have some time away, to interact with different people and to learn in a different environment. Which leads me to…
- You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done with just a few hours of uninterrupted work time when you know the alternative of putting it off is trying to get it done with a toddler vying for a chance at the keys on your computer. I swear, if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish the tasks of a full 40-hour workweek in those 16 hours a week my daughter’s in daycare. I’ve never been so productive in my life!
- Don’t be alarmed if your toddler develops an obsession with phones and computers. When Edie was barely one I found her balancing a baby doll in the crook of one arm and typing with the other hand while talking on the phone she had wedged between her cheek and her shoulder. Like mother, like daughter starts early.
- As soon as I think I have it figured out, it all changes. I might get another project or have back to back, out of town appearances that keep me out overnight, or my daughter contracts some weird ailment like hand, foot and mouth and it all goes off the rails and I have to give in to the chaos I’ve created while scheduling my pre-natal chiropractic appointment during a gramma visit and wondering why I ever thought I might be able to handle another one…
And so here’s where I admit that I’ve often thought that any other way might be easier than the way I’ve chosen to do this working mom thing. I wonder, after meeting up with my husband to hand my daughter over so I can make it to my meeting on time, if there is a way I could quit working all together? Would I even really want that? Or should I get a nine-to-five in an office and send my babies to daycare?
Or maybe we should we sell everything, buy a Winnebago and travel the country like those families with those really beautiful and totally un-relatable Instagram feeds?
But I know better. I know every family functions in their own finely tuned, juggling act of work and fun and worry, and I’m so lucky that I’ve found a way for my daughter to be right by my side for so much of it, even when I’m feeling I’m losing my Mother of the Year nomination while quieting her with a bag of fruit snacks and another round of Moana so I can put the finishing touches on an article or contract.
And I know I’m not alone in the conversation about doing what’s best as working moms. This month’s feature story is all about parents who are opting to take their babies in to work with them during the first six months of their lives. It’s relatable, helpful and full of more insight on those hilarious and illusive words we know as “balance” and “flexibility.”
And if you need more resources, we are introducing you to the West Dakota Parent and Family Resource center in this issue as well, a partnership we’re really excited about.
So enjoy and keep your eye on the most important things, like long walks, nap time and morning snuggles.