Tag Archives: work-life balance

Stay at Home or Work? Every Mom’s Big Decision

As I was trying to shovel applesauce into a screaming toddler’s grimacing mouth the other morning, I saw this news segment on TV that asked: Who’s got it worse, working moms or stay at home moms? According to a University of Washington study, stay-at-home moms are more likely to be depressed. But the caveat is that those working moms who try to be super moms–meaning they have unrealistic expectations of work-life balance–were more depressed. The big takeaway being that any way a mommy slices it, she’s likely to run up against depression at one time or another.

I have thought a lot about this question over the past couple of years, as I struggled to decide whether to stay home full time with my wee one or go back to work. I’ve also seen a lot of mommy-friends come up against the same big question–and come up with different answers. But as I look across the spectrum of full-time moms to full-time professionals with kids on the side, one thing is clear: No one has it easy. Each work-life permutation that I’ve come across has moments that are positively overwhelming and definitely worthy of a whimper or two.

Of course I’m painting with a very broad brush, so bear with me, but most of my stay-at-home mommy-friends’ struggles stem from the fact that they are indeed home all the time. While it’s wonderful that they get to spend every waking moment with their precious wee ones, many of them seem to feel that they’ve lost a little of their shimmer and shake along with their connection to the working world. They’ve got a good grip on all things domestic–their laundry baskets aren’t overflowing and the litter box doesn’t stink–but finding things to do and places to go with the wee ones other than the grocery story and Target isn’t exactly easy. Hooking up with playgroups, classes, and activities can be as much work as dating or interviewing for a new job.

Life for working moms, on the other hand, is seriously programmed. From the moment the alarm rings to moment the last kid is in bed, it’s go-go-go time. In a way that’s good because a day can just fly by,  but one small glitch and the wheels are nearly going to fall off. There is absolutely no time for stuff like misplaced keys, runaway dogs, or flat tires. (My mommy meltdown of the week was over a broken back gate.) There’s so little time to take care of the basics that anything that requires extra, special, or immediate attention feels like a way bigger deal than it probably truly is. But having way too much to do in way too little time is the reality.

So, whether its about feeling invisible or inadequate, life for any mom, regardless of employment situation, can be stressful if not downright depressing. This realization begs the question whether there can really ever be a good work-life balance.

One of my brother-in-laws had a very good “dad” response to that question. He said that he knew he was close to striking that point when he felt like he was just doing in his estimation “good”–not fantastic or great but not bad or terrible either. It sounds a little depressing, but I get what he meant. It’s like if he was being a super star at work, he knew he wasn’t being the dad he wanted to be. And if he was being super dad, he probably wasn’t putting in the time or effort at his job that he should. So, when he was doing well enough, that was balance. I guess that makes him the good-enough father before there was the good-enough mother.

While I think that’s a truly honest assessment of the situation most young parents find themselves in, it’s not exactly prescriptive. The best how-to advice I ever heard was unsurprisingly from my best friend. (It’s always funny to me that you never really have to go far for good advice.) As an executive at a well respected, Fortune 1000 company, she’s definitely corporate to the max; however, she’s also a great mom who adores being with her kids, so she knows all too well how delicate that balance between a successful career and home life is. As I was blubbering to her about my decision to work or not to work, she finally told me the way she would have it, if she could: work 3-4 days a week, with the flexibility to work from home, and limited travel. And it dawned on me–isn’t that the way most mommies would have it? You’re home enough, but not too much, you have a little bit of income, and you still stay connected to the world that’s 18 and older.

But sadly, few of us are afforded that luxury of flexibility and those that have it cherish it. A lot of school teachers have a pretty good gig, working the same hours that their kids are in school and then summers off. But I learned recently that most female doctors only work three days a week because of this issue of family, and I instantly regretted my career decision. I certainly could have made a lot more money for the years I spent in school and have as close to a perfect work-life balance as possible. But I’ve got to imagine, or at least hope, that maybe the business world is in the process of changing to accommodate families needs to have moms and breadwinners. Maybe by the time Gen Y decides to have kids, the flex schedule will be more commonplace than it would seem today. Because the reality, at least according to that University of Washington study, is that as a mommy, you’re far from escaping depression at some point, no matter if you’re at home or at work.

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Filed under baby blues, family, moms, stay-at-home moms, working mom

Why Time Is Never on a Mom’s Side

I saw this newspaper clipping on a friend’s Facebook page yesterday, and I couldn’t resist the urge to write about it. (Read the article and you’ll understand.)

But in case the print is too small, I’m going to summarize: Basically someone without kids writes in to an advice columnist asking why her stay-at-home mommy friends never have time to gab anymore. She asked:

“What is a typical day and why don’t moms have time for a call or e-mail? I work and am away from home for nine hours a day (plus a few late work events); I manage to get it all done.”

I bet more than a few stay-at-home mommies want to deck this chick after reading that. The columnist’s response was classic. I personally loved the part where she talked about how moms not only do all the errands-type stuff single people do, but do it all while carrying a kid and the requisite accoutrement to ward of every mishap from a blowout to a meltdown. But her conclusion was a kicker:

“[Having kids] is also a choice, yes. And a joy. But if you spent all day, every day, with this brand of joy, and then when you got your first 10 minutes to yourself, wanted to be alone with your thoughts instead of calling a good friend, a good friend wouldn’t judge you, complain about you or marvel how much more productively she uses her time.”

I agree that perhaps this advice-seeker needed to be put in her place mommy-style.  But if I honestly think back to my single days, I probably wondered something similar. However, I wouldn’t have dared openly ask the question. Even I knew a comment of that sort would warrant a mommy-slap that would make any head spin.

I can definitely identify with the columnist’s first explanation of why moms never have enough time to do much more than just cover off on the basics–everything takes three times longer with kids. How true. Most of the time, as a mom, yes, you are trying to accomplish many of the same simple tasks that baby-free folks can handle during their lunch hours or on their ways home from work. But those tasks are so much harder when you’re lugging baby and gear.

Going to the post office, for example, totally stresses me out. So does going to get clothes altered. These are regular errands, but with a baby, they are not simple in-and-out stops. They are major outings that require moms to bring all manner of food, clothing, and shelter for baby, not to mention entertainment. That’s a lot of work for a book of stamps or a pair of pants.

But it was the columnist’s second answer to the advice-seeker’s question that was an a-ha! moment for me. While there is the whole question of logistics when going about daily life with baby in tow, there is this whole other major undertaking going on, one that’s so big picture, it’s often overlooked. It’s the fact that, as moms, while we’re trying to make sure the mortgage is paid, the fridge is stocked, and the animals are fed (along with the gazillion other things that make our lives liveable), we’re also trying to raise good, caring, productive people for society.

That’s the biggest challenge in the world. And I know that I definitely forget that as I’m melting down because I can’t find my keys, the baby’s crying, the dog won’t get in his crate, and I know that we’re going to be at least a half hour late to wherever I was supposed to be at that moment. I focus so much on the feeding, bathing, diapering, and entertaining of baby that I admit I often forget that I’m also teaching him how to be the person he eventually will be. (Just writing that makes me get a little misty.)

When I think about how big of a task that is on top of handling the myriad of minutia that fall under the category of life maintenance, no wonder moms have no time to spend a half hour gabbing with a friend about things like office gossip, new crushes, and fad diets. (Thank god for texting.) That half hour is critical brain rebooting time. (And by rebooting, yes, I really mean showering.)

But all this to say that I’m really glad this advice-seeker asked such a seemingly stupid question about what moms do all day. The answer was a nice reminder of not only all the little jobs I do, from walking the dog to getting the oil changed in the car, but also of my most important job–to raise a healthy, happy, curious, creative, and kind little boy. When I think about that I guess I can live with the fact that I didn’t cross everything off my to-do list today.

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Filed under babies, daily life, education, family, infants, moms, parenting, stay-at-home moms, working mom

The Joys of Being a Breastfeeding Mommy (and Other Misadventures)

A random text from a mommy friend inspired me to finally write this post that I’ve been meaning to write for awhile. Like me, she’s a working mom who’s trying to balance her work responsibilities while breastfeeding her infant daughter (and take care of a toddler!). Her note, typed from the airport, went something like this:

I have redefined “hot mess.” I’m in Newark (dirtiest airport in New England). My meeting ran over so I did not get to pump before I left the office. My boobs are like rocks. I paid $100 to upgrade to first class so I could skip to the front of the security line. There’s no “family” bathroom, so I stand in line in this filthy bathroom, go into the handicap stall and start pumping. The battery on the pump dies after about two sucks, so now I’m committed and in pain. I stand in the loo, change the batteries while holding pump to boobs (no luck) for 30 minutes then hand pumping with milk dripping on the floor and my clothes, sweating, because who puts A/C in a public bathroom. I’m not able to touch anything because it’s unsanitary to say the least–for 4 blessed ounces of white gold and the elimination of stripper boob. At least it only got on my pants and not my white shirt. Happy Tuesday!

Days like that are ones where you are amazed that you even made it through. Fortunately you can always curse your husband for not being able to help you and then text a mommy friend and finally begin to see the humor in it all.

For as much as traveling with an infant poses some challenges, traveling without your infant when you’re still breastfeeding brings up a whole other set of issues.

First of all, it screws up your efficiency. I’m an efficient traveler to begin with, but when I travel for work, I’m super streamlined. Checking a bag is never an option. In fact, I get annoyed when the airlines make me check my bag planeside. So, the fact that as a nursing mommy you have to bring along a cooler of some sort and your pump really kind of throws your equilibrium off. Business travelers and boob bags don’t really mix.

But somehow you figure out how to make it doable even if it’s not ideal. During my last business trip, for example, I ended up bringing a smaller cooler that was able to be tucked into a larger carry-on bag. The smaller cooler meant fewer bottles and fewer bottles meant that at some point during my trip I had to dump some of my precious white gold. It was tragic–a mommy friend likened it to throwing a piece of heirloom jewelry in the trash–but it was a price I was going to pay to not have to pay to check a bag or waste time waiting for my bag at baggage claim.

I also bagged bringing gym clothes–who was I kidding anyway? Any free time was going to be spent pumping–and found a way to get away with a single pair of heels in order to fit my pump and its accoutrement in my suitcase. Of course, for all my carefully packing, I forgot essential work equipment like my camera and batteries for my Flip cam, but that wasn’t the end of the world either.

The other thing I made sure I did was book at a nicer hotel so that I could be sure that I had a mini fridge in my room. Out went the mini bottles of Smirnoff and Johnny Walker and in went plastic bottles of white gold. And being at the nicer hotel also had an additional perk. Rather than spend  my time running back and forth from the convention center, I just booked nearly all of my meetings in the hotel’s restaurants and lounges, which meant I had an executive-worthy venue to have my meetings and could easily hop the elevator up to my room to squeeze in a pump between meetings.

The pump part that was out to get me

But for all this willing to make being a working and lactating mommy work, there are always these mishaps akin to what my friend experienced today. For me, the small plastic piece that connected the pump to the tubing somehow got chipped in my bag during my travels. That meant that my only hope of using the pump was if I stuffed my thumb  into the hole to create enough of a vacuum to get the thing to suck. And at that point only one tube was operational, so it was going to take twice as long to pump every time I had to pump. Again, not exactly an ideal situation, but workable.

I did that for a day or so before I got the brilliant idea that if I stuck a piece off gum in the hole, I could plug it up and get the pump to work and also free one hand to at least type an e-mail or change the channel. Let me just say bad idea. After that experiment failed, I was left with a pump that was totally useless. And there was no time to order replacement parts from the manufacturer. By the time I paid the gazillion dollars for expedited shipping, I’d be on my way home. Plus, what was I going to do in the meantime anyway?

At this point I remember there being a section in my breastfeeding bible, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, on hand expression. Of course I didn’t read it, but I do remember there being a line in the book somewhere about how every nursing mother should learn how to hand express. I remember thinking, “Why in the heck would I ever need to do that?” Apparently I’m either not very forward thinking or very imaginative (or both) because suddenly I found myself in Orlando on a business trip needing to teach myself how–or end my career as a breastfeeding mom.

So, after a little trial and error, I figured it out. It’s really not that hard, but

The back-up plan

the process definitely made me feel more like a cow than I felt before. That didn’t seem possible at the time, but it was so very true.

But like most of the other setbacks I’ve encountered as a newbie mommy, I survived after having learned a thing or two the hard way. My advice? Go out and buy a hand pump to take along with you. I bought an Evenflo SimplyGo manual pump so I’d never be stuck again.They aren’t expensive and are surprisingly efficient even if your hand can get tired.

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How Do They Know?

A simple question for all my mommy friends:

How do babies know when their moms have a jam-packed day that leaves little wiggle room for anything out of the ordinary–and subsequently pick that time to meltdown, have an inconvenient diaper blowout, refuse to go down for a nap, etc.?

Mine knows exactly how to make sure the wheels come off. 🙂

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A Day in the Life of, Well, Me

Ok, so let me put the disclaimer on this post right up front: This post is totally self indulgent because it came out of having one of those days. It may border on a pure-bred venting session, but I’ll also argue that it’s important to chronicle days like today so that I can remind my husband how awesome I am the next time he complains about, well, pretty much anything. I’m kidding. Sort of.

At any rate, the day started out great. I got the gym despite the sleet. That’s gold-star worthy in my book. The extra bonus was that my quick trip through Target proved more fruitful than the baby oatmeal I set out to buy. After months and months of searching, I ended up finding jeans that fit the new breastfeeding me perfectly. Don’t ask me what possessed me to bother taking off my sweaty gym clothes to try on jeans on a whim, but I did and I don’t regret it one bit. Especially since they were 30% off, so the price tag was a whopping $13.98 a piece. I bought three pairs–two bootleg in two different washes and one skinny leg. (As an aside, Target also had some great “boyfriend” cardigans.)

I got home in enough time to put a load of laundry in, take the dog out, shovel the back deck, install the dog barrier bag in the back of the truck, and set up a new toy for baby before the nanny arrived. I think she arrived around 12:15pm and I believe I was showered and out the door, wearing my new jeans of course, at 12:35pm so I could make a 1:00pm rendezvous with the contractor who’s installing some new windows. (Ok, so I was a little late.)

Why I’m having to meet the contractor at the Home Depot is a whole other story. It involves a housing downturn that led to some late child support payments that then resulted in the loss of a drivers license and the saga goes downhill from there. But he does incredible work, so hauling myself out to Home Depot for cans of spray insulation is the type of sacrifice that’s worth it to not only get the job done right but done at all. Plus I need to pick up color swatches because two other guys are coming to repoint and paint the brick in the back of our house the following week.

I got to HD before the contractor, so I decided to head to the paint section to get a jump on my color swatches. On my way there, a young female associate stops me.

“Do you know you have  a sticker on your leg?” she said.

I give her a look like “what the heck are you talking about?”

“On your jeans. You have a sticker running down the back of your leg. I just thought you’d want to know.”

Yes, thank you. Always good to know that you forgot to remove the size/style sticker from the brand new jeans you just bought at Target for less than most nannies get paid per hour.

I was slightly embarrassed but mostly just amused by my oversight, but it really was a sign that I was going to need a lot more humor to get through the rest of the day.

At any rate, I left HD with a bag full of color swatches, a bunch of moulding, spray insulation, and some clamps. (I’ll get to the clamps in another post.) Next stop: Target for the big box of diapers  that I couldn’t carry that when I was on foot earlier that morning and then PetCo for some really expensive dog food and not-so-expensive cat food. Last stop of the day before I make it home, unpack the car, and prepare for a 4:00pm interview: the grocery store.

Now, I love going to the grocery store; I actually really like to go through every aisle and look at all the different products. But having an infant that could meltdown at any moment has made me a very efficient shopper even when I’m restocking the whole fridge and all the cupboards like I was this day. I think I arrived at 3:05pm and was out of there by 3:40pm.

In the 35 minutes I was in the store, the weather went from a wintry mix to a full-fledged snow storm. There was not a chance with the caliber of DC metro area drivers that I was going to be home in 20 minutes for my interview despite being 5 miles from the house. So, I pulled over, grabbed my pen and paint swatches, and prepared to do my interview curbside to the Iwo Jima Memorial. (I’m all about improvising.)

With every minute of my interview, I watched more cars start to line up on the entrance ramp to the main road back into town. By the time my call concluded, I realized I was going to have to take the back way. Two hours and five miles later, I finally arrived home. That would also more than an hour after the nanny was supposed to leave to pick up her own  kids from school. (Thank god she has good friends who can pick up her kids in a pinch.)

Even though it wasn’t my fault and there was nothing I could about the weather and the traffic situation, I felt bad. Almost guilty, like I had somehow super inconvenienced her.

But I soon forgot about that feeling when I went up to let the dog out of his crate. Nothing says welcome home, mom, like poop in the crate. Now, I should have felt bad because obviously he’s having stomach issues, but I’m not going to lie; it felt like a huge F-you. Especially when I grabbed the dog’s collar to make sure he wouldn’t step in it and he peed everywhere. I love having to do a load of laundry, Swiffer, and disinfect before even taking the groceries out of their bags. Awesome.

At this point, it’s way past baby’s feeding time, so he’s melting down as I’m trying to put everything perishable away. (Seriously, the sushi would’ve been nasty had I forgotten about it.) Screaming babies do wonders for the nerves after two hours of gridlock. I’ll admit that I pretty much lost it three blocks from my house when a cab got stuck halfway up a small incline and a cop had to come and help him push the car to the intersection. (Seriously, guy, spend the money on the Blizzak tires; driving is your business.)

I finally got the kid tucked into bed at about 8:30pm. No thanks to the dog, who, because he got no real walk today because of my traffic-inspired tardiness, decided to do helicopters in baby’s room, causing baby to giggle rather than shut his pretty eyes.

My phone rings. My mother-in-law wanted to know if we had power because news reports were circulating that the winter storm has taken out power to more than 100,000 DC metro residents. (Great, one more thing to worry about.)

It’s 9:19pm and I’m thinking I probably should go shovel my front stairs, which are so steep that my mother always says you need to be a mountain goat to get up them. This is what my mother-in-law said when I told her I was going to get off the phone so I could take care of that chore:

MIL: You might want to rethink that.

Me: I don’t want to, but I’m worried it’ll freeze overnight and then I won’t be able to shovel tomorrow.

(At this point, I’m also cursing myself for not shelling out the $20 to get the pet- and child-friendly salt that I saw at Petco.)

MIL: Well, do you have candles out in case the power goes out?

Me: Well, I know where they are.

MIL: Do you have chocolate?

Me: Yes.

(In fact, the box of Belgium chocolates I had in lazy Susan fell out onto the floor, spilling all the hand-crafted delectables on the tile floor when I was putting the groceries away.)

MIL: Well, then, I wouldn’t bother shoveling.

Okay, then. Love the logic.

But more than candles or chocolate, I was thinking wine. (After all, didn’t I deserve it?) I decided to check the weather forecast. If it was supposed to be really cold and nasty the following day, I would buck up and go shovel. If not, I wouldn’t worry about it until the morning. Fortunately, it was supposed to be sunny and mid 30s, so I decided nothing could better put this day–and me–to bed than a big ole glass of red wine. Or two.

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