Moms at Work
We received a note from a reader who asked if we could gather some advice and tips for new moms who want to return to work. Since we can’t speak from our own experiences, we reached out to five working moms who we consider our role models and mentors.
We interviewed five moms who have either one or two children ranging from infants to toddlers. They either have some help or no help at home (nanny, grandparents, or daycare). What they all have in common is that they have very demanding jobs at large financial services firms in New York City.
We hope this post is as eye-opening for you as it was for us about the constant struggles women face in the workplace and how much further we have to go to make our work environments more accommodating for working moms.
Q: Tell us about a memorable piece of advice you received from others about being a working mom?
MT: I will never forget one woman who said that the best advice she received as a working mom was, “it is indeed possible for women to have it all - just not all at the same time." That stuck with me ever since and has proven true so far in my short time as a working mom. It is a continuous juggling act prioritizing between career and family.
RT: Before returning to work think about what type of arrangement will work for you. Upon return check in with your manager and don’t be afraid to ask him/her for what you need (flexible arrangement such as work from home 1x a week or leave early some days to pick up the baby). You will never know if you don’t ask.
RA: Don’t be afraid to put yourself and your family first. Having children changes your priorities and way of thinking. Your workplace should support your needs and not discourage them. It’s more important to take the time you need to keep your personal life in order so you can work at full capacity in your professional life.
MB: A friend shared this advice that I saved: NEVER apologize for 1) having to pump/breastfeed and 2) having to leave at a certain hour to get home to your kid. Everyone has lives and stuff they have to take care of and you don't owe anyone an explanation. Kick ass at work and go home to your baby. Forget the idea of work/life balance. These days, it's not about balance - it's about flexibility! If you leave at 5pm to spend time with your baby and husband and log back in at 9pm, so be it!
Q: What was something that surprised you about returning to work as a new mom?
MT: Before I went on maternity leave, I was adamant that I would come back to my job, keep my existing work load, and continue to do it all, so to speak. I was surprised to fall completely head over heels for my baby during the time I had off (I was never maternal beforehand, so admittedly didn't know what to expect!), and really not want to come back to the workforce at all. I was also surprised - though not really - at how little had changed at work in the 16 weeks I was away, and how easy it was to step right back into my role when I came back.
RT: What surprised me most was how much my priorities changed. I was always a hard worker - many times taking on more projects and staying late and working weekends to get it done. When I returned to work my baby was my first priority and I made sure to work “smarter”. I didn’t need to stay late to get it done. Also, I declined certain projects and delegated to my team more.
RA: With my first return back to work, I was surprised that my managers were not very open in allowing me a flexible work schedule. In my second return to work, I made it a priority to put my needs first.
MB: You have to stand up for yourself and make your own priorities. Don’t expect others (even other working moms) to prioritize for you.
GZ: My priorities had changed upon returning to work. What I used to think was very important was no longer as important and I learned that certain things are uncontrollable.
Q: Was there something your manager did/said that helped your transition to work?
MT: Before I came back to work, I discussed with my manager that I wanted to transition back slowly and work half the week from home, especially as I am still breastfeeding/pumping. That has made my return to work so much better. It's crazy that new moms go from working full-time to all of a sudden staying at home full-time with a new baby, and by the time our bodies heal and we get into the swing of things with motherhood, our maternity leave is over and we have to drop everything, our babies, and go back to work full-time as if nothing ever happened.
RT: When I returned to work, my manager was a mom of three kids and my co-worker was also a mom. Both of them understood the demands of working and being at home in time to spend see their child. I felt more at ease coming back to a team who “got it”.
MB: Go back to work on a Thursday! Take some days off once you are back at work (sick days/personal days) just to be at home with your baby.
GZ: After having my son, I was lucky to be able to work from home once a week to help me transition back to work.
Q: Tell us about some fears you had about returning to work?
MT: My number one fear was that my daughter would end up loving her nanny more than me.
RT: That people would think less of me. I was afraid they would think that I wasn’t being a team player because I didn’t stay late at night with them or go out to happy hour on Thursday nights.
RA: My biggest fear was losing my job and not being given the same opportunities that I would have if I didn’t have kids. When I returned to work both times I felt I had to prove my worth.
MB: I was afraid of doing a half-ass job at home and at work. I was afraid of leaving my baby with essentially a stranger (nanny). I was afraid of not being able to make it all work. I was afraid of missing something, at home or at work.
GZ: Are people going to trust my ability as before at work? Can I handle work plus a newborn at home with less sleep at night?
Q: What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
MT: That my daughter knows who her mommy is, and that while she does love her nanny, she still loves me more. :)
RT: That it’s okay to draw your boundaries. If you don’t do it no one will do it for you. I also wish I didn’t kill myself at work. There were many times I put work ahead of other things in my life. Although I agree it’s a priority it doesn’t have to consume 120% of your time.
RA: I wish I would have known that it is my responsibility to set boundaries and not to expect the company or management to set the boundaries. They will take whatever you can give them.
MB: The first few weeks back are the hardest and it really does get better
Q: What was the hardest part about being pregnant at work?
MT: I was extremely fortunate to have a great pregnancy without any morning sickness or other symptoms. I would say the hardest part was having to finally acknowledge my OB-GYN's advice and officially slow down my work travel when I was in the later stages of my third trimester.
RT: Feeling so nausea and EXTREMELY tired.
RA: There is no consideration/slack for when you are sick or tired or just feeling heavy and would be best suited for working from home during pregnancy.
MB: Remaining stress free and making it to all of the doctors appointments.
GZ: I was concerned whether my pregnancy would impact my promotion. Advice - as long as we continue to perform at or above expectation, we can still get promoted during pregnancy. I received the good news during my maternity leave!
Q: Did your workplace offer facilities and/or benefits for new moms? If so, what did you use the most?
MT: My workplace has lactation rooms for pumping breast milk, and also offered free Lamaze, newborn care, and infant CPR courses, which my husband and I greatly appreciated. I use the lactation rooms multiple times a day when I am in the office. My firm also offers a free subscription to Milk Stork, a service which will ship breast milk home for traveling moms. I have used that a couple of times as well and appreciate that the cost is covered by my firm.
RT: The lactation room, which I used 2-3 times a day.
RA: The lactation room and pregnancy coordinator.
MB: The nursing rooms at work were my safe haven. They also offered over the phone lactation consultants who have great tips for pumping at work
GZ: Working from home once a week.
Q: How often did you check your emails during your maternity leave?
MT: About once a week. Before going out on leave, I thought I would check it daily... but sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, and other priorities got in the way. I also decided I was going to use my 16 weeks to bond with my baby and allow myself to be completely engrossed in her. Work emails could wait!
RT: During my first leave I’d check every week and a half. During my second leave I checked every 3.5 weeks.
RA: Rarely. I did not make the effort to do so as I prioritized spending time with my babies.
MB: Maybe 3 times! I told managers if they really needed me to send me a text
GZ: No more than 5 times in 4 months.
Q: How have your priorities changed now that you’re a new mom?
MT: I see my job in a completely new light. Before I became a mom, my job/career was almost something I used to define or measure myself by. Having a child has put my world into perspective. While I love my career, it is just a part of my life and certainly not the “be all, end all” anymore. Also, while money used to be the most enticing factor of a job or new opportunity for me, I have to say my number one priority in a job now is flexibility, i.e. the ability to work from home every now and then, leave the office early to go to a pediatrician appointment, etc. I would take that now over any high-paying job with zero flexibility.
RT: My family is my priority. I leave at 5pm when I need to and work from home once a week. I try not to stay late if it’s not necessary.
MB: I used to stick around until my managers left. Now, I get up and leave when I have to go. I say I’m reachable if I am needed once my child goes to sleep.
GZ: Priorities have definitely changed. New rule for myself: don’t work late or on weekends/vacation unless truly urgent.
Q: What steps to do you take balance your career and family? Are there certain boundaries or rules you’ve established once becoming a mom?
MT: I am still very much figuring this out, as I am still in the early days... it is not easy though, and probably the hardest thing I have had to deal with to date (not being able to be perfect at both career and family at the same time).
RT: Making sure to take at least a little time for myself. It’s important to take care of yourself, whether it be taking a yoga class, meeting a friend for dinner or getting a manicure.
RA: Yes, I make sure I get a chance to see my children in person everyday. I also make sure I read to them and put them to bed. I am strategically transparent about my boundaries. I am careful not to over exert what my needs are but make it clear my primary boundaries and work around the secondary boundaries.
MB: I try not to make plans on the weekends that don’t involve my family
Q: Do you feel like you had to choose your career or your family and couldn’t have both?
MT: This is a loaded question, and one you could definitely devote an entire blog post to! In many ways, yes. But it's not a decision I was "forced" to make. I want to spend time with my daughter - the first six months have already gone by so quickly, and I want to enjoy every moment - so I am willing to give up a few things here and there with my career in order to prioritize her and my family.
RT: Everyone has their own thoughts on “having it all”. I used to think that it was possible. However, I learned to accept that it’s not. Something has got to give. You can have all the help in the world at home (nannies) so you can excel at work. However you’ll never see your kids grow up or hit certain milestones. It all comes down to what’s most important to you.
MB: I feel that while I can have both, I know that right now my focus is on my family. My priorities will eventually shift.
GZ: There are definitely moments like that once in a while when I’m extremely busy at work. However, we all have bad moments so don’t give up but instead speak up. When you feel overwhelmed, talk to your close friend(s), speak to your family, speak to your manager, and ask for help and advice.
Q: Any other points/comments you’d like to make that could help a new working mom or dad?
MT: Don't make any major life decisions while on maternity leave! I was hormonal and emotional, and really didn't want to leave my cute baby to come back to the workforce. Now that I am back to work and getting back to my normal self, I am glad to have a professional life in addition to my role as a mother. That said, work/life balance and flexibility are so essential in permitting me to have both, and this is something I would encourage people to think about or negotiate with their companies/managers before coming back to work.
RT: Enjoy the journey. Being a parent is hard work! It’s 24/7 and at times you can feel unappreciated. But it’s so rewarding. I consider it one of my best accomplishments.
RA: Be selfish. Do not expect that just because the resources are there that management will encourage the usage of them. Be transparent about your priorities. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If managers are not willing to accommodate your needs, leave and don’t waste the precious time with your kids.
MB: Every day is different, sometimes your baby gets sick, sometimes your nanny is late...take a deep breath and just move on
GZ: It is okay to feel stressed but do speak up and ask/look for help when needed. I do believe that as long as we stay positive and try our best, good things will follow!
Thank you so much to the wonderful ladies who shared their open and honest thoughts. Please leave any questions or comments below.