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.