Hardworking. Ambitious. Resilient.
These were the words I am proud to call myself. They have a much different meaning these days than they did when I was in my twenties, prior to becoming a mom. These words evolved even more as my son approached two years old. We have all heard that all of a sudden, a light switch turns on and they become a little person. They start to have preferences that are vocalized through speech, they reiterate cause and effect, and they can finally tell you they love you in their sweet little pitchy voices.
The First Year
I returned to work soon after my son was born because I had not reached the one year milestone at my company before giving birth. After being out for six weeks learning how to be a mother, that year flew by. Every day, I was trying to juggle constant schedule changes and feeding habits. Every month was different, and to be quite frank, difficult. Difficult in the sense that change was the only constant. There was no room for advancing careers or graduate degree plans at this point. I’m not even going to start on the emotional and physical changes I was going through.
The Second Year
As much love as I had for the first year, leading up to my son’s second birthday was when the real fun started. Schedules became a bit more predictable and he was always learning new things. However, this year was even more hectic. Daycare was reporting biting and even though they constantly ensured me this was a phase, it still kept me up half the night. The “MINE!” phase also started and he was even more spirited. Again, I did not have time to think about advancing my career or basically anything for myself.
As we passed his 2nd birthday, I felt a huge relief. Maybe chemically my body and mind were returning to its “normal” state. Maybe psychologically I was worrying less because he can verbalize his wants and things that happen to him. Whatever it was, my new normal was setting in. What does this mean?
To me, it meant the opportunity to really do me again. One of those things meant to go back to work. REALLY go back to work, not just going through the motions and crying because of working mom guilt. This meant that I needed to speak to my manager about possible mobility and advancement, but first I needed to have an honest conversation with myself.
What Do You Want to Do?
This has always been a question I had been repeatedly presented with throughout my career. Now I had to ask myself this and really answer it. In the past, I was young, inexperienced, and had the ability to go where the opportunities took me. This time I had to be as honest with myself. What did I want to do? Surely there were C level executives that juggled motherhood as well as any mom, right? This was what I needed to explore.
Was I ready to hire help? Did I still truly have the passion to try and reach high-level executive status of my current company? Was I still willing to put in the long hours or late nights?
The words meant different this time. Hardworking meant packing the right lunches. Ambitious meant handmade outfits for back to back themed days. Resilient meant 5AM wake ups during growth spurts and still not falling asleep on conference calls.
What I did want to do was get my MBA from a prestigious business school, advance quickly in my career to be one of the young vice presidents, and make a name for myself in a male dominated industry. I knew I still wanted all these things, but I had to be honest with myself and my employer.
Adjusting To My New Normal as a Working Mom
It would be completely unrealistic of me to think that I could still obtain these things the same way and in the same time frame. We all have different situations and the one thing I always worried about was heading into my “ideal” path but missing out on life with my son. So I adjusted. I started an MBA program that was primarily online, with a faster pace – which meant I really had to work on time management, and I could spend every night tucking in my son.
Prior to becoming a working mom, my message to my employer was always “whatever you need, I can do it”. This time around, I was completely honest and told them I would like to advance in my career but on a team that allowed me to stop answering emails between 4 and 8 in the evening. I also needed a team that understands I won’t be coming in at 8am sharp and I will be leaving right at 5pm. I want to work for a team that understands I will have to leave in the middle of the day or have emergency off days. The last thing I wanted was to have working mom guilt and guilt slipping as a team member.
Working full-time as a parent is so incredibly hard. Being a parent is incredibly hard. Discussions after being a working mother has become not only different but more difficult. While I was pregnant, a female co-worker stepped down and took a “lesser” role on a different team. I questioned her decision to myself, but now I get it. I get how much the traveling weighed her down and I get why she rather go back to the hotel room instead of eat dinner with us. I get why parents turn down promotions or say ‘no thanks’ to another company’s offer.
After lots of tears and internal struggles, I decided that at this particular moment in my relationship with my son, slowing down my plans isn’t such a bad idea.