A big part of combining work and family is figuring out exactly how you are going to combine work and family. People tend to go through that crucible when their children are babies — not an easy time!
Lori Mihalich-Levin (incidentally, a classmate of mine in college) is a lawyer specializing in Medicare reimbursements for teaching hospitals. She is the mother of an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old. After a rough return to work, she started a side business called Mindful Return, which offers online courses for parents to support them during the transition (a number of businesses offer Mindful Return courses as a new parent benefit). She came on the Best of Both Worlds podcast to offer some tips for navigating those first few weeks and months back at work.
Don’t try to get caught up on everything. Trying to read through your entire email backlog will be an exercise in frustration. Instead, set up meetings with everyone during your first week back. Ask two questions: What did I miss? How can I help? This makes sure you focus on the things that actually matter.
Delegate. Or let it go. Don’t buy into the myth that a good working mother must make casseroles on the weekend to last through the week. You probably won’t starve. Mihalich-Levin notes that “help” can also mean mother’s helpers (like neighbor teens) who come over on the weekend to play with the baby while you’re home so you can get a little break.
Line up exciting projects. If you’re going back to work, why not make it worthwhile? Reach out to colleagues a few weeks before your return to see what interesting, meaty projects you can be involved with as soon as you return. This will remind you what you like about your job. There’s this cultural narrative out there that work is a regretful thing for mothers, but honestly, many of us love what we do. There’s nothing wrong with that!
Remember there’s no one like mommy (or daddy!) Your kid is not going to forget you. Don’t buy into the narrative that using childcare means you’re not raising your own children. Even in sheer hours it often doesn’t come out that way (let alone on the psychological side).
Block pumping hours. If you’re going to pump (which you don’t have to, by the way — supplementation does not make you a bad mother), block the pumping times on your calendar. Block them out for months. You can always free up the time, but it’s hard to take it back once it’s not blocked off. Mihalich-Levin needed 3 blocks for her first kid, but only 2 for her second. But she kept the 3rd block to do stuff for her.
Network with other parents. Join (or start!) a working-parent affinity group in your organization. You can all support each other and share helpful information (like managers that are better to work for than others…that sort of thing).
Lobby for broad flexibility. Working parents often do best with flexible work schedules, but you don’t have to be a parent to benefit from flexibility! Encouraging your employer to rethink what has to happen at certain times and certain places, and what does not, is smart.
Our question for this week is about “batching” kid tasks when you have multiple children in the same age range. Our listener has 3 daughters and wondered about the logistics of doing 3 doctor visits and such at the same time. We talked about how to manage it to be efficient and avoid chaos. Please give it a listen!