The Ostrich Becomes a Swan

This post was inspired by a post by Hound Mamas on how to navigate going back to work while loving the crap out of your baby.

Like many new parents, I was wondering how I would feel about returning to work. I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be easier than I thought it would. I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I love dropping my kid off at daycare everyday. (okay, except that one time when my daycare was sucking…)

I don’t mean to imply, however, that this hasn’t been hard. It’s not easy to transition into being at home catering to a tiny human’s every need to… well, at work catering to grown men and women’s every need. (Let’s be real, there is an element to all our jobs which feels a bit like caring for infants. Even when we don’t work in early childhood development.)

For the first few months, I was all “I made it through work today without passing out on my keyboard? WIN!” And then I realized that wasn’t really me. Or at least, not the me I want Chick to know. I’m smart, driven, and a great leader. Work is how I express those qualities.

So as I got my sea legs under me, I decided to re-commit myself to my career, which because I love my work also means I am re-committing myself to myself to a certain degree. This seems to have worked, because at my recent review my manager gave me a raise and basically told me that I could develop my next job (with some parameters, of course.)

During my review, he specifically said I had done a great job re-entering the workplace. One thing he said made me pause, however. Not a direct quote, but something along the lines of “You don’t use your child as an excuse for why your work doesn’t get done.”

(Please note, my manager is fantastic and very supportive of parents at work. I don’t think this was meant as a critique.)

I’ve struggled a bit if this is to be interpreted as a compliment. Kinda like when a co-worker told me she thought I’d be more of a trainwreck coming back from leave.

I *guess* it is good that I make it look effortless, but holy shit, it really isn’t. Yesterday was balls out insane, for example. Work was back to back meetings all day. Mr. O has some horrid stomach bug, so I had to keep Chick away from him, make chicken soup (which Mr. O could hardly keep down, poor thing), get Chick ready for bed, prepared his bag for daycare, and take out the trash. And then Chick woke up twice last night and needed to be put back down. By me and only me. (See previous note about Mr. O’s stomach bug.)

And yet, I still give off the illusion that I’ve got this shit covered. Not just covered, but that I’m “leaning in”, to borrow from Our Lady of Ladies in the Workplace, Sheryl Sandberg.

In fairness, I do think I’m coping okay. I’m like a swan- graceful up top, but paddling like hell below. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is a secret to this, only that I’ve found some things that work for me. Like:

In an effort to get my head back at work, I picked a career-related goal for the next 6 months, then went at it. Not a year, not the next 5 years, but the next 6 months. It wasn’t huge (i.e. talking about a promotion with my boss) but the result seems to have paid off (i.e. raise and new role.) In 6 months, I’m going to check in with myself again to see what my next 6 month goal is.

I’m also trying to make looking like I have my shit together literally look easy. I’m defaulting to dresses more and more these days. Perhaps not everyone’s style, but they are a life saver when you have no idea what to wear. One item of clothing and I instantly look like I’m trying. Bonus points for wrap dresses that make trips to the pump room a lot less involved.

I’ve also become a huge fan of scarves because they can easily be rearranged to cover up any wayward puke stains.

Most importantly, I have made it a policy to never apologize. For being late, for spending hours a day pumping, for not wearing make up, for prioritizing 10 minutes more with Chick in the morning when he wants to play. I refuse to imply for even one second that I am not doing my absolute best. I AM. It’s just that my best looks a little different than it used to.

I think what working parents are doing is ambitious. It’s just that ambition isn’t always about the corner office. We’re taking care of our families, contributing to our organizations, looking for ways to live fully as professionals and parents. That’s pretty damn ambitious, I’d say.

Now off to get Chick from daycare.

NOTE: I do not mean to imply that SAHPs don’t have ambitions too… No one says that our ambitions have to be the same in order to be lofty and important, and I’m genuinely tired of this being an either/or debate. So in case you feel like you want to bring that up… Hush.

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8 comments

  1. Molly · March 10, 2016

    Sigh. I wish I loved my job. I think that makes all the difference in the world. I TRY to love my job, but it isn’t really the same thing. I think that’s my problem right now. I’m missing the spark that makes me want to be here. I can’t imagine it would ever be as bright as the spark that makes me want to be at home, but a little bit of heat would do wonders for my mental state!

    • thecommonostrich · March 11, 2016

      This is an important point, one I hope you don’t gloss over. Going on leave and coming back to work clarified for me how much I really do enjoy my job. It sounds as if this has had the opposite effect on you– you maybe realize you’re not too into it. And that’s okay. Instead of thinking that you *should* be more excited about your job, perhaps think about finding another one. Maybe that’s your clarifying moment.

      Yes, I know. Finding a new job while also taking care of an infant is lunacy. I’m not suggesting that you give your notice tomorrow. Once you have the space, find work that speaks more to who you are.

      In the meantime, EMBRACE THE THRASH.

  2. labmonkeyftw · March 10, 2016

    OK, first, I think this is great. And also you are great.
    Second, I think the “not using your child as an excuse” compliment (?) is more a compliment about your ability to compartmentalize. If something hasn’t gotten done, you have a work-related explanation. You show up to work ready to work. You go home ready to be a part of your family. There’s too much to do on all sides, but you are in-stream for whichever activity you’re at (at least, this is my view, from what you have said and how you have said it). It’s leaning in, I guess, but more it’s being committed, at the right times and places, to the things in front of you.
    Your supervisor values that commitment, that focus in the times that he has your attention.
    Dresses are fantastic smoke and mirrors. “Oh look, I’m fancy” really equates to “I didn’t have to match my various articles of clothing, because it’s all one piece”.

    • thecommonostrich · March 11, 2016

      That is true, actually. When I’m at work, I am focused on it. And when I’m home, I’m focused on home. Luckily, I have one of those jobs that doesn’t require around the clock attention. Whew.

      And yeah for dresses! I also basically dress in three colors these days, which makes coordination waaaay easier. I call it my “50 shades of gray” look. 😉

  3. My Perfect Breakdown · March 10, 2016

    I really like how you don’t apologize, you have nothing to be apologize for. As you said you are doing your best, but your best just looks differently now. That makes sense to me, completely.

    • thecommonostrich · March 11, 2016

      It’s a little thing, but remarkably empowering. Why would we possibly apologize for taking care of people we love? Any workplace, manager, or client that expects that has their priorities waaaay out of whack.

  4. Nara · March 11, 2016

    You sound absolutely awesome. And I think your boss meant it as a compliment – not that you don’t do things (which is what it could be interpreted as) but that you don’t NOT do things, which means you don’t have to make excuses! If you get what I mean.

    Love the way you’re unapologetic. You sound like an inspiration and I wish there were people like you at my work!

    • thecommonostrich · March 11, 2016

      It’s all an act. 😉

      Well, not really. It’s all a frame of mind, I guess. I’ve long thought that the best gift my parents gave me was my (at times irrational) confidence. Working full-time and taking care of a baby? Sure! Why not?

      Still tired as hell, sometimes. I won’t lie.

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