Workin’ It

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I get asked pretty often about life as a working mom. How we do it, what’s hard about it, what I like about it, what I don’t like about it, etc. To new working moms (or moms-to-be), this topic is especially frequent because it’s such a drastic lifestyle change from working while not having kids. I could get all philosophical on you and tell you my theories about working parents and kids who grow up in working parent homes and all that, but I think what’s more helpful is just a straight-forward post on how we make it work in our house. A reader (posting as “VV”) asked this week all the questions that I think most people want answers to, so I’m going to use her question as my guide. Here we go…

Question #1: How do you cope with all the sickness when your kids are in daycare? Are they sick all the time?

In a word, yes. Yes, at least one of my kids is sick most of the time these days. It is especially bad now that we have two kids in daycare because when something goes around one class and that child brings it home, they pass it to the other child who then takes it up to their class (though Gracie seems to have a much stronger immune system than Bean; poor Bean Man has a tough time with his respiratory system and it makes him prone to sicknesses a bit more). As much as possible, we try to keep the kids separated when they are sick so that the cycle doesn’t continue, but it’s really tough. I used to feel awful every time one of them was sick. I still do. I feel really, really guilty because I feel like it’s my fault they are in daycare and so it’s my fault they are sick. But I remind myself that I have to work and so daycare is just a necessary evil in our house.

I hardly ever blog about my kids sicknesses. Mostly that’s because I try to keep their health issues private for them. It’s a blogging boundary that I’ve set for our family. But I also keep it private because so many people have so many different ideas about medication and dealing with sickness in children and, quite frankly, I just don’t need anything else to make me feel guilty about my kids being sick. I already feel guilty enough and so I really don’t like opening that topic up for criticism from strangers. But I thought I’d put that out there today because I know that a lot of moms who work (and some who don’t) struggle with how to balance sickness and health in their family.

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Question #2: How do you handle time off?

I am super lucky in that when Bean was little, I had an amazing Dean that I worked for at Yale. He was one of the kindest people you’d ever meet and, having two grown kids himself, he understood the demands of having a small baby. He let me work from home a lot when Bean was sick and couldn’t go to daycare, which really helped with my time off.

(This picture is from my going away party that the faculty and staff threw me at Yale when we moved back to Florida. That’s my Dean standing there with us.  Check out Bean’s comb over…)

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Now, I still work for really nice people, but I’m much more regimented in how much time I can take off since I work for the public school system. Truthfully, this questions goes hand in hand with the sickness question because 95% of the time I take off of work is for sick kids.

The hardest part is that when a child is getting over something, their immune systems are weaker and so they are more likely to pick up something else right away. This happens a lot with Bean. Usually, he gets sick right after he gets well because his immune system is weak from fighting the first sickness. It’s a brutal cycle for him and for a working mom because every time he gets sick, I have to stay home from work.

Before I had kids, a lot of my identity came from my job. It’s who I was and how I recognized myself and so I put everything I had into making sure I was ALWAYS 100% above and beyond. When I had kids, it’s not that my work ethic changed – I still want to be good at what I do – but my priorities changed a bit. Now, my job is what pays the bills. True, I want to love my job and to do well at my job, but my family is my first priority. So while it is really frustrating to have to call in a substitute because someone at my house is sick, I drop the work guilt a lot quicker than I drop the family guilt. I work to take care of my kids, so if I need to take a day off of work to take care of my kids, then that’s what I do. But it is frustrating in ways that only a working mom can truly understand.

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Question #3: How do you handle sleepless nights and going to work the next day?

I’m pretty lucky because both my kids sleep through the night just about every single night. But there are the occasional nights when I’m up – again, usually with a sick kid. Two weeks ago, Bean woke up in the middle of the night throwing up. It was awful. He started around 1:00am and it continued until 5:00am. I laid down at 5:30, Gracie woke up for the day at 6:00, and my alarm went off at 6:30. It was a rough night. But, life goes on. My sweet dad came down to stay with Bean so that Chris and I could go to work, I dropped Gracie at daycare, and my day went on as usual. There’s nothing really I can do different when I’m tired like that. I can’t take a nap. Gracie still has needs. I still have obligations at school and outside of school. So, usually, I try to go to bed early the next night and just pray that the kids sleep that night. If we have a stretch of days like that (which we did two weeks ago), we usually cancel all our plans that weekend, even if the kids are better, just so we can all rest up from the week.

Question #4: How do you handle cranky babies when they get home from daycare?

This is a big problem Chris and I deal with on a daily basis. From 5:00 until bedtime, the kids are a mess. They’re cranky, hungry, tired, and just no darn fun. Unfortunately, though, the only time we get with the kids during the week is from 5:00 until bedtime. We have tired a few different things to make our time in the evenings with the kids enjoyable and we actually have a pretty nice schedule now. Granted, even on the most routine days, there are periodic outbursts from both kids throughout the evening, but with our current routine we see the outbursts a lot less.

5:00 – 5:30 – I pick the kids up from daycare and we head home. I have a snack waiting in the car for Bean to eat on the ride home every day. This keeps him from melting down when we get home because he wants dinner right away. I bring Goldfish or pretzels and an apple juice box.

6:00 – Once we get home and everyone is settled with an activity (Bean usually plays at the kitchen table and/or moans at my feet and Gracie hangs out in her high chair playing), I start making Bean’s dinner. Bean eats at the kitchen table while I feed Gracie her dinner (baby food and pieces of whatever Bean’s eating that she can have).

6:15 – Chris gets home and sits down at the table with us while the kids eat. Normally, Bean has a complete meltdown because he doesn’t want whatever I’ve made him for dinner that night, but other than that, this time is actually a nice time for us all to hang out together and catch up on our days.

6:30 – Chris and I take both kids upstairs and give them their baths together (if Chris is working late, then I put a movie on for Bean while I give Gracie a bath and then I do Bean’s bath after I put Gracie down for the night). I love bath time. It’s all four of us in there and the kids LOVE taking baths together. We usually let them play until the water is cold and then they sit in the tub until the water drains. They love baths!

7:00 – I put Gracie in pajamas while Chris puts Bean in his pajamas. We all meet in the hall to say goodnight to each other, then I take Gracie to her room and give her a big bottle and read her a book, while Chris reads books with Bean.

7:30 – Both kids are down for the night (though Bean will cry and yell for us for about 20 minutes, but we don’t respond, so we count it as if he’s down for the night…we’re off duty!).

7:45 – Chris and I cook dinner together while we finally get to catch up on each others days.

Question #5: How can I be a good employee if my kids are sick all the time and I’m always tired?!?!

Good question and so totally honest! I love that! The truth is that I am a good employee, but I’m not as good of an employee as I was before I had kids. I meet all my deadlines, I show up when I’m supposed to, I follow through with all my responsibilities, my co-workers and administration like me, I love my job, and I’m pretty darn good at it, too. But my expectations for a work day have definitely shifted since I’ve had children. Being a “good employee” to me on a day when my kids have been up sick all night is showing up and giving the best effort I can give. Would I necessarily teach that way every day? Probably not, but a day every now and then when I let the kids do group work instead of direct instruction or having my students read out loud instead of me reading to them isn’t going to kill them. Just like with everything else in parenthood, working and having kids is all about balance. And it’s okay if the scales sometimes tip more in one direction occasionally. As long as I have more centered days than I have tipped days, then I’m doing okay.

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20 Thoughts to “Workin’ It”

  1. On the sick kid front, I used to feel the same exact way, GUILTY! We bought a nebulizer to keep at home for my guy, too. But then someone explained it to me that your kid can get the illnesses out of the way now when they’re in daycare or they will get the same ones when they start kindergarten. Either way, they’re going to have to get them to build up their immune systems, and I’d rather my kid miss daycare than to miss school.

  2. E

    THANK YOU for writing this. I just started back to work a month ago after having my first baby. I also work in the public school system, and am having a REALLY hard time making the adjustment. I’m so glad I found your blog!

  3. Alyssa

    Thanks so much for this post! I’m due with our first baby in approx. 2 months and I am terrified over how we are going to manage it all. I get out of work at 4:30, and will likely be home with the baby by 5:15. Your schedule is really helpful to figure things out and your info on how you handle sick kids and working is really great to read.

  4. I totally agree with all this. I’m not the same employee I was before kids either. My job is no longer #1 for me. I still do a good job but I no longer want to take over one day. I want to win the lottery so I can stay home instead!

  5. Margie

    Thanks for this post, Katie – so true!

  6. Kathleen

    Thank you. I don’t know why, but it helps to hear that other moms struggle, as well as what solutions they come up with to mitigate those struggles. Is catharsis the right word?

  7. Laura B

    Working mom here, probably always will be, though I dream of finding something part time. One thing that made me feel a tiny bit better when my girls were as young as yours, is when our pediatrician told me that most kids either catch all that junk as babies and toddlers, or as kindergarteners. In my book, it’s better to cuddle and snuggle a baby who really isn’t missing anything at daycare, than to help an older kid understand why missing school means missing fun stuff too. And, at school age, they’re actually missing something if they stay home. But truly, as you said, only a working mom really understands.

  8. My sentiments exactly. I have friends who feel more guilt about staying home with their sick kids than about coming to work and leaving their sick kids. Honestly, it frustrates me. And I totally get not having any days. I used to save days or take an occasional personal day. Now I pray that I have enough days to make it to the end of the school year.

  9. Hey Katie, thanks for this post. As I’m expecting my first in the spring, it’s been really helpful to read about schedules that other moms keep with their kids! I do just want to raise one little issue, and that’s with the term “working moms.” All moms are working moms, whether they go to an office every day or stay home and take care of their kids and household. I know it’s kind of nit-picky, and there is probably a lot of the-grass-is-always-greener going on regardless of your arrangement, but I just wanted to raise that point 🙂

  10. Guilt and being a mama go hand in hand. There’s just no winning. Luckily our kiddo is in a small home daycare so not much sickness going around but I’m dreading the day we move him into a bigger place. Right now I’m feeling guilty about not spending more time off with my 10 month old who’s in a cast. But my patients won’t understand why I can’t see them for 4 weeks while he heals and it sucks. It’s a vicious cycle and we do the best we can.

  11. I don’t know how you working moms do it. You are seriously so strong! I could just see myself having a nervous breakdown. I guess that is why we each have to do what is best for ourselves and our families. Bottom line: I wish you never felt guilt. You do so much, and do it so well; I admire that 🙂

  12. Alessandra

    Loved your honesty — keep up the good work! Your kids are lucky to have you and Chris as parents.

  13. This post was sooooo helpful because my husband is really struggling with understanding why my work ethic has changed since having my baby 7 months ago. I am forwarding this to him right now!

  14. While I’m not a “working mom”, I just thought I’d say that… kids get sick. Daycare, home or whatever. My homeschooling neighbor (who has 8, 6 still at home) seems to be in constant quarantine (most recently with lice, blech!). The funniest, ok not funny, but ykwim, part is that they are all GUARANTEED to get sick when they get together with their oldest child and her two children. Fortunately, she’s really great about alerting us and keeping hers inside, so we never catch what they have. PTL!

    Sometimes I fantasize about having a “job” to GO TO, but then I think of all that is demanded of me at home, and I wonder how you all manage doing it all and going to work too. Both sides have their challenges, for certain.

  15. Hey Katie! Thank you for writing this post! My husband and I are planning to start our family and this is a huge stress topic at our dinner table! I don’t enjoy my job, but it provides for us while the Mr. is in school, I worry that once I am pregnant I will be even more stressed about going to work with a baby soon to be in the picture! I really appreciate your honesty on your blog! THANKS!!!

  16. Melissa

    I was nodding the whole time I was reading this! My kids are about the same age as yours…and I can totally relate! Thank you for this post.

  17. Sue C

    I’ve been doing the working mom thing for a while now (kids are 8 and 4). I always say that being a mom is about a million times better than I ever expected (and I had high expectations). But being a working mom – a million times harder than I ever expected. We are so lucky to have (or had) fabulous caregivers and schools, but finding balance is so very difficult. I think part of what makes it work is letting go. You can’t do everything at work and everything at home. You pick the most important things, and do your best not to fret about the rest. Thanks so much for the post!

  18. Hi! I followed a link over from Ginger at RambleRamble, and thought I’d say “hi!” from another working mom. I like your post.

    One thing I’d add to the bit about how you can still be a good employee when you’re always tired and your kids are always sick: remember that you’ve probably gained something at work from being a parent, too. I think the experience of being a mother has made me a better manager. There is HUGE overlap between the management training I’ve received and the advice for handling siblings, for instance. Also, one of the most frustrating things about being management is that I am constantly getting interrupted when I’m trying to do my work. Which, it turns out, is also one of the most frustrating things about trying to get anything done when the kids are around.

    Also- I give birth to crappy sleepers. I can count the number of nights in the last 5 years that I’ve slept through uninterrupted on one hand. Obviously, this has a HUGE impact on me, both at home and at work. Back when my first was a non-sleeping baby, I wrote a couple of posts about how I cope:
    http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2008/02/working-mum-more-on-working-with-baby.html
    http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2008/02/working-mum-working-with-baby-who.html

    I offer those up for anyone else out there wondering how they’ll get through the sleepless nights. I won’t lie- I want more sleep. But I can also see the end in sight: my youngest is two years old now, which is how old her older sister was when she finally starting sleeping through the night.

  19. vicky

    Thank you for this wonderful post!

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