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Back-To-Work Wish List

Your Back-To-Work Wish List

By Amalah

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.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Megan
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Megan

Some advice from a fellow lawyer (I am 7 yrs out of law school, have a toddler and one on the way). Law firms are notoriously bad about handling work/family things. In some parts of the country (big metro areas) it’s next to impossible to balance both. In other areas, like where I am (smallish city), it’s workable, if you’re at the right firm. Talk to as many people as possible (associates, not partners) to find out which firms have a good reputation of supporting and promoting women with families (and which ones actually mean it and which ones just… Read more »

Olivia
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Olivia

Flex time is the big one for me. Also plenty of personal/sick leave and no expectation for me to work overtime on a regular basis. 40 hrs is (more) than enough time away from my family. If a boss or company expects more time than that, then it’s not the job for me.

I also love living close to work and daycare, so if there is any way you can control how long your commute is it would probably reduce your stress.

Ally
Guest
Ally

I was a teacher before my kids came. I don’t live near any family and thought about a lot of options. We decided the best thing for me is to stay at home with the kids. Luckily there are a lot of home-schooled kids in our area and I teach them three mornings a week. I do miss teaching full time and as soon as my kids are all in school I will go back. I never regret staying at home. I’m so glad I get to be with my kids all day and I don’t feel pulled in a… Read more »

Leigh
Guest

It IS possible to have it all, just not all at once. Something is always going to slip–either you’re not putting in as many overtime hours as your coworkers, or you have to miss an occasional school play or leave a sick child with a sitter, but I just don’t think it’s possible to always give 100% at work and always give 100% at home and still function as a sane human being. It’s a constant balancing act, and my best advice as a full-time working-away-from-home mother is to take it one week at a time. Literally, sit down with… Read more »

Sheila
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Sheila

I actually work in government (not a lwayer though), and that last “I don’t even know what to call it” is the kicker for me. HAVING benefits is one thing; having a workplace culture that allows you to freely use those benefits without guilt/guilt-trips is another. I work on a team where every other person is childless (most are also single) and are willing to absorb infinite amounts of work. I am just not. I leave when my tour ends and I work in the evening after the kids are in bed if I need to, but that just doesn’t… Read more »

Jeannie
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Jeannie

I think it’s impossible to “have it all” if “having it all” means a skyrocketing career, kids who have as much of you as they need, a spotless house and a home made meal every night. Something has to give. There just aren’t enough hours in a day. That said, I think there are many women who do “have it all” in that they’ve found a balance that works for them in their own lives. I’m a WOHM and I do it by working four days, having excellent on-site daycare, a flexible employer and masses of sick time. I wouldn’t… Read more »

AJ
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AJ

Our key is that I can come in super early (6:30am). My husband drops the baby off and I pick up. By staggering work hours she is only in daycare for 8 hours.

b
Guest

I’m still trying to figure this one out myself, and my daughter is almost two. Right now I’m working full-time and the primary breadwinner for our two-income household. My company says they have flex time and work from home options, but no one ever uses them because of the stigma around employees that have used them in the past. And…it sucks. Before she was born, I thought I would be with this company forever. Now I just want to be with my daughter all day more than anything. I think you need to be flexible on what you might want… Read more »

Laura Fair
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Laura Fair

I have a fabulous employer, it’s a non-profit so pay is not all that wonderful but still ok, when my first kid was born they let me work two days from home a week which was amazing and possible until like Amalah said, she started moving. I then went back full time with a nanny three days a week and a daycare two days. This was great as getting kids to daycare was a pain in the butt. I recently stopped working full tome when my second was born as the daycare bill was just to high. I work about… Read more »

Shannon
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Shannon

Hi! I also got pregnant in law school, graduated, and took the bar when she was 18 months old. My advice deals entirely with the bar study period. If you are taking a prep class, most of them offer so much flexibility (for example watching lectures on-line to going to live or pre-recorded sessions at your school). Don’t be afraid to use the flexibility and take things week by week. Don’t feel pressure to be at school all the time because everyone else is. You can pass the bar studying in whatever way works best for you and your family.… Read more »

Jessicawp
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Jessicawp

The article and responses made me appreciate my situation even more. I have a toddler and baby #2 is due in just a few weeks. I work for a bank full-time and daycare is just two blocks from me and five blocks from my husband. We have only a 15-20 minute commute from work to home. My boss is ridiculously understanding; she doesn’t have children but, in her words, has had women work for her who have made every possible decision and tried every solution in regards to work and children. I come in at 8 and leave at 4… Read more »

Minnie
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Minnie

I’m a 3L and will be taking the MPRE in March and the bar exam in July. Baby is due in October. Just wanted to wish you good luck!

Karen
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Karen

My part time schedule of 24 hrs, MWF, is amazing. I’ve never loved my job as much as I do now. Of course my employer is also very family friendly, not just to moms, but for anyone who has sick family members, aging parents, etc. I agree with the previous posters who say just take it one week or month at a time. And short commutes plus centrally located daycare are priceless if you can manage.

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

I have an extremely flexible work situation. First, my boss has a 3 year old, and as such, is very understanding. Second, we moved much farther from my work (but much closer to my husband’s), so to beat traffic, I get in at 7:30 and leave at 4. My husband handles drop-off for our 19 month old, and I pick her up. Yes, it’s hard not to see her in the mornings, but since her babysitter provides breakfast, it’s not like I’m missing anything important. Also, I work from home every Friday and every other Wednesday. If have to work… Read more »

Katie
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Katie

Another lawyer here.  I took my first bar with no kids, living at home for the summer, with a bar study loan (ie, no other job).  My second bar, I took newly married with two young stepkids.  And guess what?  I passed both.  In a way, it was almost easier to focus during the second bar, because I knew I had to be focused and efficient during the time that I had…no more two hour internet study breaks 🙂   I highly recommend the PMBR CDs…just play them in your car, whenever you can.  Somehow, you absorb the stuff. As… Read more »

Melissa
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Melissa

Another lawyer here. Both me and my husband are. However, I’ll refrain from giving you advice as a lawyer, since it’s going to absolutely depend on your situation (firm/government/solo, city size and location, practice group, etc). Here’s what’s been key for us: 1. Awesome back-up care. We have a nanny, but on days she’s sick, we have both the option of back-up care in a center OR a back-up nanny, both subsidized by work. 2. Flexible hours. My boss doesn’t care if I’m in at 8am or 10am or whatever. He doesn’t really keep an eye on where I am,… Read more »

April
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April

I’m a pastor with a flexible and understanding work place, encouraging of families, and my husband and I are pursing adoption. But in America there is the inner guilt and outside pressure to conform to the stereo-types of motherhood rather than to be happy with who I am best at being. I appreciated this recent blog post: http://www.workingmomsagainstguilt.com/2011/02/outsourcing-to-make-life-easier.html A lot of my stress has been reduced since hiring a cleaning person. I am thinking about next getting our laundry hired out and also groceries pre-packed for pick-up in the future. I would much rather do anything for my job than cleaning,… Read more »

radiem
Guest
radiem

I’m a professional working mother of a 5 month old, and I’m regularly needed for far more than the typical 40 hour work week. One option that you might not have considered: asking your significant other be the stay-at-home parent. We had to make major financial adjustments as we turned into a one income family, but I don’t have to worry about getting the baby to daycare in the morning or dealing with unexpected illnesses/catastophes/etc because my husband has it handled. If I need to stay late at work, I can do so without scrambling to arrange childcare. Also, my… Read more »

liz
Guest

Amen to what Amy said about pumping resources. If your workplace hasn’t got ’em? That’s a big clue right there.

I’ve pumped in broom closets, bathrooms (outside a stall, because that was the only available power outlet), and in borrowed offices (where I had to hang my coat over the window next to the door).

The company I worked for touted their family friendly policies and their pumping facilities, but all those things were in the OTHER building.

Suzy Q
Guest
Suzy Q

As a new associate at almost any law firm, they will expect you to work at least 60 hours per week, including weekends.  YOU will be the one attending the 8:00 am hearings a hundred miles from your home.  Choose carefully, and don’t assume that working for women will automatically be better.  Sometimes women are even worse when it comes to kids, etc.

Old-fashioned assvice:  If your relationship with the BF is solid, get married.  It’ll make everything better for your little family.  Good luck!

Amy
Guest
Amy

I’d been with my firm for 6 years when I came back from maternity leave, so not exactly the same situation, but I that said, it’s important to set boundaries– early. Before I went on maternity leave I told them how long I’d be out (manager “so you’ll be out for 6 weeks, right?” “uh no” “oh, 8 weeks” “uh no, more like 3-4 months”), and that when I came back I was going to be part time initially. I came back when my son was nearly 4 months, and I gradually worked up to full time by 6 months.… Read more »

IrishCream
Guest
IrishCream

I have an infant, and my husband and I both work full time. He switched to evenings and I have some flextime, so we’re doing tag-team parenting. Even with two incomes, day care would have been a huge financial burden, plus she’s so liiiiitle! Challenging as it is to not see each other during normal waking hours, it’s worth it to be with the babe. The one thing I wish I’d know before I went back to work: how glad I would be to be back at work! I spent the last weekend of my maternity leave hugging the baby… Read more »

Kimm
Guest
Kimm

I’m not a lawyer- but flex time would be great, and not working weekends or nights. That’s why I am changing jobs at the end of the school year. I play piano for choirs at several schools, working many Saturdays, and 12 hour days during concert/contest season. That won’t work with a baby and my husband’s hours, as he often comes home at 9 pm or later. Can’t bear the thought of leaving our little one in childcare 12-13 hours a day. I’m going to just teach piano lessons even though it’s a big pay cut.

Astrid
Guest

I’m currently 18 weeks pregnant with my first, so I have to advice, but I just wanted to say that number five scares the crap out of my. My company officially has relatively family friendly policies, but I have no idea how it will work in action. My workplace skews young, gay, single, childless, or some combination of the above, and there really aren’t a lot of mothers. The only women who I’ve worked with who have gotten pregnant didn’t come back after their babies are born. As it is now, we currently often work through out breaks to get… Read more »

Name (required)
Guest
Name (required)

Well, this is going to be advice unlike any other comment I have read posted here on this blog. I am also a lawyer. I graduated almost 18 years ago. When I first got out of school, I worked for about 3 years before I had my first daughter. I then continued working until my second daughter was born, 2 years later. I hated every minute of being away from my daughter. I knew in my heart that no one can take care of a child like their own mother. And, I felt like I couldn’t always be “good” at… Read more »

Liz
Guest

I echo Amalah’s advice to be prepared for things to change majorly once you’re holding that little one in your arms.  I was all prepared to go back to work part-time (like 24 hours a week) and put her in daycare one day a week (my husband and I have the ability to trade off the rest of the time with our schedules).  Bahahaha.  Once she was home, there was no way I could have put her in group childcare.  So, I work about 15 hours a week, trading off with the hubby and getting help for a few hours… Read more »

Lizzie
Guest
Lizzie

Before my baby was born, I had a job I loved, but it was one of those where you work until your job is done each day, whether that was 8 hours or 12. But, you know, I went to college for 8 years and it took me a few years after that even to find a niche I really loved. And then I had a baby. And my work was pretty supportive. They actually let me split my job in half and find someone to be “my other half”. We each worked half the week, split salary, days off,… Read more »

heather
Guest
heather

I haven’t read all the comments – so forgive me if I’m repeating something. Things that are essential for me as a Career+Mom. 1) a good care provider who I trust with my baby. It’s expensive but soooooo worth it. Working outside the home will not happen if you don’t have a good care situation. 2) a job that I LIKE and am intrinsically rewarded by. If it’s going to keep me away from my baby then I need to be getting something besides a pay check out of it. Ultimately having a fulfilling professional career allows me to be… Read more »

andrea
Guest
andrea

I wish we didn’t have to make that decision before the baby is born. While I completely understand your company’s right to know your intentions it’s just totally unrealistic to expect you to know right now how you’ll feel about work and motherhood. I have friends who returned full time and wished they were part time or SAHMs and friends that changed everything to work only part time and regretted it. No easy answers. I work at a law school and I’m fortunate. They are flexible with my hours and I can work at home. So there’s an idea as… Read more »

Rebilou
Guest
Rebilou

1. Engage the grandparents/family now and feel out their level of potential participation in child rearing. Are they retired? Do they have flexibility in their time? Our family is the first line in at an early school pick up and keep her on sick days, and they generally dote on her more than I could ever expect anyone else to outside of my husband and I. They have made work pressure significantly better by being engaged, helpful, and generally awesome people. 2. Working from home one day a week has saved my mind. My boss is based out of a… Read more »

Jay
Guest
Jay

Totally off topic, but where did the post about introducing foods and choking go? I know it was up yesterday, but now this is the first question again. What happened?

IrishCream
Guest
IrishCream

I was wondering that too! I wanted to email it to my husband.

DawnK
Guest
DawnK

I am another lawyer chiming in and I hate to be a bubble burster but the practice of law is the absolute worst place to be if you are a woman with children looking for flexibility. You would think they would know better as laws exist to keep them from dicriminating but lawyers, and large law firms in larger cities eapecially, feel they are exempt from all of this. They will expect a level of commitment from you that you will just not be able to deliver with children waiting for you at home. I agree with Megan who suggested… Read more »

DawnK
Guest
DawnK

As a working mother/lawyer I have to chime in here and say that law is one of the least forgiving and flexible careers for a working mother. Especially large firms in larger cities. I agree with Megan that it works much better in smaller cities with smaller firms and partnerships. In house counsel positions and government positions will give you much more flexibility. I am a state employee and have worked in law for 21 years. I have two teenage daughters and I have enjoyed my career in state government. It has afforded me better hours and flexibilty. I hate… Read more »

Maggie
Guest
Maggie

I will second the flexible work schedule. So important. I work for a major university that allows me to work 80% and still get full benefits, I can pretty much make my own schedule and they are very understanding about time off for sick kids. Working from home with little ones is difficult. My kids are 5 and 9and I can barely get a chance to check email (and update my facebook status) before they need something from me and they are wayyyy less needy now than a few years ago. Good luck!

christina
Guest
christina

Well, I have to disagree with the name withheld who maintains that one will never regret staying home…uhh, I could easily give you 2 dozen women’s names who definitely regret their choice to stay home and not continue working in some capacity. These women span the generation of my mom’s friends to mine, and in between. Maybe you told yourself that only a mom could take care of a baby well to justify what worked for you…but really, there’s no need to push that on anyone else. As for me, I work in consulting and it’s not easy, but it’s… Read more »

Beth
Guest
Beth

I am a lawyer who is currently staying home with two boys. I worked for 4 years and then decided to stay home with the kids until they are off to kindergarten to ease the stress in my life. I am chiming in, like some of the fellow lawyer commenters, to agree that being a lawyer and a mom are extremely difficult. The culture of law firms is one that does not allow for personal time on any front. The lawyers I have seen advance are single women and men who work 60 or more hours a week. I worked… Read more »

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[…] Vision hindsight on what “having it all” is really all about, Amalah the advice guru at Alpha Mom stepped in to provide her “Back to Work Wish List.” Her advice and all the great words […]

Cebene
Guest
Cebene

Unfortunately, I am dealing with this situation right now, and it isn’t turning out how I expected or wanted it to. I’ve been with this company for over 15 years. For the first 12 of those years, I was single, could come in early, work late, be on call for nights and weekends, and pretty much devote my entire life to work. My career blossomed. I entered management at an early age. I was on the fast track to become the “heir” to our CFO (we are a small, private corp.). Then, my 1st child was born. I was given… Read more »