Your Back-To-Work Wish List
Today’s Smackdown question comes not from our own queue, but via special request from the advice column guru over at 40:20 Vision. She’s hoping we could offer her OP our perspective and thoughts on the following motherhood-centric question, which, like, just try and stop us, right?
I recently found out I am three months pregnant, graduating from law school, living with my boyfriend, and studying for the bar exam. For those of you professional women with families, what do you do? Plan ahead, pick career over family? What job benefits have you found absolutely essential to you as a mother? Flex time? Ability to work from home? For those of you who quit jobs over lack of certain benefits, or if you have a wish-list of benefits, which ones would you like to see?
Is it possible to ‘have it all?’
Some personal background: I was about waist-deep in my own career in publishing/editing when I got pregnant for the first time. I was doing well, but of course had my eye on at least a couple more promotions for the immediate years ahead. I was conflicted during those nine months — alternatively 100% confident in my plan to return to full-time work, then nervous that I wouldn’t be able to juggle it all or even WANTED to juggle it all, THEN occasionally gripped with a fantasy of quitting my job entirely to stay home and pursue a full-time freelance writing career la la laaaa like that’s ever going to happen.
I went back to work as planned. Then I quit about six months later to pursue a full-time freelance writing career.
Point is: Life is really weird and unpredictable, sometimes in a really good way. So…yes, you plan ahead, but you also stay loose, and ready for anything. Jobs change, minds change, amazing opportunities ebb and flow and having a baby both complicates everything….and makes everything absolutely fan-freaking-tastic at the same time.
But given my own personal experience with returning to a job I loved only to find it both great AND lacking, post-baby, here are the benefits I personally found essential AND the stuff I wish could have been different:
1) Make sure childcare arrangements are not solely YOUR duty and responsibility. I chose a daycare close to my office because I hoped to stop by over lunch to nurse, and thought it was the wiser choice for fighting rush-hour traffic. My husband worked about an hour away in the opposite direction. If I had to do it all over again, I would have chosen someplace more central to our home, so my husband could help with pick-up and drop-off and other inevitable issues that crop up unexpectedly. The baby ran out of diapers — who can go drop some off? The baby is running a fever — who has to take the rest of the day off and pick him up? Your baby is healthy but YOU need a sick day, the center is closed because of the weather but YOUR office is open, etc. etc. etc.
2) Flexible, flexible work time — including sick and personal days. Huge, for so many reasons. My office didn’t really care if you arrived at 7 am or 10 am, so long as you stayed your full eight hours, and allowed for working from home occasionally, within reason. I don’t think I would have lasted a month otherwise. I was unprepared for how hectic my mornings would become and just how many daycare bugs would knock me on my ass. No one WANTS to be that coworker who is always out or leaving early for a sick kid or running late because the daycare drop-off took extra long, but sometimes you just plain WILL be that person, so an office culture that understands is a gigantic plus.
3) Staying home is already enough work. “Working from home” sounds great, and you may even find that when your baby is brand-new that it’s the easiest way to juggle things. After all, they sleep all the time! They stay put in swings/bouncers/cribs! You can learn to nurse and type emails at the same time! And then…they learn how to crawl. Work starts getting confined to not-always-predictable nap times, or consuming your evenings after bedtime. The TV starts getting put on more and more during the day, the guilt over not paying enough attention to your child or participating in enough playdates/activities starts to grow and suddenly working from home — even occasionally — starts to seem like the worst of both worlds, where you are unable to properly focus on either job. Then, horror of horrors, you blink and your baby is WALKING and is a TODDLER and NOW WHAT. So: Work from home but continue to drop off at daycare without guilt, have some back-up babysitting options to call on, a neighbor willing to occasionally share their nanny with you, advertise for a part-time mother’s helper.
4) Pumping options. I had an office. With a door. While I was out on maternity leave, a lock was installed on that door, so I could lock myself in and pump breastmilk with total privacy. I couldn’t have asked for anything better, but I’m still shocked to hear that so many women have to beg for even the barest, supply-closet-like accommodations for pumping and pumping breaks. Talk to HR ahead of time and find out your options. And know your rights.
5) I don’t know what to even call this last one. Even if you find a job that meets all your requirements (flex time, working from home, little to no business travel, etc.), there’s still a kind of intangible vibe sometimes, where employees who actually take advantage of those benefits are…well, kind of overlooked, or even looked down on. If you work remotely most of the time, will you be considered equal competition for a promotion with someone who shows up at the office every day? Will you get stuck with projects that aren’t really equal to your title and position because your personal day usage is too high for that really awesome high-profile one instead? How much business travel are other employees at your level doing, on average? If the company or firm were to have layoffs, would you be the one perpetually on the potential chopping block because the corporate culture values workers without children or sees mothers who need the flexibility as less dedicated? These are hard things to really pick up on ahead of time, unfortunately. Sadly, it happens, and can require big changes on your part that you weren’t necessarily expecting to make, in terms of your hours and childcare and priorities.
That last one ended up being a problem for me, a little bit. There was a change in my job duties once I returned and even a subtle shift in how I was viewed there, professionally. On the surface I had a great, supportive, family-friendly workplace. But beneath that, I was the one who was going to watch the younger or childless editors get promoted while I stagnated, because I simply couldn’t put in crazy 60-hour weeks anymore and spend my free time writing giant extra marketing packages just to maybe possibly impress someone and get a promotion. I guess I hadn’t noticed how often I did that, until I couldn’t anymore. Or…more accurately, until I didn’t WANT to anymore. So I quit, and found something different, work-wise, that worked for me, my professional goals and my family. I work from home, I have two children and one more on the way, I have a million deadlines a week, I drink too much coffee and occasionally my toddler calls our part-time nanny “Mommy Tati” and me “Mommy Mommy” and you know? I find that actually really, really sweet and not weird at all.
I don’t have a closet of fancy suits anymore, but I would say that yes, I DO “have it all,” or something pretty darn close to it.