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.
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…)
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.
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.